Director, Arbinger Singapore/Malaysia
(Connect with Malar via LinkedIn)
Two years ago when my daughter Shona was 7 and was in Primary One, she came home very upset one day. I asked her what had happened and she told me that a classmate had told her not to hang around with her and she said “You are Indian. I don’t like Indians”. I must say those words really stung and brought back many bad memories of being the only Indian girl in my primary school and getting teased and bullied because of my race and religion. So I comforted Shona as best I could and decided that I needed to do something about this. In this day and age, we cannot allow children to grow up being racists. This I felt needed some kind of intervention and education. I mean the other girl was also only seven.
That night I emailed Shona’s form teacher informing her of the incident and telling her that I would like to speak to the parents of the girl. Let’s call her Jen. The next morning, Shona’s form teacher called me at work to ask me exactly what had happened. I explained to her the situation and told her I wanted to speak to Jen’s parents because I felt we had to manage this well and also because I did not want Shona to be scarred by racist comments especially at such a young age. Her form teacher said she would contact Jen’s parents.
A little while later, I received another call from the form teacher asking if she could give my number to Jen’s Mum as she wanted to speak to me. I was happy that this was happening as if the parents were unwilling to communicate with me, then it would be very difficult to move forward. I was not doing this so Jen would get punished or would have to apologise but because I feel that children need education in every sense of the word. If they had inappropriate ideas, adults need to step in and intervene early so that it does not become a lifelong habit or character trait. This is something I have always believed in as a Secondary school teacher for 22 years.
I next received a call from Jen’s mother, Mrs. V asking me exactly what had happened. I told her what Shona had told me. She sounded very troubled and was telling me how Jen had half-Indian cousins and she was surprised why she would say this. I realized that Mrs. V was worried that I would think that her daughter had made racist comments because the family is racist. In other words, the child had learnt these ideas from the home environment. She was trying to convince me that this was not the case. I could understand her concern as a part of me had wondered if the child had learnt such ideas from her parents or grandparents or helper etc. Mrs. V said she would speak to Jen and make her apologise to Shona. Remember, this was not the outcome I wanted.
I then suggested that she come over to my home over the weekend with Jen so our girls could play and get to know each other better. In this way I hoped both girls would see how similar we all are and such racist thoughts would not enter their minds in future.
So on that Saturday, Jen came over with her family (her parents and older sister). I must say her father was a very amusing man. The minute he entered, he said “When my wife told me what Jen did, I believed that she did it because my daughter is really naughty and has quite a mouth on her…”. Jen apologized to Shona and within minutes the four girls, including my older 13 year old Soniyya were upstairs in their room playing and having fun. Mr. and Mrs. V and I sat down and had tea while we got to know each other. We talked about our jobs, childcare arrangements for our kids when we went to work etc. They also told me that Jen had seemed surprised when they told her that her cousins were half-Indian so how could she say such things. When it was time for them to leave, all four girls were reluctant to part ways. I was so happy because I realized that the girls had bonded and saw that they all had similar lives, needs, challenges. The parents had also bonded… I must say.
I am glad to say that the relationship did not end there. Shona and Jen became friends in school with Jen attending Shona’s birthday party in October that year.
I am glad that when Shona told me what had happened in school, I did not let my emotions and negative thoughts get the better of me and move into an Inward Mindset. I remained with an Outward Mindset and focused on the overall objective which was to hopefully ensure that Shona as well as Jen did not grow up with distorted views of race and religion. I know that I may not be able to help my children and my students throughout their entire lives with such issues but I believe that if we as family members, educators, etc try our best to have a Mindset that is Outward and focus on the overall objectives and what is best for the children, a lot of issues faced by our young adults today can be decreased.
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Malar Rani, is a Director of The Arbinger Institute Singapore / Malaysia. Prior to joining the team, Malar spent 22 years teaching in Singapore. She spent 17 years teaching in secondary schools and 5 years teaching at the Prison Education Branch. She is a firm believer in inculcating self-discipline in students and has spent most of her teaching career helping less motivated students achieve their goals and dreams.