Racists Vandalized our School Playground — Here’s What I Hope My Kids Learn From It
By Erik Missio
Photo © rawpixel/123RF
Oct 9, 2017
In late August, the playground at my daughter’s school was vandalized by white supremacists — swastikas and KKKs were scrawled on the same blue slides my kids have run up and skidded down a million times.
I’m a straight, white, cis-gendered male and can’t even begin to know what it feels like to be the target of this sort of awfulness, much less how you talk about it with your kids. It made me sick this sort of thing happened literally down the street from where we live.
I found out via the local school-parents Facebook group that others in the neighbourhood got together the next day to clean it all off. Seeing the photo posts, I recognized a lot of those helpers. They were parents of my daughter’s friends or people I made small talk during morning drop-offs.
My neighbours had come together to take a stand, working together to show this kind of thing wasn’t acceptable. Adding to my civic pride, the mayor announced a “Children Unity Celebration” would take place the next day at the school, bringing everyone together to “share a message of hope, peace, and unity.”
My family had missed the initial cleanup, but we weren’t going to miss this. I wanted to show our kids we were part of a larger community — one that stood together. Markham, the Toronto suburb we call home, prides itself on being the country’s most diverse city. My daughter has friends who have different backgrounds and cultures, but I honestly don’t think it even registers with her. Based on conversations, she’s far more likely to categorize her buddies by hair length, scootering ability, or whether they like bugs rather than by ancestry.
We weren’t entirely sure how much information about the vandalism to give a three- and seven-year-old. When it comes to first-graders, is there a good way and an ideal time to discuss the roots of prejudice and the importance of solidarity in the face of hatred and ignorance? I don’t know. So, in the moment, we just kept things simple: Somebody wrote bad things about people. Other people cleaned it up, but now we all want to get together and say we think it wasn’t right. We also want people to know we’re together as neighbours.
I want [my kids] to remember it’s not always enough to just think something is bad — sometimes, you also need to show up and be seen and heard.
When we got to the event, we recognized lots of people in the crowd — friends, other families from school, teachers and semi-familiar neighbours we’d see walking dogs or mowing lawns. There were many we didn’t know at all, of course, but it still felt good to be together. Up at a podium, the mayor and police chief talked, a rabbi and an imam hugged, and a musician performed “This Little Light of Mine.” Doves were released. There was ice cream.
The whole time, a lot of the kids were laughing and chasing each other on the playground metres away. Many, I’m guessing, were completely oblivious to the reason why we all gathered together. I liked that they were carefree, but I also wondered how and when parents should be more clearly spelling this stuff out.
I still don’t know, but I’m really glad we went to the event. When the conversation about racism comes back (and, look, it’s not going away any time soon), I want them to remember that summer night where we went to the playground with a bunch of other families. I want them to remember it’s not always enough to just think something is bad — sometimes, you also need to show up and be seen and heard. And I want them to remember they’re part of this larger community, this collection of families and friends and neighbours, and that we stand by each other.