Pin It
Thursday, April 12th, 2012

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

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:

Primary School Privilege

Time outs due to whistling versus school's out due to poverty

6 Favorite Children’s Books about Ramadan

Our top picks for Muslim and non-Muslim kids alike

Arranged Marriage 101

Everything you wanted to know but were afraid to ask

Ramadan Star and Moon Craft

A craft recycled from your kid's art work!


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 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 She can be reached at

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!

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!

What Cultural Norms Around Bare Feet Taught This Mother in Guatemala

Her baby's bare feet ended up being a lesson on poverty and privilege.
[…] the breastfeeding culture in Mongolia compared to America. Did you have any idea that something as simple as breastfeeding attitudes can […...
From Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan
My mother born in the 1930's is originally from the northern part of Germany. I am in my mid fifties and have a terrible relationship with my mother. She is domineering and hurts those where it hurt...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
[…] JC Niala, InCultureParent […...
From Why African Babies Don’t Cry
[…] […...
From Breastfeeding Around the World
Although humanity is one Man (in a generic sense, including woman)has identified himself endless groups, religious, nationalistic, ethnic, cultural, linguistic, etc. Once you separate ME from YOU on...
From What’s an Asian? Race and Identity for a New Generation
[…] […...
From Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan
Some great tips here but not many working mothers could feed baby every hour especially if you work in a major multi-nationa...
From Why African Babies Don’t Cry
So true!!! Thanks for being so honest and self reflective. It's a proof of true characte...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
As a first-time mom I've spent the last two months of my four-month-old's life stressed out about her sleep and I recognize how crazy this is. It's clearly not working for me! I'm wondering how non-...
From The West’s Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep

More Adventures in Multicultural Living