There are things we don’t ever want to tell our kids. Racism is right at the top of that list. Children instinctively know that we are all just people. That we’re all the same. Who wants to be the one to crash that utopian worldview?! Certainly not us, their parents, who do everything we can to protect them and keep them safe. However, if we don’t explain racism to our kids, who will? Even more importantly, how will they do it?
I was telling my husband, who’s Mexican (I’m white), about an article I’d seen that said interracial marriage was illegal in this country right up until 1967. I mean, my dad was seventeen years old back then! It completely blew my mind.
Interracial marriage was finally legalized because of a court case called Loving vs. Virginia. The Lovings were a biracial couple who was, appropriately, in love. That landmark court case was the first time those particular racist laws were struck down in this country. Thank goodness because my husband is such a sweetie and our Mexican-American kid is totally amazing!
While I was telling my husband about the article, our 5-year-old son piped in and asked us to explain what we were talking about. “Hoo-boy,” I thought. I blathered on, talking about people’s ethnic heritages and how when Grandpa was a kid people of different ethnicities weren’t allowed to get married.
“I know. That’s silly, right? I mean, we’re all just people aren’t we? But there are some people who are racist. Those people think their ethnicity is better than someone else’s.”
“Well…they just do.”
My kid often gets the better of me. Next time it comes up I’ll try and remember to talk about how racist people haven’t had the opportunity to get to know people of different ethnicities and believe just what their parents and friends have told them over the years. Ultimately, racism has its basis in ignorance and fear. People who are racist haven’t tried to understand others who are different from them. They also haven’t allowed themselves to discover how they are the same.
Again, empathy is the most important lesson that we need to teach our children.
Maybe, I should print this article out and keep it in my pocket, so I’ll remember what I want to say to my son next time? Explaining racism is like anything else; it takes a lifetime of experience to understand its nuances and be able to make sense of it all in the “big picture” of our lives.
It’s a lot to think about. So, I remind myself, “One conversation at a time.”
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