On a dog day last summer, I hung by the pool chatting with another mom. Her child was going into fifth grade, the final year of elementary. My oldest was headed to secondary.
She asked, “What do you think of our neighborhood middle school?”
“Does anybody ever want to send their kid to sixth grade?”
My quip gave her an opening. She confided that one of my daughter’s classmates would be headed across town to a school with a more desirable student body.
“She thinks it’s full of gangs and drugs.” And fewer white kids.
“I love our neighborhood. It’s diverse.”
“Yes. Diversity is good. Up to a point. I’ll be interested to hear how you feel about it later.”
Through the wavy heat, I watched Cherry bounce a perfect dive off the board. Her golden skin glistening before she disappeared into the water. I turned back to the mom, still debating the merits of School A over School B. Racism disguised as polite conversation. Had my daughter faded in the sun? Did she assume that since I was white, I wouldn’t take offense? Didn’t my Chinese children count? I stared into the deep end of the pool waiting for Cherry to surface. She did. And I said nothing.
Six months later, I picked up my youngest from elementary school. She climbed into the mini van, head low. “What’s wrong?”
“Coco, I know you’re upset.”
“Those boys.” The same three that had taunted her all year. “They made fun of me. And T__ did the eye thing.”
I walked around to her side and opened the door. “Get out of the car.”
“What are you going to do?”
“You’re going to tell your teacher.” Ten minutes later, Coco was healed, simply by standing up for herself.
The next day, her teacher assembled a line-up of fourth and fifth graders, all of Asian descent except for one. She said to the boy, “When you put down one person for who they are, you’re making fun of everyone. Now, you have to apologize to the whole group.”
It was a tough moment, but he wasn’t likely to be a repeat offender. I wish I’d said the same thing to that mom. Diversity is good, always. Not up to a point.