Sometimes experiences that are innocent and even humorous feel much heavier and serious if I don’t handle properly. One of those experiences happened to Ev and I recently and I wish I was more prepared to know what to say or do. We were shopping at a clothing store and a woman was walking toward us in full Islamic dress, including the piece of clothing that covers the face, only leaving space for the eyes. Ev pointed directly at her and said, “Look! A ninja!” The woman checking us out at the register and another shopper chuckled. But I did not think it was funny; I was stunned—and mortified. The woman absolutely saw him pointing and heard what he said, as well as her family members. When I finally processed what was happening, my instinct kicked in, and I knocked Ev’s finger down and told him it was very rude to point. I then said, “We do not know if that woman is a ninja; some people choose to dress that way, just like you chose to wear what you are wearing.” I followed that by telling him, “Some people take much meaning from the clothes they choose to wear.”
I was literally dumbfounded. I wondered if I should find the woman and apologize. I wondered if I should let him ask her about her attire to learn more about that culture. But I worried that would extend the awkward tension further. In the end, I didn’t do either for worry the situation would somehow get worse. I paid for our shirt and walked out of the store praying Ev hadn’t offended the woman or hurt her or her families’ feelings.
This feels so heavy to me because teaching Ev about diversity, culture—and most of all tolerance of people who are different (for any reason)—is very important to my husband and I. Not only that but kindness. It’s important to us that Ev does what is right and kind always. A very relevant Parent Source e-newsletter was recently about diversity. A key passage for me said, “Children are born with open minds and their experiences help determine how they will navigate through their world. It’s important that parents recognize that although cultural messaging comes from various sources such as family members, the community and the media, family has the biggest impact.” I want to do everything I can to keep Ev’s mind open.
The Parent Source article also listed tips to talk to children about diversity. Many of which I know and do, such as seeking out opportunities to experience diversity as a family and acknowledging stereotypes when we encounter them—mostly about gender roles these days. But when Ev called out this woman, I was not prepared to handle it in the moment.
In hindsight, there is not much we could have done to prevent what happened from happening. His context came from an iPad game he plays called Clumsy Ninja. So I know it was nothing but innocent. Although, pointing and talking about someone is always rude so we need to work on that. But he wasn’t trying to be offensive or unkind. He honestly thought the woman was a ninja. Since then, I’ve shared pictures with Ev showing the garments the woman was wearing and we have talked about it. My hope is that in the future when Ev sees something out of place that he doesn’t understand, that he will talk to me or my husband about it at an appropriate time so that we can discuss and answer questions together.