Pin It
Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

Preparing our Children for Racism — Part 1

By
Preparing our Children for Racism/ © shutterstock

Part 1: Laying the Groundwork

 

I always knew that this day would come and have been preparing my children for it since they were two or three. I read books and articles, hoping to put it off as long as possible. I secretly gave them tools to fight with, without actually telling them what the fight was all about. I did not want to taint their innocence, but I knew they had to be ready.

 

Still, I was unprepared for how sad I would feel when my kindergartener told me about her first brush with a racist slur.

 

I say “brush” because the comment made by one of her classmates was not really directed at her. Uttered in innocence, it was not meant to be insulting or malicious, but it hurt her nevertheless.

 

At lunch one day, my daughter used her hands to make a funny face, about which her classmate observed, “Those are Japanese eyes.”

 

My heart sank at my daughter’s report, but I tried to control my expression as memories of my own classmates’ chanting came flooding back.

 

My daughter said to the girl, “No it’s not.”

 

“Yes it is.”

 

“No it’s not.”

 

A student teacher happened to overhear the conversation and stepped in to say, “My eyes are a little bit slanted, but I’m not Japanese.”

 

I asked my daughter how she felt and she and I am heartbroken said, “Bad,” although she says she felt better after the teacher stuck up for her. When I asked why she felt bad, she said, “Because Andy is Japanese!” Andy is her best friend, but he is Chinese, not Japanese.

 

Then she said, “I saw a Japanese person once and his eyes weren’t like that.”

 

She points to the Mulan plate in front of her and explains to me what Mulan’s eyes, my eyes, her sisters’ eyes, and her eyes look like. “Nobody has eyes like that.”

 

She is indignant but does not understand why. She does not know the rest of that dreaded rhyme, that it slurs Chinese eyes, too. She does not know that some people confuse Chinese and Japanese and other Asian people. She certainly does not know that there are those who do not like Asian people, or who think we are not as good and do not belong here. Still, she feels it in the pit of her stomach. I am heartbroken for my six-year-old, and feel that because I already fought this battle for myself, she should be spared.

 

I rehearse what I am going to say to the other child’s mother, because you have to be careful how to say these things. First, I will pseudo-apologize: “Well, it’s just hard on her because it’s her first time.” But immediately, I am the one who feels indignant. They never have to worry about their child’s first time facing racism, I think. They don’t dread the day when it will hit. Besides, I know that it is not going to be any easier the second, third or fourth time.

 

So how do we prepare our children for racism? Here’s what I learned from other parents, experts and my own life: Start early, remember and examine our own experiences, practice coping methods ahead of time, build self-esteem and a strong sense of identity, teach them to tell an adult and show them how to take action.

 

 Start Early

 

Racist comments can come as early as preschool. Often preschoolers do not understand the connotations of what they are saying, but they are beginning to notice differences among them. Just as you would not want to wait until after your child has been molested by the neighborhood pedophile to teach her that her private parts are private and not to go off with a stranger, you should not wait until after her first encounter with racism to teach her about it. (As an aside, experts say that one of the best defenses against child molesters is simply teaching your child the correct names for their private parts because then she has the words to tell someone else exactly what happened. I think a similar case can be made for anti-racism education.)

 

You do not have to tell her all the gory details about racism, but you can still give her generalized rules and ideas about tolerance like “Do not exclude people” and “Everybody is different and difference is cool.” Correct her when you hear her making incorrect, stereotypical statements like, “Boys do not have eyelashes” or “This brown doll is dirty,” so that she learns to look past stereotypes and to examine differences for herself.

 

Remember

 

Remember your own childhood experiences with racism, how you felt, what you did, and how you wish it could have gone instead. Read about other people’s experiences and reactions. Talk to other parents and teachers to get ideas about how to handle it. Examine your own prejudices about Caucasian Americans, African Americans, multiracial Asian Americans, and others. If you have girls, you will also have to think about sexism in both your Asian culture and in mainstream American culture.

 

If you have not had personal experiences with racism, think about other instances of bullying or discrimination such as ageism, religious and gender discrimination, etc. Try my Scarlet Letter experiment.

 

The Scarlet Letter: An Exercise in Exploring Visible Difference

 

In The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne is forced to wear a scarlet “A” on her chest because she was caught committing adultery during Puritan times. Imagine wearing an A on your blouse; or to update it, a D for Divorced, G for Gay, or S for Premarital Sex. You may not think there is anything wrong with being divorced or gay or having premarital sex anymore, but some people still do. And because of the D, G or S on your chest, they know who you are. But you do not know who they are: their behavior, assumptions, background, feelings or other personal attributes.

 

When you go to a club and 10 people ask you to dance: is it because you look so beautiful today, or because they think you’re easy? When the club’s bartender fails to give you prompt service, is it because they are really busy or because they are afraid to catch AIDS (and everyone knows divorcees all have AIDS)? When you try to rent a house and do not get it is it really because they rented it to someone else or are they afraid of the wild drunken orgies they know divorcees have? When you meet someone new, do they expect you to know and teach them everything there is to know about the experience of being divorced? When the topic of divorce comes up, does the whole room turn around and look at you for the definitive answer? Do people in the grocery store check out line ask you, “How long have you been divorced?” “Did you catch him in bed with another woman?” “Did you divorce him or did he divorce you?” “Are you going to wear white in your next wedding?” “Do you use condoms?” or other too personal questions. Do your friends who you think are liberal and accepting surprise you with comments like, “She’s gotten so fat, it ’s no wonder he divorced her…Oh, well I don’t mean you. You’re big boned.”

 

It does not take long before you start double guessing people’s motives or you simply get tired of the same dumb question over and over again. These examples are minor compared to getting beaten up or killed by illiterate skinheads who cannot tell a D from a G from an S, but they still chafe like a burr under the saddlepad of supposed equality.

 

Remembering and recognizing stereotypes, and rehearsing strategies for confronting them, is a necessary and important step in helping your child. There comes a time, however, to put the lessons into practice.

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

More Great Stuff You'll Love:


An Islamic Perspective on Child-Rearing and Discipline

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

Are French Kids Better Behaved Because They are Spanked?

Should spanking be part of your parenting toolkit to have well behaved kids?

Why Your Kids Don’t Need Sunscreen

Lessons in parenting from the Côte d'Azur

Family History

Who knew that becoming a mother merged our histories of loss and grief

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!

4 Comments
  1. CommentsRace, Beauty and Racism | HapaMamaHapaMama   |  Monday, 06 May 2013 at 7:59 am

    [...] Kai-Hwa Wang also writes about her daughter’s experience with that same taunt. In her article Preparing Our Children For Racism, Part I,  she outlines concrete steps parents can take to help prepare and their children for such [...]

  2. CommentsGrowMama Picks for May 2013   |  Thursday, 04 July 2013 at 5:16 pm

    [...] 1.  Prepare your children to deal with racism with this interesting technique detailed here. [...]

  3. CommentsInCultureParent | Preparing our Children for Racism Part II—From Understanding to Action   |  Monday, 08 July 2013 at 10:21 am

    [...] you missed Part I of the series, Laying the Groundwork, you can catch up on it [...]

  4. Comments“Asian” Eyes :: racismreview.com   |  Saturday, 20 July 2013 at 7:03 am

    [...] (Image from InCulture Parent) [...]









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!




What Confused Me Most about Brits

The process of adjusting to the culture when I moved to England.

Do WASP Westerners Deserve Visibility in a Foreign Culture?

Yes, they most certainly do says this mom in China.

Managing a Picky Eater with International Travel

How would I succeed in getting her to eat in Europe?

A Year of Multicultural Picture Books for the Global Child

A fantastic reading list that includes a multicultural children's book for each month of the year.

Making Sense of the Berlin Wall as a Multicultural Family

How we see history has everything to do with the context in which we were taught.

21 Ideas for Families to Celebrate Ayyam-i-Ha

Crafts, recipes, books, games and more to make the most of this joyful Baha'i celebration.

Why Raise Global Citizens? An Interview with Homa Sabet Tavangar, Author of Growing Up Global

Why raising global kids is so important and the one quote everyone should keep in mind.

8 Children's Books for Black History Month

Learn about the world's richest man of all time and much more about African-American history.

Balancing Faith and Fashion with My Muslim Daughter

I never thought I would struggle to buy clothes for my daughter this young.
[…] and a Polish Easter craft called Palma Wycinanka (cut paper palm). She also shares the interesting Czech Easter tradition of “whipping” girls and women with a special braided p...
From What’s Easter without a Whipping?
[…] InCulture Parent has a sweet Easter recipe for Italian cookies, and a Polish Easter craft called Palma Wycinanka (cut paper palm). She also shares the interesting Czech Easter tradition of...
From Polish Easter Craft: Palma-Wycinanka
[…] took me months to figure out that I was being rude (I am German, after all), and that the tutting was actually a very strong display of […...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
Dear Not Fluent, I think it's positive that you speak to your child both in Cantonese and English. Between 0-5 years, language learning is emotional, as opposed to adult learning, when you turn t...
From Do I teach my child my native language even though I am not fluent?
[…] from InCulture Parent has a sweet Easter recipe for Italian cookies, and a Polish Easter craft called Palma Wycinanka (cut paper palm). She also shares the interesting […...
From Easter Recipe: Aunt Angie’s Italian Cookies
I can relate totally. There is a point where one can adjust what read but what you read May not work at all. Mostly, it's going back to heart centered awareness not the mind that determines the bes...
From Why African Babies Don’t Cry
I can totally relate to your list, as we are raising our son to speak English and French. People say really stupid stuff about raising multilingual children, but then again, people say really stupid...
From 10 Things Not to Say to Parents of Multilingual Children
[…] spricht, begegnet man Menschen verschiedener Herkunft mit mehr Offenheit. Ein Beweis dafür ist meine dreisprachige Tochter, wie sie auf Koreanisch singt – dank einiger ihrer Koreanisch...
From Is My Daughter Singing in Korean?
Love this. I had read the other article and comments earlier, and was also horrified. One only needs to read more of your articles and blogs to know you are the furthest thing from a racist with a s...
From Do WASP Westerners Deserve Visibility in a Foreign Culture?

More Global Parenting