Pin It
Thursday, April 12th, 2012

Lessons I do not want to teach my children–about Dharun Ravi, Trayvon Martin, Shaima Alawadi

By
Photograph courtesy of Frances's daughter Margot

After Indian American Rutgers student Dharun Ravi was convicted of bias intimidation, I sent the very long New Yorker article about the case to my teenagers so that they can understand what kind of digital footprint they leave whenever they do anything online, and to remind them that regardless of what they might actually be doing, they need to be aware that sometimes those actions may be perceived quite differently by others, including people who do not understand technology and culture, including people with power.

Although I agree that homophobic bullying should not be tolerated, because of the technical complexity of this case, I cannot shake the nagging feeling that had Dharun Ravi been white, or if Tyler Clementi had been a person of color, this case might never have been prosecuted, and certainly would not have been punished so harshly (Ravi faces a possible sentence of ten years and deportation). Ravi admits to being a jerk, but there have been too many other cases in which white bullies have gotten away with much worse. Harry Lew.Danny ChenPhoebe PrinceVincent ChinLuis Ramirez. Trayvon Martin.

My heart breaks as I read articles by African American mothers about the rules they make for their children because they know how easily their children could be Trayvon Martin:

• Do not run in public.
• Do not touch anything in a store, and always ask for a bag.
• Be polite and cooperative if stopped by the police.
• Keep your hands visible.

I think about the rules that I teach my children—for both race and gender—and I quickly add a few to my list that I had not previously considered. My children are multiracial, so they might be perceived as any number of stereotypes. They might be perceived as Caucasian, different kinds of Asian, Hispanic, Arab, Native American, foreign, exotic, lotus blossom, both victim and suspect.

• No means no, but never get yourself into a situation where that “No” is the only thing keeping you safe.
• Stand up straight and walk briskly, head held high. Look like you know where you are going. Always walk with a friend.
• Always close and lock the door to the house. Always leave the office door open when talking with male teachers, professors, or bosses.
• Do not dress “too Asian” (except at Asian cultural events) or too sexy (because if anything happens, people will blame you).
• Never use your real information online.
• And most important, always pay attention to the exact words and slurs people use. Memorize them. Write them down. Tell an adult. Stand up for your friends. This one we practice.

I am not only trying to prevent trouble they might encounter, I am also secretly preparing them for the court battle that would follow.

I review constantly because, like these African American mothers, I want these to become habits, so that they will not forget. My teenagers used to be indignant, “You never let me cross the street by myself until I was in sixth grade!” To which I answered, “See? It worked. You didn’t get run over by a truck, which would have hurt.” However, now they tease and reassure me at the same time, by quietly holding my hand as we cross any street.

Geraldo Rivera has been ridiculed for saying that the hoodie was as much responsible for Trayvon Martin‘s death as George Zimmerman [He has since apologized]. Certainly, he is overstating things, and it does not excuse Zimmerman. However, I understand why Rivera might not let his son wear one. Sure, you have the right to wear what you want. Sure, you have the right to be in a public place. Yes, definitely you should work for change. However, you also need to be aware of how some (crazy/violent/racist) people might perceive you. The trick is figuring out how to balance your freedom of expression with protecting your safety. Safety first, my child.

The heartbreak is that these rules alone will never be guarantee enough. I am devastated by the cold murder of Iraqi American Shaima Alawadi, 32, mother of five, U.S. citizen, beaten to death with a tire iron in her own home, with a note to “go back to your country you terrorist.”

© 2012 – 2013, Frances Kai-Hwa Wang. All rights reserved.

More Great Stuff You'll Love:


Overheard on the Beijing Subway When People Don't Think I Speak Mandarin

The awesome stuff I overhear like what these two Chinese women think of foreigners.

Is all the Hard Work of Bilingualism Really Paying Off?

I just found out the surprising answer.

An Islamic Perspective on Child-Rearing and Discipline

Does Islam's reputation for severity and harshness apply to how Muslims raise children?

Are Germans Really Rude?

This German dad shares his thoughts

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Michigan and Hawaii. She is editor of www.IMDiversity.com Asian American Village, a contributor for New America Media's Ethnoblog, Chicago is the World, JACL's Pacific Citizen, InCultureParent and Multicultural Familia. She is on the Advisory Board of American Citizens for Justice. She team-teaches "Asian Pacific American History and the Law" at University of Michigan and University of Michigan Dearborn. She is a popular speaker on Asian Pacific American and multicultural issues. Check out her website at www.franceskaihwawang.com. She can be reached at fkwang888@gmail.com.

Leave us a comment!

1 Comment
  1. CommentsDT   |  Sunday, 08 July 2012 at 3:52 pm

    As a caucasian mother I teach my child much the same things. People love to judge on physical appearance, and you never know when someone will view you with suspicion for more than just your race.









Notify me of follow-up comments via e-mail.
Or leave your email address and click here to receive email notifications of new comments without leaving a comment yourself.

Get weekly updates right in your inbox so you don't miss out!



A Children's Book for Raising Global Citizens

Every life is a story. It’s easier to understand someone when you know their story.

Why I Travel 13 Hours Alone with My Kids Every Chance I Get

Travelling with children, while definitely more of a mission, contradicts the old saying that “life is about the journey, not the destination.”

A Diverse Book for Preschoolers in Celebration of Multicultural Children's Book Day

A book that honestly and simply celebrates the every day diversity that children experience.

Why My African Feminist Mother Gave Me the Identity of My Father's Tribe

She gave me an identity so different from her own.

2 Children’s Books about Jamaica

Explore Jamaica with your child.

Costa Rica with Kids: Two Weeks of Family Travel

Two weeks of Pura Vida in a country with so much to offer families.

Should I Worry about My Child's Accent in Her Foreign Language?

See why Dr. Gupta takes offense to this question and where children learn accents from

How to raise trilingual kids when exposure to Dad's language is limited

My kids only get 1-2 hours of the minority language per day-help!
[…] Peru, 97 percent of newborns are breastfed, according to LLLI. In Culture Parent reported that 69 percent of Peruvian children are breastfed exclusively from birth to five months, and ou...
From Breastfeeding Around the World
Hi I was googling Islamic beliefs when I came across your post. We are American and our neighbors are from Pakistan I think. Our kids love playing together but their dad doesn't allow the kids to co...
From An Islamic Perspective on Child-Rearing and Discipline
Mother’s Day is the most perfect and accurate Occasion to express your Love and Gratitude towards Mothe...
From Holi Craft: Straw Painting
[…] Muslims fast for 30 days every year for Ramadan, which is one of the five pillars of Islam. Ramadan this year is happening during most of the month […...
From Ramadan: June 28-July 28
[…] Raising a Little Buddha – Part 1, InCulture Parent — Post by a Buddhist Minister about raising an enlightened child.  It starts with intimacy, communication, and community. [R...
From How to Raise an Enlightened Child — Part I
[…] Breastfeeding in Jordan, InCulture Parent — Not as restrictive as one might think. […...
From Breastfeeding in Jordan
[…] Best and Worst Countries to be a Mother, InCulture Parent – “The 2010 Mothers’ Index rates 160 countries (43 developed nations and 117 in the developing world) in terms of th...
From Best and Worst Countries to be a Mother
[…] Why Americans Value Independent and Competitive Kids, InCultureParent — Interesting look at how our values impact our interactions with our children (babies in particular). […...
From Why Americans Value Independent and Competitive Kids
[…] Multiple Fathers and Healthier Children in the Amazon, InCulture Parent — a fascinating look at cultures in the Amazon where pregnant women have sex with more than one man as a means...
From Multiple Fathers and Healthier Children in the Amazon

More Adventures in Multicultural Living