When the F-Bomb Landed in my Neighborhood

The other day the kids and I were walking home from a late afternoon playdate when we approached a group of twenty something men who appeared to be tourists.  As the men waited at a street corner, a cab driver beeped his horn several times at another motorist.  The (white) tourists got quite angry at the (black) cab driver, and as the cabbie turned the corner one of them yelled out “Fucking terrorist!!” much to the delight and humor of the others.

Fucking. Terrorist.

The words made me shudder for so many reasons. At that instant, I wanted so desperately to shield my children from such rude language and ignorant hatred.  The f-word is so forceful and angry and vile, and I certainly don’t need Evie and Mack thinking a word like that is normal and acceptable.  I want them raised in a home where we speak kindly, thoughtfully and politely to one another.

But, even more distressing was the man’s use of the word “terrorist”.  A terrorist is someone who murders and tortures and rapes.  As far as I know, no Chicago cabbies are toting bombs in their trunks and threatening the overall security of our beautiful city.  A lot of them are immigrants just trying to carve out a better life for themselves and their families.  Based on his accent, I assume the cabbie from the other night came from a West African country, where he probably left behind family and familiarity.  He was doing nothing to directly bother the group of men, so why did they feel the need to harass him??

This may come as a surprise to people without children, but a 3 1/2 year old and a nearly 2 year old understand just about every word that comes out of an adult’s mouth. They are so much more perceptive than most people would guess.  I don’t want my kids to witness irrational xenophobia or racism; I don’t want them thinking for even one second that they can treat another human being poorly for no reason other than the color of skin or the place of birth.

As I briskly walked away, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed in myself.  Why hadn’t I spoken up?  Why hadn’t I shown my children what it means to be brave?  I know keeping quiet was the safe choice – who knows how volatile those men were…and I certainly wasn’t in a position to physically or verbally defend myself and my two small children.  But, when I reflect back on that moment I wish I had said something like  Hey Buddy, lose the arrogant and closed-minded attitude! or Don’t swear in front of kids! or Don’t give a hard-working immigrant an even harder time! or In this neighborhood, we treat people with respect.

What would you have done??

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4 Comments for this entry

  1. Katy says:

    I always struggle with this one too. I usually cut the offender some “mom eyes” and move on. You’re right, speaking up is not the right thing to do in this type of situation. My daughter is 7 now, but we started teaching her at a pretty young age that we don’t use curse words — not so much because they are “bad” but more because they are an ineffective and basically “not smart” way to express frustration and anger. That instead of resorting to using a “bad word” or berating someone or something…or even throwing/hitting, we use our brains and take the time to express it in a more appropriate way. Sounds complex for a young child? On the surface, yes…but as you pointed out, little ones are far more perceptive than we sometimes give them credit for. This lesson, over time, resonated with her and now that she’s older and has heard the spectrum of curse words from strangers, television, rotten kids at school….I’ve yet to ever hear her repeat one. In fact, you’ll often find that when an offender speaks in an inappropriate way, you’ll find my 7 yr. old cutting them some “mom eyes” 🙂

  2. Elle says:

    I think Katy hit it right on. I think confronting them would not have made a difference, and it could have put you in danger. I was about to say that rather than talk to the men, talking to Evie and Mack about why you disapprove of that behavior might be worthwhile, but I have mixed emotions because they are so young. I think kids grow up too fast now…it would be nice if they could keep being kids and not have to understand in depth why the world has some ugly people in it. I’d go with the positive role modeling that you undoubtedly give, and when that happens again when they are older (sadly, I’m sure there will be many teachable moments), that would be an opportunity to talk to them about it. I think Evie and Mac (and the little one on the way) are so lucky to have you and your husband as parents.
    P.S. I thought of you over the holidays…I was up-cycling a 100% organic cotton tshirt into a sleep-sack for our future baby! Decided it’s never too early to start preparing, since I’ve heard that time really flies once you are actually pregnant. I’m about to turn a bunch of my fiance’s old t-shirts into a t-shirt quilt, and I’m excited to have a use for the extra knit from the backs/sleeves of the t-shirts…seemed very homemade mother-y to me!

  3. Hannah says:

    It’s heartbreaking to me that these things are still happening in our world, especially in this so-called “land of the free.” I’ve been the target of some ignorance and hateful bigotry myself, and the thought of raising biracial children in this kind of environment makes me sick sometimes.

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