A couple of weeks ago, as my daughter was getting ready for school, she mentioned that her class was working on an Asian song and they instructed to use her fingers to slant their eyes at certain times.
My wife, K, and I were shocked. When my daughter saw our reaction, she thought that we were angry at her. We assured her that we were not and took the opportunity to explain to her why it was wrong to slant her eyes.
Later, K and I discussed the situation and decided that she would send an e-mail message to the teacher to express our outrage. The teacher replied with an apology that I thought was inadequate. In the response, he said that he may have performed the eye slanting, but he did not instruct the children to do so. He also said that he didn’t recall doing it in any other class besides my daughter’s.
You may recall how the Spanish basketball team was greeted with international outrage when its team posed for an ad while the players used their fingers to slant their eyes while taking a photograph during the Olympics. Apparently, Mr. Music Teacher did not. He completely missed the point. I figured that I needed to explain the situation to him in a more direct manner so I sent the following e-mail message:
Mr. Music Teacher,
I must say that I was quite disappointed when my wife brought this incident to my attention. As the teacher you have a tremendous influence on students’ perceptions. Such a thoughtless act can only breed intolerance. If this is the way that you teach the children about other cultures, I do not want my daughter to be a part of it. While your apology to us was adequate, the students still have the impression that it is okay to slant their eyes when referring to people of Asian descent. I hope that you will rectify this problem.
I immediately received another e-mail apology and phone call. His attempts to seem contrite were wasted on me because I could sense that he really saw nothing wrong with his actions. His job is to expose our children to other cultures without engaging in stereotyping or offensive behavior. He failed to do that. It is one thing if the children slanted their eyes on their own, but for them to be taught to do this is inappropriate. If an Asian child were in the class, would he/she have been expected to slant his/her eyes as well?
I know that we’ve all been guilty of perpetuating racial stereotypes. I remember slanting my eyes when referring to Asian people when I was a kid, but have I since learned better. In this day and age, we cannot continue to accept such ignorance. It is up to each of us to speak out against any “ism” or stereotype that we encounter.
What’s most disappointing about this situation is that it my daughter attends a Christian private school. I expected the staff to be more sensitive to such issues. Maybe I was naïve. This incident has caused me to reconsider my commitment to this school. I’ll keep you posted.
Question: How do you respond when you hear people making racist statements?