Clinton got called a “redneck” at school.
Yup. And I kinda think it’s hilarious.
Here’s the background: The boys go to a charter school in East Oakland. In the 40 kids that make up the two 4th grade classes, there are 2 white kids. C is the white kid in his class, and there is a white girl in the other 4th grade. The school has a predominately Latino student body, like 80% or so. The next subset in Asian, then Black, and then the white kids. E is in the 5th grade and the groups have divided by gender, in 4th grade the kids split off by race. C hangs with the black kids. Mostly because of the sports he plays. He doesn’t like soccer. He likes football and basketball. There are 4 black girls and 8 black boys in the 4th grade. Within the group of black boys, C has found his best friend/worst enemy/partner in crime/primary competition, let’s call the kid J.
C and J have been close friends since the beginning of last year. And their friendship drives me nuts because it reminds me of all the frenemies I had in my youth. C will go on and on about how J did this and J did that and J, J, J… ugh. It got to the point that they both had a crush on the same girl. J made the first move, and the girl agreed to be his girlfriend. C was devastated. But it only lasted a day-which is brief even in 4th grade standards. C was super relieved, learned his lesson, and promptly let the girl know he liked her too. Turns out she likes him too, and they’ve been cool ever since.
However, when J found out he tried to dissuade C from spending his recesses with the girl, aptly remarking: “Pals before Gals.” But C wasn’t having it.
Anyway, when the boys play basketball, they talk a lot of shit. They started calling C “Strawberry” on the court, because his cheeks turned red. He’s the only non-brown kid on the court. C did not like it.
When I asked him why not, he said “They’re making fun of my skin color mom, like duh.”
But then I asked what they called each other, and he said, “Um, well, chocolate and coffee and one guy even said he was smooth like mocha and crunchy like chocolate chips!”
“Do they say that to the kids who aren’t black too? Like do they call the boys who play soccer ‘chocolate?'”
How do you explain to the white kid who has been taught to never ever ever make fun of someone’s race that by calling him Strawberry, he was actually being included? And that this is how his friends, due to larger society we all find ourselves in, conceptualize their identities? These kids are 8,9 and 10 years old.
I tried to say, “Well it’s how they say you’re one of us, you’re just different. We’re all flavors and you, your strawberry.” But he still wasn’t happy about it.
The Latino boys started calling C, “biscuit” and oooh that pissed him off. It was a dig on both his size, color and eating habits. C is the tallest kid in the 4th grade. He’s also husky as a child of mine should be. Boy is thick. Strong as an ox and a head taller than everybody else. Strawberry he could deal with on the court because he was getting better at his shots and blocks, Biscuit is just mean.
The girl who he likes and likes him, who happens to be Latina, wasn’t having any of that though. She threatened to beat up any of her friends who called him that, and ya, I am proud to say that she is a force to be reckoned with in the 4th grade stratosphere.
But Redneck… Redneck came up in class. The chapter book they are reading is about a Black family in Flint set in the early 1960’s. The family drove down to Alabama to visit a grandmother, and at one point the word “redneck” appears in the text. C was sitting with J, reading together.
My family is from Alabama, my mom was born there. So C confided to J that he, “has a redneck in his family.”
J, ever the frenemy, responded with, “Dude, you ARE a redneck… but… you’re my Redneck. So it’s ok.”
This to me, is fucking hilarious. Like about to bust up with laughter hilarious, until I saw the look on C’s face and I knew it would be a huge mistake to be anything other than gravely concerned.
C is thoroughly offended. He doesn’t really even know what a redneck is. He just knows it’s not good to be one.
Again, how do I tell the kid that this is inclusion? This is what it’s like to grow up with friends of different races in a very racialized society? You get to say things to each other in the moment that you don’t get to say at any other time, specifically because you’re sharing that moment with each other.
I don’t have a solution for any of this. Not at all.
I went to so many different schools with different ratios of same and different that I gave up with trying to make any sense of it and just ran with the folks who would have me because who knew how long I’d actually stay there.
We come from inter-racial mixed families. The majority of my friends and lovers span the racial spectrum. Their dad is a mix of Cherokee and Irish, his wife is Latina, making their two little sisters mixed. My own racial identity is unclear if you go back two generations on my mom’s side, we’re all pretty sure my great grandaddy was a black man passing as white and my great grandmother was Jewish, but her family converted. But ya know you’re not supposed to bring that shit up in THE SOUTH. Half of my family is Hispanic due to my grandmother’s second marriage. My dad’s side of the family is American Indian and English, and by English I mean the first Clark landed in the mid-1600’s, then most recently Norwegian on his mother’s side.
So, no, we’re not rednecks. Which is why it’s so funny to me. And probably the exact same reason it’s so offensive to C.
I don’t know how to say, look C, for the most part, you’re white. Which means you’ve got a privilege you haven’t earned, and while at this school, right now, you’re the minority and you’re getting called out a little bit for it, as you grow up you’ll see how it all gets turned around in real serious ways that go so far beyond a basketball court. And that’s gonna piss you off all over again.
He’s only 9.