Thursday, October 15, 2009
My child returned home from school yesterday informing me that something had happened in class that just seemed wrong to her. She told me how, while she was clarifying her homework assignment with her Language Arts teacher, the teacher responded, “Don’t stand there and give me that dumb blonde look.” All the children in the room stopped their chatter and stared at my daughter, a few of them gasping with disbelief.
I wish a gasp was all that came out of my mouth. Seething and with a deep sternness to my voice, I struggled to control my rage toward the teacher's actions. I told my child I would be at the school the next day to speak with this teacher and the principal. “But, can’t you just send a note?...” she asked, fearful of further discord. That question sent me off on a teaching tangent of my own with my daughter, I began by explaining to her that her teacher is there to mentor her, protect her, not demean her. I explained that by going to the school we would be taking a stand for what is right on behalf of all the children. All the children in that classroom were harmed by this careless remark, this flagrant label thrown out and onto my little 12 year old girl.
How do I explain this complex issue to my little one? She has studied Hitler and knows a small bit about why we remember, why we discuss him in history, I decided to try by starting there. I reminded her that Hitler began his hate crusade, resulting in the murder of 6 million Jews and others, with one simple speech. One. At first, I'm sure, after hearing his words of "hate" many went home and had their own thoughts and discussions on how they felt about what he said. But, he continued to make his speech, repeatedly (among other tactics) until many people no longer had independent thoughts, no longer questioned or searched for the truth. Labeling, as in "Dumb Blonde,” just one example of many, creates the same mindlessness. Labeling people strips them of their humanity, removes the person from the scene and allows those standing and observing the freedom to feel and further express the hate thrown into the room and onto the person.
Hate clothes itself in many disguises. Name-calling or labeling a person to a particular category or stereotype is a form of hate resulting in a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts wherein the recipient or victim of the label will inevitably live up to the expectations and definitions of that label and along with the label comes preconceived ideas, connotations, discrimination, and worst of all, invites hate toward the individual from others, often without conscious awareness. It is a sneaky devil, a hate breeder. Sociologist Howard Becker, developed the Labeling Theory (also known as social reaction theory) in the book “The Outsiders” in 1963. The theory asserts that the process of labeling an individual by someone in a position of authority results in that person living up to the definitions of the label. One creates a situation far worse than the original one.
At the school the following day, I spoke with 2 principals and the Language Arts teacher. Upon my realization that the teacher was herself a blonde, compassion swept over my heart. I decided secretly to hold it there until I heard the teacher tell her side of the story. She did indeed agree that it was possible that she said something of the sort to my child. I expressed all my feelings about this situation to her and informed her that I am a “Seeker of Peace” and this set the tone for our meeting. I refuse the inclination to butt hate against hate, like the song by Todd Snider in which he says, “Fighting for peace is like screaming for quiet.” I do believe approaching a situation with an open heart and a reasonable mind results in a peaceful remedy. I further explained to these mentors I’ve entrusted, that my sister was murdered because of misplaced hate, my child was removed from a home with domestic violence to come live with me, and that my husband and I work very hard to teach our child self empowerment, but despite these reasons, I would still be sitting there making a wrong into a right. Maya Angelou has been quoted as saying and I too will say, “When you stand up, you stand up for everyone!”
Words are powerful, a knife cut heals, wounds inflicted by words almost never do, especially when a child is the recipient/victim. Thirty some odd children witnessed this teacher’s ill behavior and are highly likely to believe it is acceptable now, walking out of the room and continuing the subliminal messages of hate by using the same words. This was of great concern to me. I was there for every child, everyone. I expected an apology to be given to every child in that class along with my daughter. I expected this “slip” of the tongue, as the teacher put it, to be discussed at length with the children, telling them why we don’t generalize and label others, why we don’t use demeaning words, in other words, why we don’t breed hate. A teacher teaching by example.
You must realize, I am on constant watch for the guises of hate. I suffer a loss everyday because of hate. I sage smudge my house if I feel it has been intruded upon with hate energy. I leave the bad, sensationalized, tragic, unnecessary news presented by the media for others to view. I screen movies in my own home, so that I can decide to flip the violence and hate OFF. I guard and protect my heart and spirit because I know firsthand that hate can stealthily creep into your thoughts, and we are surrounded by it, inundated with it in every arena of our lives, from movies, to primetime television, to war games on Facebook, to shoot-em-up simulated video games, and even in the powerful melodies of our music. The brain is a malleable tissue and easily influenced.
Be careful my friends, be cautious about that which you let enter your mind through the media, what thoughts you allow yourself to think-be positive always, what seemingly benign phrases you toss out, who you associate with, what entertainment you engage in...choose wisely, or you too may find yourself, like this teacher, culpable.
By the way, my daughter happens to shine brilliance! The “dumb blonde” in the title....well, you can guess who that is.