Playground politics: It's a jungle out there

"Ponies for sale! Ice cream! At your service!"

My kid knows how to draw a crowd. We had to make ourselves scarce today because of realtor showings at our house, so we loaded up the stroller with snacks and headed out on a tour of every playground in the neighborhood. "The choo-choo park" happens to have a little train station that looks more like a storefront and when we go there, Bee drums up a circle by offering imaginary goods. It's her go-to move for immediate friendship. Her "stinky sock ice cream" isn't much of a crowd-pleaser but the pony angle got all the girls in her corner today. Her next move is usually to alienate her sister with a game of "AHH! Stella is a spider! RUN!" or, "EWWW! Stella is a scary ghost! RUN AWAY!" and today was no different.

Let's pause for a moment to discuss the racially diverse atmosphere in Chicago. It's diverse. And I'll just tell you, as a white American fairly schooled in how shitty our country's history is, I'm uncomfortably aware of the hesitation I would feel if people who looked like me faced legal housing discrimination just a generation ago. (Edited to add: Although I'm a woman and despite the fact that we get stoned to death for adultery in some parts of the world, I still feel like a boss.) Sure, we have a black president, but declaring "racism is over" is like saying everyone is tall. Guys, we live in a world where just last week, a black couple was forced out of a white church a day before their wedding. LAST WEEK. Think about that.

Whities reading, think about how disgusted you would feel if papers used to publish mocking cartoons of you that didn't look human. How would you feel if your grandparent's grandparents had legally been owned by another human being? I'm just saying, our country has some somber truths. (Although really, what is "race" anyway? I have a black friend who is blonde and works on her tan.)

Flash us back to the moment on the play ground when my hands were busy snapping this Instagram picture:

. . . and my ears were furtively listening to my kid whip out her stand-by move to be more popular than her little sister. What unsavory role did she appoint Stella to make the other kids scream?

"Run from the jungle animal!"

Um. The jungle animal. She could have picked "big dinosaur" or "scary lion" from her roster of sour identities but today of all days she had to pick that as her insult? I wanted to die. I know this isn't about me, but I wanted to disappear. Maybe it was nothing - maybe we live in such a progressive, modern place that kids can just fling out any old silly word and it means nothing. Maybe I was the only person in the world who would feel something distasteful in an innocuous term. Maybe? But it was hard to tell who she was yelling at. She's three and though she's bossy, you can't always tell where she's going in a scene.

Truthfully, I just wanted to walk away like she wasn't mine while I prayed the other kids didn't hear her. Where did she even hear the term "jungle animal"? Was it after the circus when she asked me where elephants sleep? Did I tell her the "jungle"? I don't think so. That's kind of a loaded word. I thought I told her they had big elephant apartments with their families.

So I did what any noble parent would do. I faked a pressing appointment and got the eff out of dodge. I ran. We ran. And after that I swallowed hard and got in my kid's face and I said, "don't play any more games where you leave someone out. You only have one sister and it hurts her feelings when you pretend she's a spider or an animal and make everyone run away. It's not okay to hurt peoples' feelings".

And that? That is what I should have said the first time she ever played that game. Bullying stops at home. Also, no more circus.

Or maybe white people are really paranoid about seeming racist. Thanks, Tosh.0.


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