Dear Prudence

Dear Prudence Uncensored: Racist Misbehavior

Every week, Danny M. Lavery and Nicole Cliffe discuss a Prudie letter. This week: racist misbehavior.

Nicole Cliffe: oh that is so upsetting

Danny Lavery: I know

Nicole Cliffe: I remember hearing about the N-word and asking my parents about it in the fifth grade or thereabouts

but this is such a different situation, knowing that your kid has already essentially said it, and is also behaving erratically

Danny Lavery: yes, and that even without knowing the word itself, understands that even just referencing it will hurt someone else


Nicole Cliffe: And enough that you’re worried she would say it

Yeah that’s a huge problem

I would prefer if this letter included her being in active therapy

for conduct and emotional regulation

Danny Lavery: yeah i think that’s a good place to start


Nicole Cliffe: like…obviously this is a massive problem which will worsen in time!

you do not trust your child not to say the N-word in order to be cruel to black kids

the problem is not merely “should I tell her what the word is”

Danny Lavery: absolutely

Nicole Cliffe: “Still being diagnosed” is good

that means there IS an evaluation ongoing

Danny Lavery: but in addition some therapy to deal with lashing-out and racism is a really good idea


Nicole Cliffe: oh yes

Danny Lavery: and also raise this as an issue with whoever’s doing the diagnosing

as a primary concern

Nicole Cliffe: 100%

Danny Lavery: and in addition to continuing these conversations with your daughter about racism and white supremacy

which are good and you should probably be having with her daily, since this is already a daily issue

Nicole Cliffe: I’m glad they wrote in and didn’t just like…hand her “To Kill a Mockingbird”

Danny Lavery: God, yes.

Danny Lavery: i think it’s also really good to have in mind a backup plan

Nicole Cliffe: yes, and involve the school in that plan

Danny Lavery: if even regular conversations about racism and stressing how important it is not to be racist and cruel to her classmates don’t result in change


the school is going to need to protect their black students from racist harassment

Nicole Cliffe: she cannot be treating others this way

Danny Lavery: and you may very well need to come up with an alternate schooling arrangement for her in the near future

Nicole Cliffe: this is my fear and also I agree

Danny Lavery: and I get that she’s six and clearly in pain and in need of support

but you have to also consider the pain her black classmates must feel having to experience racist abuse at such a young age


Nicole Cliffe: which is a tremendously big thing! and “keeping her away from black kids” is not a permanent solution, but she also cannot continue harming these children


Danny Lavery: I do have hope that with counseling, treatment for whatever her other issues may be, constant reinforcement of anti-racism at home, she will stop — her character is not set in stone at six –– but there may be a long road ahead, and you have to keep the other kids’ well-being in mind in the meantime

Nicole Cliffe: Yes, build that relationship with your vice principal and talk strategies. Six is very young, and she can get better


Danny Lavery: Do you think it’s worth trying to communicate with this particular classmate’s parents?

Nicole Cliffe: I think so

Danny Lavery: It’d probably be best to let them know through the vice president that you’re willing to meet, possibly with a mediator, that you’re terribly sorry for your daughter’s racism and you’re doing everything you can to stop this


Nicole Cliffe: I’d suggest a fulsome, no-holds barred written apology with “Please do not feel you need to respond, and we are pursuing all possible avenues”

while also saying you are more than happy to talk in person

six is a terrible age to be experiencing racial abuse at school

Danny Lavery: Right, as long as they go through the school first rather than reaching out directly, and get the other parents’ OK before following up in any way

because they may not want to hear from you at all, and you would obviously not want to push if they want to keep their distance

Nicole Cliffe: and I agree about asking first if they want to hear from you at all before offering an apology


they may really not want to hear from you right now


You’ll just want to make it clear this is 100% YOUR PROBLEM to fix, that you’re fully taking on this responsibility

Danny Lavery: they also might be relieved to hear that her parents aren’t encouraging/teaching her this behavior! You just don’t know, so it’s better to signal availability and wait to say more once you’ve heard back

right –– you can stress that you’re not asking them to do anything or expecting they’ll do the work for you

and in the meantime I really just think that there is no reason for you to spell that word out for her. You can talk to her about the history of that word and its seriousness, but she does not need to hear it from you right now


I think she’s asking because she wants to call this classmate that word, so it’s not right to tell her now

Nicole Cliffe: Absolutely not

and also know that she will ask other kids

and google it

so it’s COMING at some point in the not-too-distant future

and you need to be ready for that too

Danny Lavery: right, just because you won’t tell her right now doesn’t mean she can’t or won’t eventually learn it elsewhere


do six-year-olds have unsupervised access to Google nowadays??

Nicole Cliffe: some do

Danny Lavery: this one shouldn’t!

Nicole Cliffe: and others will visit other kids who do

Danny Lavery: yeah I hope she is not having unsupervised visits with other kids right now, it doesn’t sound like she’s able to handle that


Nicole Cliffe: Absolutely.

But there’s recess and all sorts of other opportunities


You can’t ask her teacher to miss their own prep time to babysit the racist kid

it’s hard on everyone who’s at that school

Danny Lavery: it is. I hope the school can, in the meantime, offer at least somewhat-robust supervision from teachers, and that everyone who teaches or works with your daughter knows about her use of racism to hurt her peers so that they can keep an eye on her and remove her from the classroom if necessary

and i also hope you get useful treatment for her

Nicole Cliffe: all of this

Danny Lavery: because she’s also six years old, and clearly struggling


those are both worthy goals: to minimize the harm she causes her non-white peers, and to help her with her emotional problems


Nicole Cliffe: this is not a happy kid

and her happiness is not your top priority right now but also I would be probing to discover if she’s experiencing some kind of traumatic situation outside or inside your home

Danny Lavery: yeah, and it’s also just a reminder that there’s enough racism and white supremacy baked into society at large that white six-year-olds can pick it up without ever being taught to be racist by their parents; it’s important to start talking to kids about racism early and often

and I’m just really sorry! please let us know how you’re doing once you’ve made more progress with diagnos(e)s and treatment

Nicole Cliffe: YES, I think this is something where an update is not just welcome, but vital