Father Unsettled by Kid Hanging Out with Other White Kids

 

Son’s First Racial Stirrings Cause Dad to Reflect on his Whiteness

At the dinner table the other night, my wife and I were giving our son Selby the usual grilling about his day at preschool. He told us his favorite activity of the day was playing with two of the other boys in his class. These weren’t two of his usual sidekicks, so we asked why he liked hanging out with those particular kids. He smiled and said, “Their hair looks like my hair!” My wife and I exchanged a glance. The fair-haired friends Selby referred to were the only other white males in his class. Did we have an unwitting, three-year-old segregationist on our hands?

The more I thought about it, the better I felt about Selby’s racial realization. When I was growing up in rural Wisconsin, it was pretty much a given that all the other boys in my class had hair that looked like mine. Hair colors in my elementary school class ranged from blonde to light brown, with Tim Schendel’s russet locks providing our only splash of exoticism. On the other hand, when we pick up Selby from his preschool in downtown Saint Paul, the parents with whom we exchange brief pleasantries embody a wide swath of humanity. There are black couples, white couples, interracial couples. Minnesota natives, transplants from the Deep South, immigrants from West Africa and Southeast Asia. Mommies and daddies, mommies and mommies, just mommies and just daddies. It’s like the boy attends preschool in one of those studiously diverse McDonald’s commercials.

Comparing Wisconsin farmland to Minnesota’s capital city is an apples and oranges scenario, but I do sometimes wonder if we’re doing right by Selby, bringing him up in an urban environment. My own isolated childhood in the backwoods is such a vital part of my identity that I often feel like I’m depriving my son of the wonder of nature. But I also remember how thoroughly out of my element I was when I first moved to Minneapolis for college. It took me a long while to acclimate to the opportunities, the dangers and especially the people of the big city. Minneapolis was teeming with people, many of who were unlike people I’d seen anywhere else. The moment I finally felt at home in the city was when I realized I no longer had to remind myself not to stare when a Muslim woman in hijab passed by. This will presumably not be an issue for Selby, whose first-ever teacher was a deeply sweet Muslim woman in hijab.

I will admit, though, that I was a little disappointed to hear that the boy was hanging with the other white kids. Again, this stems back to my rural upbringing. By the time I got to high school, I actually had a few classmates of color – not many, but a few. Once I was old enough to self-identify as a liberal, it became something of a badge of honor to be seen hanging out with my non-white friends. It didn’t take long for me to realize this was silly and more than a little racist on my part, but at the time it seemed like a rebellion against what I saw as the hopeless redneckery of my peers. As lame as I know it is for a white guy to brag about having a black friend, some small part of me still wants to be able to brag about my kid having a bunch of black friends. Fortunately, that nonsense doesn’t figure into Selby’s day plan. He plays with whoever strikes him as the most fun on any given day, giving precious little thought to his father’s creepy idiocy.

So I figure there’s no harm in letting the boy enjoy the company of his hairmates. The more I think about it, the fact that he finds that little pocket of homogeneity noteworthy is a pretty good indicator that embracing diversity isn’t going to be an issue for him. Hell, it probably isn’t going to even be a concept for him. I won’t pretend that external appearances will ever be entirely irrelevant – nor do I think they should be – but I have high hopes that my boy will grow up knowing that people are people above all else. I’m happy to be raising him in a world where otherness is only hair deep.

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Comments

  1. Firstly, I would like to thank for sharing this, but it has perturbed me from the time I read it.
    The first stirring of racial consciousness is nothing to be alarmed at but as he navigates society, it will be reinforced into more than just otherness that is only hair deep.

    The key here is how often you and your family socialise with people of colour and their families. That is where he will learn about inclusiveness, that part is not mentioned in your article.

    I can remember visiting a White family in Johannesburg years ago and the colleague insisting that his children interact with me and him. His problem was that quite simply, the only people of colour who came regularly to his home was the gardener and the maid. So while school might be multi-racial, home was not. He made a good point.

    I wizzed by a study of a multi-cultural high school which found that the only race group to use race as a marker of positive/negative was White kids. Interestingly they did not do it always, only in some cases. Your child’s comment on the hair, but still playing with other kids, aligns with that story.

    From Handbook of Peer Interactions, Relationships, and Groups pg 260. ‘thus whereas children from ethnic minority backgrounds did not use skin colour as a basis for judgements for similarity, white children attending ethnically heterogenous schools differentiated between some dyads based on race’
    Again, thank you for the post

    • @Thabo, you wrote: The first stirring of racial consciousness is nothing to be alarmed at
      The author wrote: the better I felt about Selby’s racial realization
      You wrote: where he will learn about inclusiveness, that part is not mentioned in your article
      The author wrote: when we pick up Selby from his preschool in downtown Saint Paul, the parents with whom we exchange brief pleasantries embody a wide swath of humanity. There are black couples, white couples, interracial couples. Minnesota natives, transplants from the Deep South, immigrants from West Africa and Southeast Asia. Mommies and daddies, mommies and mommies, just mommies and just daddies.
      Your assertions, while valid from a societal perspective, don’t make sense to me as a response to this article.

      • Thabo Mophiring says:

        Note: ‘parents with whom we exchange pleasantries’ . They are never invited to the White home, is that only reserved for White people. Children are clever, they begin to learn our tricks for deceiving ourselves from a young age.

        These ones my parents only relate to when forced to, when picking me up at school. These ones get invited into our home. Which ones are all right? obvious really.

        So to be more blunt, the White Liberal parents are acting out their unconscious racism in front of their child and he is beginning to pick up on it. And we should not be alarmed, because hey they are Liberals.

  2. Robert in Arabia says:

    Wait until he gets to high school. In every America high school I taught at, the cafeterias self-segregated themselves. Health people prefer to socialize with members of their own tribe.
    The only mixed tables were occupied the LGBTY students.

  3. This is a very creepy piece. I’m not one to tell others how to raise their kids, but if it were mine, I’d leave him along to do what he wants to do. Children automatically navigate to the familiar, and socially branch out once they establish a comfort zone.

    Letting your over-zealous, almost self-flagellating misplaced guilt question what your 3-year-old is doing indicates more about your horrible sense of personal worth and overabundant political angst than anything healthy about your attittude towards parenting.

  4. Perhaps my satiric intent wasn’t as evident as I’d hoped. For the record, I am not genuinely worried that my 3-year-old is a racist, nor do I devote my time to molding him into a hyper-sensitive post-racial American. His hair comment just got me thinking about how vastly different his world is from the one in which I spent my childhood. I decided to write about that gulf while poking some fun at my own ’90s neuroticism, nothing more, nothing less.

    • It was pretty clear to me. Lines like “there’s no harm in letting the boy enjoy the company of his hairmates. The more I think about it, the fact that he finds that little pocket of homogeneity noteworthy is a pretty good indicator that embracing diversity isn’t going to be an issue for him. Hell, it probably isn’t going to even be a concept for him” contradict and invalidate Gorb’s misplaced criticisms.

      • Thabo Mophiring says:

        it is pretty clear to me that creating categories in a mind on the basis of racial distinctions is really not what the rest of call diversity, it is what we call racism.

  5. Why do you hate your own race?

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