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Is it Really a Racial Thing?

by Wendy Rhein February 09, 2012

By: Wendy Rhein

Because of a blog I wrote a few weeks ago about talking to my 6 ½-year-old son about racism, I had a great conversation this week with his best buddy’s mom. Here are two little boys (they would both puff out their chests and tell me they are NOT little!), both biracial, who intend to become the President of the United States and the head of the Secret Service so they can work together when they are old. Old, like when they are their parents’ ages.

So, I had the good fortune this week to talk to this great kid’s mother about this very fine line we tread as mothers of biracial kids: wanting them to be aware of racism and other people’s bigotries, while also not planting the seed that any bad behavior or injustice is racially motivated.

I want my kids to be aware that racism exists and is often displayed in the most back-handed, cruel, and mean-spirited of ways. It is this kind of racism that eats away at the soul and passion of people. It could be any ism I suppose. It is belittling, causes you to question and feel judged, for being different, or other. I want them to know so that as they grow they can point it out, literally point, at the person or situation and say “ah, I see that. I see that that really isn’t about ME as a person but about that person’s narrow-mindedness,” and then not take it personally. On the other hand, I also want them to be aware of it so they can fight against those injustices and again, point them out and bring them into the light so that they become shameful and unacceptable instead of quietly endured and tolerated.

Not that I have high expectations or anything…

But on the other hand, I want to balance it with the very real idea that mean-spirited actions, cruel and back-handed comments are not always about race. Someone ignoring you in a store? An older woman crosses the street when she sees a couple of teenagers coming her way? A teacher says she didn’t expect you to do well on that math test? Not necessarily a black thing. I don’t want to put a chip on his shoulder, that’s not my goal as his mother, and I want to be sure to knock it off if he develops one of his own. Be responsible for your own actions, your own choices. Recognize that while yes, there are racist people out there and he will certainly come upon them, as we do now, there are also people who are just having a bad day. Or are generally unhappy and mean. It isn’t all about you, baby. You’re the center of my world, but not the world of the cashier at Safeway.

So as a mother, how do I impress these very heady ideas on a young child, giving him the space and support to stand up for himself and what he believes while simultaneously allowing him to be a kid, see good in other people, and not think that other people’s crap is about him personally? I keep talking. I keep making mistakes. I ask him what he thinks. It is a daily balance for me.  I probably think about it more often than I need to.  And I know for a fact I talk about it more often than makes some of my friends comfortable.   That mama bear thing comes out in a way that can make others uneasy but hey, these are my kids and for me this is a very real parenting issue. I am incredibly thankful for the friends and a forum to share stories and concerns.   Maybe we need a club.  One that serves wine.

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Wendy Rhein
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