“Watch out for those black kids.” This is what some of the children from the after-school program in JP where I work were greeted with on April 6 as they were running to get on the awaiting bus that takes them home every night. On that day, I happened to be the bus monitor. Kids being kids, of course they were running. That is what kids do, no matter how many times you ask them not to. They were not being rowdy. I should not even have to point this out, but sometimes being black is equated with being “rowdy.” The words were said by a woman walking past the bus with her children.
As soon as I put one foot on the bus, it exploded with the voices and hurt feelings of the youths inside. Before I could say anything they all started at once asking me, “Why did she say that?” One child said, “I bet she wouldn’t like it if we said, “Watch out for those white kids!” Another child said, “That’s racist”; another child said, “That’s not cool at all.” One child asked, “Why is she teaching her children that?” As I tried to calm them down, all I could see was the pain in their faces.
How hard would it have been for this person to say, “Watch out for the children,” instead of, “Watch out for those black kids”? May I also add that they were not all black. Some were Latino, some were mixed-race. My question is, why teach your/our children to fear other people, which at some point turns into hate?
This is not the first time this kind of thing has happened. Many times at the Green Street playground I have had to go toe-to-toe with some parents who seem to feel that this playground is just for their kids, and I have overheard some parents say things like, “Where did ‘those’ kids come from anyway?”
I would like to think that JP is better than this, but maybe I am wrong. Maybe this is what the “New JP” has become/is becoming: a place where folks who happen to be white are only comfortable seeing folks of color being the nanny, the CVS cashier or the Public Works person who picks up your trash, and that teaches that people of color are only here to service us. I have lived around here a long time, and yes, things have changed and continue to change, a lot for the better. But please understand that we all live, dine and have recreation here in JP, and it would be really nice if we would watch out for each other instead of teaching that “The Other”—i.e., folks who don’t look like you—are something to “watch out” for.
I write this letter with the hope that we can all grow a bit from it. Please think before you speak (and that includes us folks of color, too). You never know whose little heart you could be breaking.
Ifé Franklin, Jamaica Plain