“I want to be white too”

20 Oct

This afternoon A, Frond, DJSherv and I went to a primary school near by.

We rumbled past lush greenery on a semi-deserted road in DJSherv’s new jeep, turned a corner and there were tons of little knee-high kids running around in twos, threes.  They were each dressed in either all green, all red, or all yellow and were maybe in grade 1 or kindergarten.  It was like a multicoloured ant hill.

On the other side were older kids dressed in long navy blue pleated skirts, white collared short-sleeved blouses and red ties or navy pants and white dress shirts.  These kids were leaning over the railing, yelling, sometimes throwing food, sometimes just chillaxing coolly.

We had came to talk about a new pilot program we are starting.  In light of the diabetes and obesity epidemic on the island (not unlike the one back home, except here you don’t get the meds or the same infrastructure support as home, so it’s not uncommon for young people to lose limbs because of their uncontrolled diabetes), we’re going to come in and help teach some life skills, healthy food choices, on the backdrop of fun physical activities.  Sounds great, right?  Well…

It was great to meet with the principal and tell her what we had planned.  She seemed really supportive.  It was cool to see the field and school grounds, and to be amongst so many kids.  So strange but nice to be surrounded by so many!  While the four of us were standing under the sun discussing how we would run the first session, planned for next week, a pair of grade 2 girls in their pleated dresses giggled their way behind me and were trying to get my attention.  One mouthed “What do you doooo?”.  They wanted to talk to me “behind the trees”, pointing back.  They asked me for candy, then asked me if I had candy on my paper (I was holding a piece of paper with a cartoon carrot on it).  It was cool, it was fun to banter with them a little.

After a few minutes we were ready to head back to campus, and I hopped back into the back of the jeep with the rest of the guys.  The two girls followed us to the back of the car.  One of them was had been something to me as I was walking to the jeep but between child-speak and my inability to completely learn the accent yet, I couldn’t tell what she was saying.  As we were about to back out, DJSherv asked A and I if there were still any kids standing behind the jeep.  We turned and just as she was getting out of the way, the girl who first tried to get my attention said “I want to be white too.”    A and I yelled “Nooooooo!” as DJSherv backed out and we drove away.

“We colonized them!”, A yelled.  Great.  The very last thing we wanted to do.

It’s alarmingly amazing how easy it is to plant the totally wrong impression of cultural superiority in kids this age.  Granted I don’t know if she already felt this way before we visited today, since I’m sure even someone as young as her is really attuned to the class and racial differences she has seen with all the healthy looking, well dressed, blackberry and iPhone carrying “white people” like us walking around, complaining loudly about stupid things, buying tons of expensive foods at the supermarket.  (NB: In terms of ancestry, A and DJSherv are Persian, Frond is Indian, I’m Chinese).

It just underscored how important it is to plan these kinds of things right.  It may have seemed like an appealing extra to have a Grenadian or at least Caribbean volunteer with us at these sessions, but after this girl’s comment, it seems like an essential thing.  We should definitely not continue the program without someone “non-white” there leading it up.  Luckily we have lots of people who we know would be interested.

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Whutchu sayin'

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