Yesterday I happened upon this YouTube video of boys being interviewed by their mother about their experiences with racism:
Uploaded by losangelista on Nov 18, 2011
My sons discuss the racist names they've been called over the years and how they make them feel.
In addition to YouTube, that video uploader also shared this video on her blog http://www.losangelista.com/2011/11/whyd-you-give-that-n-your-eraser-when.html Los Angelista and
Here's the transcript of that video from Racialicious:
Mr. T (left): I would like to talk about racism. Kids have called me the n-word three times and for all those three times, they didn’t have a good reason. And, it’s racist for someone to call me that because the n-word is a racist word for black people and I’ve been called an African b-word once. What I told the kid the next day who called me that is, just because I’m black doesn’t mean I’m African. Because if I was African I’d be coming from Africa, and I don’t come from Africa. So that doesn’t make me African, and so that didn’t make sense for him to call me an African b-word. Anyway, it still would’ve been offensive if he just called me the b-word. Kids have spit in my face twice, and I didn’t like either of those, because it was just gross, and I hated it.
Mr. O: Hi, my name is Mr. O. About two days ago in my classroom – I’m in the fifth grade, and my teacher is a black male, so -
Mr. T: Mine too.
Mr. O: So it turns out a kid called me the n-word in class today. So I told my teacher who’s a black male, so it offended him very easily, too. He was born in the time when racism was still really active, so he was really mad with the kid, so the kid got suspended. But I didn’t like being called that, because it’s just not cool, you know?
Liz: Why isn’t it cool? Why do you think that kid called you that?
Mr. O: I’m not sure.
Mr. T: I think he called him that because basically he doesn’t know how offensive it can be to a black person. And he just thought that maybe it would be like a joke and he wouldn’t tell and no one would care, but that isn’t true. Because if it’s racist, everyone’s gonna wanna care about it, ’cause racism is a bad thing, and no one should ever want it.
Liz: What do you guys think would help kids not call each other the n-word or other names?
Mr. O: It could come from their parents, so their parents maybe could stop acting like that around their kids.
Mr. T: Maybe they could stop watching movies with the n-word. Like, one movie with the n-word is Malcolm X. In that movie they say the n-word a lot.
Liz: What about … How does it make you feel, when you’re at school to learn, and you know that kids at school are calling you these names, and you still have to be in class with them?
Mr. T: It just feels like you wish you were in another class and that you never met this kid, or that you never came to this school. The first time I ever got called the n-word was when I was five, I think. I was at the park and this kid just walked up to me and called me the n-word for no reason. At first I didn’t know what the n-word was, but then I asked mom, and she told me, and I felt really sad that he called me that. And I’ve also been called the a-word once.
Liz (to Mr. O): How do you feel? Like, this kid’s gonna come back from being suspended and you still have to be in the [same] room. Do you think that that being suspended is gonna change his attitude any?
Mr. O: No.
Liz: What do you think would change his attitude?
Mr. T: If a person could have a talk with his parents, maybe.
Mr. O: Saying that it could affect his grade, maybe. And communication with other students.
Liz: Is there anything that you think schools should be doing to help students not be racist against each other?
Mr. T: They can make a festival for all the black heroes, maybe?
Liz: That’s a good idea. (To Mr. O) What were you gonna say?
Mr. O: I think the schools can do all that they can to help, but it’s mainly the kid who has to stop doing it himself or herself. Because the schools can do all that they can, but that still might not affect that kid. But the kid has to tell himself that it’s not okay.
Liz: Is there anything else you guys would like to say about this? Do you worry it’s gonna happen again?
Mr. T: Yes. Because I’ve already been called that so many times that I never want it to happen again, or anything like what I just talked about to happen again.
Mr. O: I hope it’s not gonna happen again, because a lot of the kids in my classroom are my friends.
Liz: Well thank you so much for telling us how you guys feel and sharing your experiences.
From the About Me section of her blog, the mother of those two boys (Liz) wrote that "I live in LA but at heart, I'm your average Black/Irish Midwesterner who loves to write, read, eavesdrop and take photos."
For the record, I'm an African American mother of five children, and a grandmother who grew up in New Jersey and has lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania since 1969. I would further describe myself as an afro-centric folklorist (one who is primarily interested in the cultures of people of Black Africa and the African Diaspora).
This post is presented for sociological and educational reasons. I mean no disrespect to the poster, video uploader, and mother of those two boys in that video. I agree with others who have commented about that video post that those two boys are intelligent, articulate, attractive, and sensitive. I also believe that their mother (Liz) had good intentions for interviewing her sons about racism, videotaping that interview, and posting it on YouTube. In her post, Liz shared her reasons for asking her sons if they want to be interviewed about this subject on video:
I could write about how we are not post-racial and this is exhibit A of why I believe that racism is still America’s most vital and challenging issue. But it came to me that there’s something powerful about letting children–the most innocent of us all–share what it feels like to be called the n-word in class.
Last night I asked the boys if they’d like to talk about the racial slurs they’ve been called, and how it makes them feel. They were excited to share–we all know it’s cathartic to be able to share something painful that’s happened–and I’m glad that they know that they don’t have to keep the racism they face a secret or act like it’s not a big deal–or that it’s something they have to be ashamed of.
I'm writing this post as a means of critiquing the use of interviews of children for the purposes of eliciting their thoughts and feelings about experiencing racism, and/or as a means of helping to prevent, minimize, and eradicate racism.
My concerns about the communication strategy used by the mother in this video can be divided into two categories:
1. Concerns about the strategy of interviewing children- your children or other children in school or elsewhere - about their experiences with racism
2. Concerns about posting videos of children being interviewed about racism or other volatile subjects on YouTube
My concerns about this video in particular can be divided into two other categories:
3. Concerns about some the interviewer's questions
4. Concerns about certain responses the children gave in that interview and concerns about the lack of clarification, feedback, or response that Liz gave in that video to those comments.
My comments on each of these categories are as follows:
In my opinion, the interview process seems too formal, too mental, and too distant a strategy to be used with children or anyone else for such emotional and potentially volatile subjects as experiencing racism. My view is that a better approach would be conversing with that child, children, or persons.
Part of my concern about the use of the interview process for that type of sensitive subject is that it doesn't permit the adult to verbally and physically engage with the child. Interviewers aren't supposed to give feedback about what people being interviewed says. The focus is supposed to remain on the interviewer's questions and the interviewee's responses to those questions.
I'm also concerned that the use of the interview process for emotional subjects conveys the message that people should take a reasoned, intellectual approach to every subject or every situation, and that everything can be explained by reason. I don't believe that is true. I believe that for the most part, racism is an emotional belief and I don't believe that reason alone can cause a person to stop being racist. Furthermore, I believe that taking a rational approach to an emotional subject and an emotional situation teaches people to that they shouldn't acknowledge or express their emotions. However, in the short or long run, emotions will express themselves - one way or another.
The boys being interviewed in this video show their discomfort with that interview. Liz even notes this in this response to a commenter on her blog (same link as provided above)
...You see Mr. T articulate and Mr. O feel it so strongly. As Mr. T talks, Mr O looks sadder and sadder as he drops deeper and deeper into the couch...
Thanks for saying so. Yeah, it really broke my heart to see O physically retreating. :(
In spite of the fact that Liz saw her son "physically retreating", in her role as interviewer, Liz couldn't give hugs or otherwise comfort him. I see this as a real downside for using the interview process for subjects that are likely to cause discomfort, anxiety, anger, fear, and/or other emotions.
Many YouTube viewer comment threads are known to attract crazies, racists, homophobic, sexists, and other inappropriate commenters. That being the case, to post a video of children being interviewed about their reactions to racism (or other sensitive subjects) provides other opportunities for those children to have other albeit indirect experiences with racism or other negative "isms".
I'm concerned that the way some of the questions that Liz asked her sons in that video were phrased in such a way that they may have elicited the responses that her sons knew that she wanted. I'm also concerned that some of the questions Liz asked may have increased her son's anxieties about the student who called him the "n word", and the possiblilies of experiencing racism again. For example, Liz questions her son about how he will feel being in the same classroom when the student who called him the "n word" returns to that classroom from his suspension. Another example is when Liz asks her sons "Do you worry it’s gonna happen again?"
Also, I'm concerned that Liz complimented one son for his suggestion about racism could be alleviated in schools, but didn't compliment her other son for his suggestions. Of course, the very act of giving compliments may have meant that Liz stepped out of her interview role.
Liz's sons make several statements about racism that I wish were immediately addressed. Among those statements was this one from Mr. O:
So it turns out a kid called me the n-word in class today. So I told my teacher who’s a black male, so it offended him very easily, too. He was born in the time when racism was still really active, so he was really mad with the kid, so the kid got suspended. But I didn’t like being called that, because it’s just not cool, you know?
There's so much that I think needs to be unpacked in that comment. First of all, I'm ignoring the "offended him very easily, too" comment because I think Mr. O meant that because his teacher was also Black, that teacher could readily understand why the "n word" was offensive. I think that Mr. O comment that his teacher grew up when racism was still active meant "when there was a lot of racism". I think such a comment needs discussion-how is racism today different from racism when the mother (and other adults were children? Has their mother ever experienced racism? If so, when and how does she share those experiences and her & others reactions and responses to those experiences with her children?
Also, I think another problematic statement was that the student who said the n word was suspended because the Black teacher was mad.
I also believe that Liz should have commented about this statement from Mr. T:
I’ve been called an African b-word once. What I told the kid the next day who called me that is, just because I’m black doesn’t mean I’m African. Because if I was African I’d be coming from Africa, and I don’t come from Africa. So that doesn’t make me African, and so that didn’t make sense for him to call me an African b-word.
That statement exemplifies the rational response to racist taunting that I commented about earlier. It's interesting to note that one commenter to the YouTube video also expressed concerns about that statement Here's that comment and the response from the video uploader (Liz/Los Angelites)http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=L9XxRQP11d0
This is so disheartening that you children have to go through things like this at a young age. You children seem very smart and well spoken. Ur son on being called the "African b" mentions he's not from Africa. That bothered me a bit. We may have been extracted from our African roots and forcibly sent to America but you must educate them that they are of African descent. They need to accept their history and love it first before anything. Good luck with them. they're going to be some great kids
-OneHappyblackgirl; December 2011
@OneHappyblackgirl It bothered me too. It was a sign that he's already internalized that being African is a bad thing--which is absolutely the message we get in our culture.
-losangelista; December 2011
Furthermore, I would have liked for Liz to respond on camera to her son's comment about the Malcolm X movie having a lot of "n words". Are there differences between the way the "n word" was and is used by Black people in the past or today? Does the context in which that word is used, and the reasons why that word is used make a difference in its acceptability?
Finally, I understand Liz's impulse to compliment her son for his suggestion that schools hold programs about Black heroes to reduce racism. Such multicultural programs are worthwhile for helping children develop and reinforce self-esteem & group esteem. However, those programs don't address the reasons why some people are racist and why some students taunt others.
As I indicated in the beginning of this post, I agree with those who complimented Mr. T and Mr. O for the way they articulated their responses to their mother's questions. I also repeat that I believe that Liz had good intentions for her video/post. And I'm aware that she and others may disagree with my opinions about that video/post. I also believe that this video interview is probably not the only time and the only way that Liz and her sons have discussed racism. A number of commenters on Liz's site offerred virtual hugs to Mr T and Mr. O. I'm sure that Liz probably gave her son's hugs after they finished taping this video. At that time, they probably needed that physical reassurance more than words.
Again, I feel the need to write this post because of the concerns I have with the interview process as a response to racism, and not to put down Liz/Los Angelitas. I intend to share a link to this post with Liz/Los Angelista.
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