Confronting racism with your child.

I wasn’t prepared to explain racism to my kid. I have scripts for all kinds of eventual conversations. The birds and the bees. Why the sky is blue. Rather naively, it never occured to me to cover racism.

I had dropped Monster 1 off with the child care at a church service one night. Afterwards, I went to pick him up from the huge gymnasium, stepped inside and he ran to me. I saw the childcare lady waving at me so I waved back and went on my way. Then, I asked how his night was.

“I had to go in time out because I head butted a kid. He thought he was special just because he’s black.”

 

What the WHAT? A million thoughts went through my mind when my 10 year old said that. How did this happen? This doesn’t even sound like him! WHAT THE WHAT?

The demographics of my home are hardly unique in this day in age. I am Polynesian. I have been mistaken for hispanic or black all my life. My husband is white. Out of 5 kids only 1 has the dark skin tone. The monsters have never seen skin color as a defining factor. We are all equal. They are all raised with the same affection and consideration. Mom and Dad are partners in the home. While the kids are aware of cultural differences; it’s never been a THING. We do not define ourselves by skin color. So how did it happen that I’m harboring a little racist? What in the world made MY kid think it was ok to physically attack another child because of his skin color?

So I turned the truck around to go talk to the child care lady.

Monster 1 looked at me and asked “Am I in trouble?” I don’t know yet was the best answer I had. I knew this wasn’t him. He had never even been exposed to these ideas. Having adopted them was completely out of the question. I had to be missing some part of the story. If not I desperately needed to fix it. Where to even start was beyond me.

Thankfully, it was door #1. When I came back in the child care lady said she had been trying to flag me down. I thought she was just waving. The complete story was as follows:

Monster 1 was playing with Boy 1 and his 2 year old sister. Boy 2 kept coming to steal their ball. Monster 1 and Boy 1 took turns going to retrieve it. After the 3rd time, Monster 1 had enough and told Boy 2 to stop already. Boy 2 began throwing balls at the 2 year old. Monster 1 got in front of the girl and asked him what his problem is. Boy 2 apparently took that as a challenge and got behind Monster 1, getting him in a headlock. Monster 1 swung his head back and connected with Boy 1’s face. Boy 1 picked himself up and said “You can’t do that to me! I’m black!” This statement apparently confused Monster 1 to the point that he put himself in time out.

He could not understand:

  • Why this kid is calling himself black? His skin is only a couple shades darker than his brown skinned mother and brother. Monster 1 had never even heard the term. He knows black people. 2 of his cousins are half black. He just didn’t know that anyone defined a particular race as “black”.
  • What does his race have to do with Monster 1 defending himself? The Monsters have always been told that they are to never attack another person. If they are under attack though, they are encouraged to defend themselves.

He decided to save these questions for me. After calming himself down he got up to continue playing with Boy 1 and his sister. When Boy 2 came back around Monster 1 got another ball. “Look kid, if you can play nicely you can join our game. If not, here’s a ball just for you.”

No, son. You are not in trouble.

As a matter of fact I had never been more proud of him. He stood up for the younger and weaker person and defended himself righteously. When he felt his temper slipping he pulled himself out of the situation. After getting himself together, he found a workable solution for everyone. Then, he told me. Even thinking he might get into trouble.

The color of your skin does not define you as a person.

The things about a person that they have no control over do not matter. This includes the color of a person’s skin. I have never understood why some people define themselves by their appearance. I’m not even just talking about race here.  How I look is probably the least important thing about me. And you. I didn’t control the shape of my nose, and had nothing to do with being 5’7″.

I do control my integrity, and do have choices about who I am and how I affect the people around me. Those are the things that are important about me. And they are the things that are important about you. That is what I teach my children. Both about themselves and how they see other people.

Then am I saying racism doesn’t exist?

Racism- noun- a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race (merriam-webster.com)

Once again, don’t get it twisted. Racism is alive and well fed. But it is by both sides. I’ve been followed around stores by employees who just “knew” I was going to steal something. I paid for my things and then went on about my business. I’ve been places that my skin wasn’t light enough. I’ve also been places where my skin wasn’t dark enough. Ever been mistaken for your child’s nanny? I have and then had to explain that I don’t speak Spanish. I am not an ignorant person. It’s out there.

But it doesn’t have to affect you.

What other people think about you is neither your business or your problem. You are not the color of your skin. That guy at the corner store isn’t either. It’s a part of us but it doesn’t define us. My solution to racism? Ignore it. Who cares if that lady wants to stalk me around the store? At least I don’t have to go hunt her down when I can’t find something. Does it matter that the guy across the street thinks he’s better than me? Not a bit. We don’t need to be friends. Some people are just assholes. I don’t need to know assholes. Neither do you.

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