Thursday, September 22, 2011

Hey You Brown Lady!!

After having lived through the uncertainties of the job and housing market, we finally bought a house to call our home.  We decided to buy in a school district we thought would best serve our 2 boys and where we felt the community was quite diverse.  
My biggest concern about moving was  my older son who would be going from a very small private school into a school with 3 times the population.   For the past 4 years he had been in a school  based on a neo-humanistic* philosophy, where the children did meditation every morning and were  taught to love each other, their fellow human beings, the earth,  and everything on it. 
The same group of kids had been together since kindergarten and they truly had come to care for and love each other.   They had their differences and like other children they argued, yet if any one of them were to fall or get hurt, they would all come together and make sure their friend was all right.  It was an unlikely group, of the sort I hope my sons will have the privilege of knowing again.  I can only hope.
I had picked up my boys from their new school one day and we were heading to the car when I heard a boy’s voice call out, “Hey you brown lady!”   It came from the bus that had stopped near us, waiting to make a turn.  I looked to see if I could see who had noticed my beautiful tan but since the bus was rather full, it would have been difficult to pin point anyone.  I decided to keep on walking but those words resonated in my mind for the rest of the day.  
From his perspective, the boy was right.  Brown I am.  But why did he notice just my color?   How would it have been received, say,  by a black person, to be reminded of their color? Did this child live behind a massive white picket fence with no real contact with people of color or of different cultures?  What were his parents like?  More importantly,  I worried that this child, and others like him,  noticed that my sons was “brown” too.   How were my 2 boys received by the other “non-brown” children in the new school?  Would my boys face adversity and challenges in 2011 for being who they are?   Did the school not teach them about diversity and acceptance?  I spoke to the principal about the incidence just to make her aware of it.  In my desire to shield my children from hearing any further nonsense from this ignorant child on the bus, I had walked away without noting the bus number. 
I thought about what I would have said to this child if I had the chance to meet him?  I would tell him that yes, I am brown.   I am brown and could never be peach or olive or white,  even if I wanted to be.  But the irony is that many light-skinned people lay in the sweltering heat of a scorching sun, hoping to avoid deadly UV rays, just “to be” brown!  Since the school only went up to grade 5, I knew he couldn’t have been any more than ten years old. The logic of my argument would have been lost in his young mind.
 I truly would not have wanted to see him punished in any way.   How can you blame a child for having been sheltered?  A child’s ignorance shouldn’t be punished.   What that child needed was a first-hand education in culture, acceptance and loving.  Children, I believe, are much more open-minded, loving and accepting than adults if they are given the opportunity to socialize and mix with others.  Personally, I would have invited that boy to come to my house and play with my two boys. Maybe then he would find out what people on the other side of his picket fence are really like.  They  may be brown………. but they are beautiful……………once he got  to know them. 


……….by the implementation of Neo-Humanism, as put forth by P. R. Sarkar.  Simply stated, if extending the sweetest touch of the heart to include all humanity as one's own be termed Humanism, then expanding that embrace to include the animals, plants, and even the elements is termed Neo-Humanism. The fact that the fortunes of all are intimately wreathed together must be recognized, if not today, then surely tomorrow. (PSOLI website)


kybritymom said...

I don't know why the child yelled out from the bus. I also don't understand why this incident warranted a visit to the principal. What if the child had yelled out "hey blonde lady"? Was there something derogatory said afterwards?

You assume the child and his parents are somehow ignorant, racist and rude. Yelling out of the bus may indeed be rude, but you may want to reconsider the other possibilities. While not as humanistic as you, (i've never reard of neonhumanism before) I do pride myself in being an open minded, embracing (as opposed to accepting) person. My children were never taught that there were black people and white people, or anything else. Race was just another thing about people. They could be blonde, tall, short, heavy, brown, beige, green eyed, etc. I taught my kids about how crazy it was to judge someone by the way they look or speak. That it's their actions that should be taken into consideration. When my teenagers were little, they always refered to African Americans as brown, as in "see that lady over there with the brown skin and glasses? Can I sit in the chair by her?" they never thought twice about it. Maybe your bus-yelling kid wasn't either.

Anu said...

Hi Niketa!

The caption of your story immediately got my attention. Being brown myself I was totally intrigued. As I read on I felt a weird mix of emotions. You are right! brown we are! the child on the bus did not do anything wrong per say.. but is that all some people see when they talk to me about Indian food and henna tattoos.. about Call Centres and spices????

Your story worried me about our decision to send our almost one year old to a public school when he grows up... would private school really be better.. as much as I believe public schools to be diverse will they really teach my child respect for everyone, love and tolerance for all religions..

Feel free to email me at

Anonymous said...

The more we comfortably and openly speak to our children about race- the more likely they will be racially conscious and open anti-racists. There is no racial blindness- just racially conscious. Tens years old is not too young at all to start that conversation.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with kybritymom. However, I will also be open minded and ask if perhaps it was the tone of this child's voice that made you think there was some malicious intent behind referring to you as 'brown lady'?

As adults, I think we are quick to assume the worst, and have lost our sense of acceptance and believing the best in people.

I realize you were exploring a different vein with your story, but just wanted to make that comment as well. Isn't it safer to assume the best?

Niki said...

I find it hard to believe that it's OK for any child to yell out, "Hey you brown lady!" in any tone. There is no justification for such behavior...