I am sometimes annoyed by how much teachers harp on race relations in the elementary school. From about third grade on, our school will generally have 2-3 units a year per grade explaining to the kids how horrible life was back when we had... genocide, slavery, segregation, and so forth. Which is important to know, but I can't help but feel that telling 8-year-olds that people used to hate people like you is not necessarily a good educational choice, no matter how positive you paint our social progress since.
And now for something else.
So, this morning I had taken a student to her regularly scheduled speech class, and we were waiting for a new student who was supposed to join us as soon as his bus got in. The two had not met yet, and all that Jane knew was that the new kids was 1) a boy and 2) in first grade, which was a little worrying, because Jane is still in Kindergarten (but the new boy's articulation is REALLY BAD, so he needed to be with kids who didn't speak so good). She had two questions: "Is he big?" (He's seven, but he's not really a big kid), and "is he black? 'Cus my mommy says I'm not supposed to be around black people."
Which was a bit of a surprise.
If you work in the school system, one of the most useful phrases is "we don't do that at school", in all of its various forms. We don't say that at school. We don't argue about that at school. We don't play fighting games at school. It's a good solid rule that you can stand behind, and it doesn't say anything negative about the person who taught the kids to do/say that thing.
So before I fully processed that implications of her statement, I went with the template: "That's not true... at school."
Which worked pretty well. She immediately replied "no...", but didn't really know where to go from there. Being a wiley adult-type person, I pushed the advantage. You have some friends in your class who are black. "Yes, Janet is black, and she's my friend" (very serious voice here; she would have been upset if I had doubted her). And you know Johnny in speech class, and he's your friend. "Yes, he's my friend".
And we changed the subject, and that was that.
This is not exactly a unique event. I have twice had hispanic children tell me that they don't play and/or like black kids. One situation went exactly the same way as the one above, and the other one, which involved a young boy on the autism spectrum, defaulted back to "we treat everybody the same... and you have been treating everyone well, so thank you". He has since admitted that a number of children who happen to be black are his friends, although I have certainly never reminded him that this had ever been an issue before.
All three kids were in kindergarten at the time that they explained their views on black kids. By the time kids reach higher grades, they have learned what is acceptable to say out loud, and moreover, have gotten used to playing with kids of all colors.
And that was today.