Saturday, November 07, 2009

Everyone -- including kids -- can be a little bit racist.

I was picking up some take-out last night when I saw the cover of a Newsweek magazine from September: "IS YOUR BABY RACIST?" the headline blared. I started laughing hysterically, because I remember the article that the cover is referring to.

Written by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, the article discusses how we as a society deal with racism and prejudice and our attempts to teach the children. Turns out, it's not as simple as, "Show them a lot of variety and *poof* no more racism!"

It was no surprise that in a liberal city like Austin, every parent was a welcoming multiculturalist, embracing diversity. But according to Vittrup's entry surveys, hardly any of these white parents had ever talked to their children directly about race. They might have asserted vague principles—like "Everybody's equal" or "God made all of us" or "Under the skin, we're all the same"—but they'd almost never called attention to racial differences.

They wanted their children to grow up colorblind. But Vittrup's first test of the kids revealed they weren't colorblind at all. Asked how many white people are mean, these children commonly answered, "Almost none." Asked how many blacks are mean, many answered, "Some," or "A lot." Even kids who attended diverse schools answered the questions this way.

I could've told you that one. But I'm a minority. And also, I'm a parent. I don't have the idea that children are basically open molds who can become accepting by not addressing differences or using bullshit phrases like, "Everyone's equal."

First off, people who assume that kids will be open and learning and accepting have not really spent time around kids. They can be assholes and psychotics. Remember the book Lord of the Flies? Kids are little insane sociopaths who stick with their tribe and seek any excuse to make some other kid the outsider. It doesn't matter if you've got a bunch of clones. I'm willing to bet that with the Jango Fett clones, they still picked on each other for tiny, stupid differences, like the way that they brushed their teeth or how they parted their hair.

So to assume that a kid will hear, "Everyone's equal" and follow that credo is INSANE. No adult does that. We question, we probe. Kids do that too. They may not say it to your face, but they're thinking it. And if an adult freaks out when kids question differences, odds are, kids will interpret that as, "Well that difference is scary. And it's not good. SO I MUST FEAR IT." Or something like that.

I think that what makes it hard for us as parents is not just that a lot of people are afraid to talk about race and diversity, but also how to do it in a thoughtful manner. A blunt question from a child gets a different response than that same question from an adult. Maybe it's that we should allow kids to ask these questions and treat them seriously. What sounds harsh to adult ears is a very simple question from a child's viewpoint.

I remember watching Ni Hao Kai Lan with my nieces and one of them said Chinese sounded like "baby talk." I get that she meant it sounded different and foreign to her, and I just pointed out that sometimes English sounds funny to someone who doesn't understand it. If you don't understand the language, it all sounds like gibberish, I said.

I don't know if I made an impact, but I'm just glad that no one told her to quiet down and pretend her viewpoint didn't exist. I was happy to address it and I'm willing to teach her more about my background in the future.

Keep in mind, the viewpoint I have right now only really works up to a certain age, say maybe 10. I just don't like the idea that fear of a bad reaction from a person (especially an adult, who should know how to adjust their reactions to blunt questions from adults versus children) prevent them from learning something new or different.

I think we all can agree that the idea of a melting pot in America doesn't quite work out. We all are different people, with different backgrounds and cultures. Unless we let people ask questions, show curiosity and interest in something different and learn something, we're never going to truly address racism. We're just going to be, well, whitewashing over it.

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