"Let's Be Fair"

At nine, my daughter is becoming aware of the many ways in which the world is unjust, and is doing her part to promote fairness where she can.

Gender Inquality, Racial Segregation, and My Daughter

Eleni’s fourth-grade class has 25 minutes of recess. During that time, my daughter and her nine-year-old friends have a lot to accomplish. First, they have to negotiate what game they’ll play. Then, they have to sort out the rules. After that, they may need to mediate a squabble, because so-and-so wasn’t “being fair.” Finally, they’ll play for 10 minutes, unless someone isn’t nice, breaks a rule, or takes a minor spill. For Eleni and her pals, playground fun is important. But if a game isn’t played with kindness, diplomacy, and consideration, the girls get sulky and have to start over.

That’s why Eleni—my fairness freak—was appalled last week, when her class began learning about racial segregation. As her teacher told the kids about Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson, and other historical examples of social injustice, Eleni began to fume. “Mommy, how could that happen?” she demanded upon returning home from school. “Why were those white people so mean?”

Eleni also gets her dander up over women’s rights. Through her studies at school, she’s learned that, in colonial times, women couldnt show their ankles and were denied the right to vote (“How come men made up all the rules?” she’ll ask).

Elenis school is predominantly white, though there are children of all races. As an Asian girl, she is in the minority, but she doesn’t yet see her own race as an issue. When Eleni looks in the mirror, she’ll notice her Chinese features and sometimes say, “Mom, why do my eyes get really small when I smile?” or “Why is my nose flat and wide, when yours is kind of bumpy?” But in her mind, she has “peach-colored skin,” like me and like many (but not all) of her friends; long, dark, silky hair, which she loves; and a sense of pride that she was born in China. When I asked Eleni how she would feel if someone made fun of her because she was Asian, she countered, “I wouldn’t care, Mom, because that would be their problem.”

But if we were to return to a time when schools were segregated, and Eleni would be separated from many of her classmates, that would be another story. “Oh, Mommy,” Eleni said as she pondered the concept. “That would make me so mad and sad. How would we get to know all different families?” And what if Eleni were denied certain rights because she was female? Or if I had been unable to adopt her because of gender inequality, because I was a single woman? “Well, Mom,” Eleni began methodically, her brow slightly furrowed. “If you or I or any other woman was treated badly, I’d have to make an appointment to speak with the president.” And what if he and “those men in charge” still didn’t change the rules? “Well, I’d have to push them off the Empire State Building,” said Eleni jokingly, but matter-of-factly. But—to be fair—”I’d put a big trampoline below them, so that no one would get hurt too badly!”


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