Breaking the Cycle - Chloe Ngakosso and Samantha Daniel

Chloe Ngakosso


Sometimes it's easier to stay silent. To not rock the boat. Put your head down - and hope things just get better on their own. Unfortunately when it comes to racism that's how cycles perpetuate. 


Even when issues are addressed they may be done behind closed doors and there is little to no accountability to the victim or their families to know if anything was actually done - or if the incident was just swept under the rug to avoid confronting it. Then, when no concrete changes seem to be forthcoming to address issues like institutional racism (aka systemic racism) - how can one feel good about the educational institutions our children attend, especially in regards to ethnic minorities? 


Thanks to Chloe Ngakosso and her mother Samantha Daniel and others like them who have raised their voices to demand change, it looks like change may be coming. When we first started talking to Samantha about publishing their story locally last week there had been no response from the Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB). Since then, the TVDSB have not only gotten back to her, they have launched a "Thought Exchange" project asking "What does TVDSB most need to change in order to address racism in our school board"



We're looking forward to hearing the outcome and seeing the change for the students in our community. Please take the time to participate in it as well.


And now, here is one of the stories from our community that helped bring about this change. Samantha wrote this in consultation with her daughter Chloe. We're proud that they entrusted us to publish it and we're proud of them for sharing it to help provide others in our community with a better perspective.  


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Racism Through a Mother's Eyes

by Samantha Daniel


Sometimes it’s hard for Chloe to express herself well…especially when she is nervous. But, I am so proud at how well she has done so far. She is a different kid from two weeks ago.

I would like to give you a bit of Chloe’s background so you can get to know her a bit better.

This is my hometown, however, when Chloe was a baby, we moved to Montreal. Montreal is where Chloe first experienced the feeling of being different, or as 4 year old Chloe would say, “special”.

Chloe’s daycare was celebrating Multicultural week. This usually meant switching out the white baby dolls for black baby dolls, hanging some flags from around the world, and reading stories that had other races in them. One day Chloe came to me and said, “Mommy, I don’t want to be special anymore.”. Well what an odd statement. Confused, I said, “ What do you mean?”. Chloe, starting to cry, “I don’t want to be special. I don’t want special skin like daddy. I want skin like yours.”. Now where on earth did that come from???? I looked at her, “Why do you think your skin is special? Who told you your skin is special?”. After some gentle prodding, I learned that the daycare teacher was talking about people being different, and pointed out Chloe for being black and her daughter who she adopted from China. Her words were, “It’s ok to be different. Chloe and my daughter are special.”. She meant no harm and honestly thought she was teaching the kids a great thing, but really, what happened was that she gave Chloe her first complex. Now she identified as different from everyone else and she didn’t want to be different, or “special” as she put it. She was very upset. The next day I had to find the gentlest way to explain to the teacher how singling out one or two children as different, affects them. And so, at the young age of 4, Chloe started questioning her sense of belonging.

We lived in Montreal until Chloe was 9 years old, just finishing grade 3. Montreal is very diverse and it was very easy to fit in no matter what race. In school, she was shy, but her teachers told me that she included everyone, always standing up for the kids that were picked on, and made sure that they felt included. She was popular, but thought nothing to go against the tide to make sure that someone else felt a sense of belonging. Being a family that teaches mindfulness, and empathy, this made me incredibly proud of her.

When we moved to St. Thomas, she was just entering grade 4. St. Thomas is a predominantly white community. A place where you are noticed when you are black, or asian, or Indian. Chloe felt it right away. And within months was commenting on how people stare at her. I remember her saying that someone in the grocery store looked her up and down and made a disgusted face. I brushed it off as her imagination. My community isn’t racist, I thought.

Grade four is where I got an eye opening, and she lost her confidence. Chloe had trouble making friends, and felt like she just couldn’t place herself. She felt she didn’t belong. The word “N****r” was thrown around and soon the kids were incorporating the word into her surname. This wasn’t a one time thing. This was a daily thing. Chloe started having panic attacks at school. She couldn’t breath, her chest hurt, her stomach hurt, she got headaches. I was called into the school several times to come and get her, because they couldn’t calm her. I honestly can’t remember how much I told the school at that time. I told them that she was being bullied. I went to the school in tears a few times. But felt like “the emotional mom”. I just wanted to support my daughter in the best way I knew how. Unfortunately, I was so intent on not doing it wrong, that I did it all wrong. I thought I was, and still am not, much of a “feather ruffler”. I don’t like conflict, and I don’t like confrontation. I thought the best thing to do was to encourage her and guide her from home in how to deal with the bullies. Walk away. Ignore them. You are better than them. Etc. etc. etc. Eventually, after hearing that the kids continued to incorporate N****r into her surname, I made the decision to step in. Unfortunately it was just before school ended, after giving the names of the children involved, and realizing that one of the children was a teachers son, the response I got was, well….this boy’s parents (the boy’s parent was a teacher) will not be happy that he behaved like that. We can’t guarantee that the other boys parents will do anything as they don’t believe in discipline and giving consequences and that he will learn through natural consequences. The girl involved has anxiety, and we find it hard to believe she would do this. And that was that. I felt swept under the carpet. Like the school just didn’t want to deal with it. I felt defeated. I walked away. Still feeling too insecure to speak up too much.

Grade 5 came along and Chloe’s teacher was AMAZING. She had a talent for making the kids feel like a family. Chloe was happy. She still didn’t feel like she belonged, but her confidence was coming back and this made me happy.

Grade 6 and 7 weren’t as great. Chloe still had issues with belonging and the conversation sometimes turned towards her race. Her confidence was dropping again.

Chloe struggled in grade 8. She had a difficult time with friends and she was often asked by white students for the “N word Pass”. This meant that because she was black, she could give the kids a pass to say the “N word”. She refused, but was upset by it. She told me about it, but didn’t say much more about it. In grade 8, a boy told her that he was only interested in white girls, not black girls. This really upset her too. I watched her confidence plummet.

This year was the worst. Excited to start high school, feeling scared yet hopeful. This was a fresh start. She started off strong. Happy. Soon into her first semester, the kids started to read To Kill A Mockingbird. Everything seemed normal.

One day, on our way home, Chloe burst into tears. She felt that she didn’t belong, she felt that people were staring at her hair, that people looked at her funny. She said that when ever racial matters came up in English class when they were discussing To Kill A Mockingbird, the kids would automatically look at her. She sobbed that she felt that she didn’t belong at school or in the community. It broke my heart. She was depressed. I didn’t communicate much to the school at this time. What was I going to say? I had no idea how to handle it.

During Anti Bullying week, Chloe was standing in the hall by herself, waiting for a friend, when an older boy and his friends walked past her and said “You’ve got fleas, N****r.”. Ugh.. .I can’t even type about it without getting choked up. How dare he compare my daughter to a dirty animal?????? Chloe didn’t see his face, because the moment she heard his tone, before the sentence had left his lips, she dropped her gaze. An act of submission. It’s happening again. Just don’t look at them.

That night, she came home and told me about it. Sobbing in the car. This was the tip of the iceberg for me. It was time for me to ruffle some feathers. This mom that doesn’t like aggression, and believes in speaking to people in a mindful manner, lost her mind. I got angry. I had a wooden pen in the car and drew a face on it. I told her to stand up for herself. I told her that she couldn’t be meek. She had to give it back. I told her to look at that pencil and tell it to “go shove it up your a**!” . My gentle Chloes’s response, “No. I won’t stoop to their level. I won’t be mean.”.

I called my sister, beside myself, and told her what happened. I decided to wait until Monday to contact the school. My PTA, hot lunch, school volunteer of all volunteers, sister, when defending the honour of her family, can be a bit like a bull in a china shop. She went straight to Twitter. She was sick and tired of her niece hurting, and having to deal with this. It was anti bullying week, how did this happen? So she blasted the school board, tagging the school board. Within 24 hours, the principal called me. I told her the story. Ugly sobbing. She sympathized but what could we do if we couldn’t identify the boy? Chloe begged not to get involved. She was worried someone would find out and she would get hurt. She had heard rumours. She didn’t want the teachers talking to her about it and she didn’t want to be singled out. The principal was helpful and we both agreed that we needed to change the culture of the school. Something needed to be done to educate these kids. These high school kids that didn’t give a lick about assemblies, and lectures. The principal was going on leave for a few weeks, but would be back after Christmas and would think about options. She told me however, that she would get a police report started in case Chloe could point the kid out and changed her mind about pressing charges. She also told me that usually, depending on the investigation, the perpetrator would get 2 days suspension. Expulsion is very rare. She said that there wasn’t very much she could do about that and gave the impression that her hands were tied. I explained to the principal that Chloe is lucky. She has a very supportive family and that we believe in communication and talk about EVERYTHING. But what if another child doesn’t have that in their life? What if, they are dealing with the same thing? And they feel ignored? It happens over and over and over again. One kid will get a 2 day suspension…then another kid will do it…that kid will be suspended. But there is no education. They just keep doing it. This is repetitive and ineffective. This can lead to depression, drugs, alcohol, self harm and even suicide. The attacker walks away from their two day suspension ready to move on with the world. The child that was attacked? AFFECTED FOR LIFE! At the time, I thought expulsion was the answer, but after thinking about it, realized it was more than that. I needed to talk to the school board about their disciplinary measures for racism in the schools. They needed to change. Education needed to happen. Possibly a anti discrimination discipline program. Therapy? Community service in the school? There needed to be conversation in the classrooms. Not just while they were reading To Kill A Mockingbird, or in History class, or during Black History Month. This wasn’t something that should only be brought up once or twice a year. It had to be part of the daily conversation. Maybe new literature that the kids could relate to in the year 2020?

Now remember, I was very uncomfortable ruffling feathers, and had no idea how to even begin doing so. This may not have been the best avenue to take, but I decided that I needed to go to Twitter. That social platform that is so foreign to me. I started angrily tweeting to the school board with the incident and tagging them, and the super intendant. Several people got in on the action. The school board didn’t respond. They didn’t acknowledge. So, under their anti bullying notices, I started tweeting about bullying and racism in the school. Nothing. Soon I had friends messaging me, asking me what happened, and thankfully, giving a lost angry soul like myself, the name and number that I needed to call at the board. A few came to me with their very similar stories. Chloe wasn’t the only one. Meanwhile a reporter friend reached out. She was interested in writing a story on it. I said that I wanted to contact the school board first, and see if we could work together in finding a solution. So I called. I got the super intendants assistant who lent me a very sympathetic ear. I explained who I was, and why I was calling. She, while sympathetic, didn’t think there was anything the super could do. I explained my idea about an anti discrimination program. I talked about the offender doing community service around the school. She told me that the they can’t enforce that as community service on school grounds will take away from the custodians job and it goes against union rules. I asked her to have him call me anyway so that maybe we could put our heads together, brainstorm, or he could guide me to resources. She agreed whole heartedly and assured me that he would call back. Maybe not the next day but in 2 or 3 days. Great. Now we are getting somewhere.

He never called. Christmas came, and then the scare of Covid. Not a word. I felt ignored. And frustrated, backed off.

When George Floyd was murdered, the Thames Valley School Board put out a notice on Facebook saying that they are saddened by the events and that they stand with the black community in support. This made me angry. They did a very good job of ignoring me on Twitter and my phone call. I blasted them. I called them hypocrites. Still nothing. A couple of days later, my reporter friend from CBC messaged me and suggested the story again. I was all for it. I was sick of being ignored. Sick of my daughter having to put up with anymore. So I agreed.

Chloe came to me that day and said she wanted to speak out about her experiences. She wanted to talk to the reporter. So we did the interview. That night, after the interview, Chloe changed. She felt empowered. She danced through the house for 2 days! Just danced and danced and danced. No kidding. I watched her confidence soar. She told me she wanted to do more. She wanted to protest. So we did. She is now harnessing her voice. Something she HAS NEVER EVER done before or even had the confidence to do. I am so pleased for her. The school board has been followed up with by 2 reporters, and still we haven’t heard from them. I have to wonder….why? Why should I HAVE TO CHASE THEM to discuss racism in the schools? I shouldn’t. They should have contacted me months ago. In fact. They should have contacted me before I called them. I was very clear with the principal that I wanted to speak with them. I was clear in my tweets that I was angry. I was clear in my phone call to the school board that I needed to talk to them. WHY? WHY, has it taken this long, and they STILL don’t reach out. Simple. They are hoping I will go away.

We aren’t sure what our next step is. Another call for sure. And I hope Chloe keeps that voice and uses her amazing, new found tool. She is brave. Since the articles on Chloe have come out on Social Media, I have had many parents contact me with stories of their own. Some under the post, some privately. My brain is working in overdrive. Chloe, though, is getting the feeling that she can make a difference and even though a little nervous, is looking forward to working with the school in coming up with solutions.

***UPDATE- Just before sharing this letter publicly, I was contacted by the principal of Parkside. I was also contacted by the principal of Laurier who has implemented some amazing things with her students, and finally by the Thames Valley School board. My hope is that we can brainstorm and work together in making important changes in our schools to combat racism and discrimination.

Comments

  1. Wow! An amazing story and I"m glad that there was a good outcome for Chloe and that she felt empowered.
    I had a similar situation with a friend from Sudan who was talked to very poorly by one of our superiors at work. I was very upset and even shaken by it but he insisted that I didn't say anything about it.
    His story turned out to be a success in the end and he is one of the finest people that I have ever known and one of the few "real men" that I have met.

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  2. Amazing and moving.Growing up in St.Thomas is very hard, especially being one of a few black people.It's a white town, true, but most of the people there are awesome. I had an older brother 4 years my senior that could teach me the ropes. How to avoid, how to stand up, and how to never let them see you sweat. It was important for my survival, I can't imagine dealing with this all alone with no black mentor or a person that has gone through similar things... I wish her luck and love. You can trust white people Chloe. You will grow up one day and all this trauma will turn into empathy and understanding. Mabel has you to be her mentor. You took the hard knocks and things will get better, they already are. Hang on!! All my love Marnie

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