I was helping a special needs student acquaint herself with a website the teacher wants all the kids to use. It helps them with their maths skills – games and such – and allows him to keep track of what they’re doing.
This particular girl is 10, but has the emotional and mental state of a 5 year old (I think). She’s tall for her age, and normally very sweet. She gets impatient, especially at times when she knows she’s receiving different treatment, or when things are difficult for her. Computers are really challenging for both of us. She stops following instructions carefully and becomes frustrated when things don’t work the way they’re supposed to (her motor skills are also behind). I get frustrated because she won’t listen or let me help her.
Anyhow, as we are navigating this fun site, I show her that she can change her avatar to look more like her, if she wants to. The first thing she did was the skin tone to black, but then quickly makes it a pale “white” colour again.
My heart sank. There are many things that are possibly playing into this – most to do with her own limitations (Does she understand that it’s supposed to look like her? Did she continue to understand it or just start making a face look a certain way?) – but I couldn’t help feeling sad.
I am not eloquent on race, and have no idea how this particular girl, who is Brasilian and South African, sees herself, but today was a moment that really made an impression. She’s a truly beautiful child, and I really hope that her reaction had to do with a lack of understanding, and nothing to do with her self-perception as a black girl.
And so I continue to learn something new every day.