Thursday, June 22, 2017

What Kind of Stranger Are You?

"What kind of stranger are you?"

The small black girl paused in her climb up the playground equipment and asked me that question. She was speeding around the playground with my white daughter and another little black girl. The three preschool age girls united in laughter, daredevilry, and energy were challenging each other to scrambling up, over, and under everything in sight. 

I tried to be inconspicuous as a spotter as they climbed on the equipment, trying to eye all of them equally for potential falls. Halfway through scaling the wooden framework, one of the little girls turned and looked at me. 

"Is that your daughter?"


"Can we play with her?"


"Are you a stranger?"

"Um, yes, I am a stranger to you, but not to her." 

"What kind of stranger are you?"

I froze for a moment, cutting my eyes away from hers. For a kindergarten aged black girl in Anchorage, Alaska, what kind of stranger am I? What kind of stranger am I to her mom or dad, her older brother, her next door neighbor, her teachers, her cousin, her pastor or community leader? 

"Well," I said carefully. "I am the kind of stranger who you can ask for help if you are hurt or lost or scared. But you should not go anywhere with me or take anything from me. I am the kind of stranger who will be kind to you, but I still want you to know that not all strangers are the same." 

There's no way to explain to any child that strangers are not always the danger. That sometimes the danger is in your house or your school or the people in positions to protect you. I didn't say that I am a stranger who has fought for things for all Alaskans- like Medicaid expansion, more Medicare doctors, community policing, and more detox beds in the Anchorage Bowl. I didn't tell her that I'm the kind of stranger who wrestles with privilege and frustration and anger. I didn't tell her that I'm the kind of stranger who has a #BlackLivesMatter pin stuck into my bright pink pussy hat and I mean both symbols wholeheartedly. 

As far as she knows, I'm the kind of stranger who watches out for all the kids on the playground. I'm the kind of stranger who will push her on the swing. I'm the kind of stranger whose daughter will refer to other girls whose names she does not know as "my sister". (I don't actually know why she does this, but V told me once that all girls are her sisters. I didn't argue.) I'm the kind of stranger who will pretend to be a tickle monster under the slide, but will only tickle hands and arms of children to whom I am not related. I am the kind of stranger who will offer a bandaid for a scrape, but not a snack because I don't want children I don't know to be in the habit of taking food from people they don't know outside of an organized setting or a grownup's permission. 

I'm the kind of stranger who is not close to being perfect or even that good, but I'm strange enough to keep persisting in being better. 

What kind of stranger are you? 


Unknown said...

Wonderful! Wonderful! The student outshines the teacher. And that is more than okay!

Jo said...

Your answers were excellent and wise.

Personally, I probably would have said that I am a stranger who is a teacher and a helper, and I work at schools with all kinds of kids young and just haven't met me yet because I work at a different school than you go to. All this would be said as I searched for this child's caring adult so that I could say hello to her or him myself.

a pearl downunder said...

i love that your daughter thinks all girls are her sisters, what a wonderful way to live.