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Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Ugliness of Racism

Last week, while at the check out, little man, said “hello” over and over again to the woman that was checking us out and she ignored him. Little lady said “hello” and immediately the woman said “hello” back and smiled at her and then commented to me about how cute she is. Little man was standing right next to his sister and this woman refused to acknowledge him. As little man tried to get her attention once again, I tried to distract him while we finished checking out. I know damn well, that this woman has a problem with him being dark skinned and I wanted to protect him from knowing this.

I knew that she had a problem with me too, because she treated me in much the same way. His sister is very fair skinned with very blond hair. People assume I am their mother and see I have two children that obviously have 2 different fathers and they come to their own conclusions about me. This is not the first time this has happened and I know it will not be the last.

When we are out and about, little lady will be given attention by others and often times little man will not, unless he is relentless in his attempts for their attention and then sometimes it will be given reluctantly. There have been comments said just loud enough for me to hear, by other shoppers. I pretend not to hear these things that go over his head but not mine. There was one time that little man took it a step further and said to the person, “What about me? I’m talking to you too.” And the person just looked at him and walked away.

Racism is alive here in rural Minnesota and it is ugly. Little man is clueless of it at 3 ½ and although I could see the hurt in his eyes as this man walked away, he had no clue to why he was rejected. He see’s his sister being accepted and he has no clue it’s because she is white.

I don’t understand any of this. No matter how hard I try to understand meanness I can’t. I don’t get it. I don’t understand hating someone for things that have nothing to do with the person they are on the inside. I can not comprehend being mean or mistreating people period, let alone, for something that is not in their control. I cannot fathom judging someone based on the color of their skin, let alone their religion, beliefs, sexual preferences or orientation or what they look like.

When I was dating and almost married a black man, many of this family, were racist against me for being white. They judged me for the color of my skin. Some of them didn’t even want to get to know me…didn’t want to even give me a chance…all because the color of my skin was white. I remember how much this hurt me.

When I went through drug treatment in the mid 80’s, I met many wonderful people there. Drug addiction and alcoholism shows no preferences when it comes to skin color, religion or beliefs, social or economic status, sexual preference, age, body size or physical appearance. Every color of skin was represented. There were those with a lot of money, those with none and many in-between. The very beautiful to the average looking people. Obese, average in size and anorexic thin. There were those that were hetero sexual, lesbian and gay. Young, elderly and many in-between. Homeless, to housewives, to professional hockey player, to a man in the mafia, to college students, to professional gamblers, to doctors, policemen and lawyers. Catholics, Muslims, atheists, born again Christians to Buddhists.

All people trying to get their lives cleaned up…all trying to find hope…all trying to find sanity in their insane addictions…all at rock bottom(or close to it since some had not reached their rock bottom yet). Each one of us, different human beings, with one thing in common. Addiction. There were many that came to treatment with their prejudices against various groups of people but the beauty of being in rock bottom is that when your with a group of people that are in the same place as you, you unite.

Walls of racism were torn down. People with ugly hate inside for people outside of their “group“, laid down their ignorance and fear and embraced those people they previously hated. I watched as a gay man and a man that claimed to hate gays hug as they worked through something they both struggled with and become good friends. I watched a very obese woman sob and a man that had admitted to being prejudice against heavy people, hold her while she cried. I watched a great friendship evolve between them. These are just a couple of examples of many, that I witnessed the beauty of walls coming down. It was a beautiful thing seeing hate and meanness broken down and ripped away. It was like the blinders came off their eyes and hearts so that they could see people for who they really were.

As much as I hate racism, I realize that I do discriminate. I discriminate against those who abuse children, the elderly, those with disabilities or anyone for that matter. I am against people who bully or inflict their meanness on others. I am against evil of any kind…against those that inflict pain or judgment against a person or group of people because of the color of their skin, their religion, their sexual preference, their size or appearance, their intelligence, their financial or social status. I am against those that knowingly exploit, take advantage of and profit from those that are weak and vulnerable, such as children, the elderly and the disabled. I discriminate against racism and those that support it. I discriminate against those that deal drugs, rape or abuse women and children and intentionally kill. I discriminate against the words nigger, fag, retard, Jesus freak, fat pig…ect. Any words that are meant to put down or inflict pain upon. These words make me cringe with their ugliness and their intention to put down.

I am trying to understand where this meanness, ignorance and fear comes from. I am trying to understand this racism toward my little man, whom doesn’t deserve it. I am trying to understand the thoughts behind the people that cannot see beyond the color of his skin and see him for who he is…for the beautiful, kind, loving, good little boy that he is. But, many people will miss out on him because they are blind and narrow minded.
For now he is oblivious to all of this and we are able to protect him from them that judge him.

But, what happens when he’s older and no longer oblivious? This scares me and hurts me all at the same time. I know I will not always be able to protect him from this. I know that someday I won’t be there to protect him or distract him from racisms arrows. I pray that I will have prepared him enough to stand against evils arrows…that I will have done a good enough job at helping him believe in himself and his worth and that he will know that his true beauty lies in not just the beauty of his dark skin but in his beautiful heart.

How have you experienced racism? To those of you with children, how do you teach your children about these things?


Anonymous said...

It amazes me that this type of thing still happens in this day and age. I live and work in a diverse area - so it is not obvious to me, nor do I think about it often.

I suppose I am naive. In a day when adoption is so clearly accepted...why is it that biracial families are not?

H's daycare provider is Muslim. He loves her. I love her. When I think of she and her family, I think of kind and loving people. I do my best to learn about her religion so that I can embrace her further and wish her well on her holidays.

That stuff is easy and natural.

I still can't get over what you and your little man are experiencing. Sad.

Sandi said...

Pack up that sweet little man and move west! That just breaks my heart. My kids have never been mistreated. I would flip my lid. It is a blessing that woman didn't see me and mine come through her line. I may have ended up in Jail.

Crazy Charm said...

Aw. This is a terrible.

I grew up in a very homogeneous area where there was a lot of racism. Thankfully, my parents taught me what they believed, to accept everyone and their differences.

You're obviously a great influence to your children, as well.

Jan said...

Well, dear - something else we have in common.

My sister's husband is African American and they have four of the most beautiful children you've ever seen. My ex-husband is Hispanic, which makes my two older children biracial as well.

We both were born and raised in the DFW area of Texas and both experienced racism and prejudice, but nothing like I've seen since I moved to northeast Ohio. My daughter moved up here to live with us for six months last year and began dating what I thought was a very nice young man - until he discovered her ethnicity. Then he started calling her a "beaner." She has since moved back to Texas.

I don't understand the racist mindset either - my two best friend from high school are still my two best friends. She is African American. He is not only Hispanic, but gay. My kids have called them "Uncle M" and "Aunt T" from the time they could talk.

I don't know what to tell you about your little man, except that sadly, you won't always be able to protect him. The best you can do is teach him about the ignorance that is behind the actions of those people and do all you can to help him learn to deal with it with patience and graciousness.

Busy Bee Suz said...

It really blows my mind that there are still so many small minded people in this world. really. It gets under my skin too and I have not ever experienced any of it myself.
My girls have always been very open minded about people of every color. really. It was just natural for them. I believe that all children are born this way..but they learn evil from their ignorant parents.
It makes me sad that little man (and other children) are picked on or ignored by idiots.
I don't know what I would do in your case with the rude cashier...maybe next time say something to her: "why are you not saying hello to both of my children??"
Just call her out. What is she going to say? maybe she will think more clearly next time...
take care,

SciFi Dad said...

I have concluded that if I ever do understand racism, I will be worried. As long as it makes no sense to me whatsoever, I am a happy man.

There's no place in this world for that kind of hate.

Smart Mouth Broad said...

This is heart-breaking. Nothing hurts worse than watching your child being hurt. Sadly, you are right that you won't be able to protect him for long. I do think it's getting better or maybe I'm being naive. As you know, I grew up in Indiana during the 60s. A time when racial riots were all we heard about. My hometown of 3000 people was an all white town with one exception. Racism was everywhere. I'm not sure why but it never sat well with me. I used to get into heated arguments with friends and family members defending people I didn't even know. I'm not saying that I was so much better than the others because I've had racism rear it's ugly head in my own heart a few times too. It just really bothered me and that bothered my friends. Our little town was so white that the black panthers once threatened to burn it to the ground. The memories of all the men in town taking shifts to guard all access to the town and being stationed and armed on top of the stores and bank building are etched in my mind. Racism is ugly and it runs both ways.
When we moved to Florida, I found it refreshing that my children had friends from so many different cultures and backgrounds. It was only then that I realized just how sheltered my own background was. Small towns tend to be very close minded. When my father brought my mother from Illinois to live in our small town. It took awhile for some to accept her (because she was goofy) because she was an outsider. I think ignorance breeds racism. I don't mean to offend but we're all a little afraid of what we don't know. It's time we let go of our hatred and fear. We weren't born this way. I always remember the lyric from a song from South Pacific, "we have to be carefully taught." We need to carefully teach our children to love and accept instead of hate and reject.
I guess I'll step off my soap-box now that I've written a complete post in your comment. Oops.

Brittany said...

ohhh my dear sweet nephew. May he always be oblivious! I love him to smitherines and I never want him to know that kind of pain. He is so incredibly beautiful, and I hope he grows up to be proud of the skin he's in :) (many people pay to have tan skin! He's lucky enough to be born with it!) Give them both big smoocher-roochers from their favorite aunti!

Jeannie said...

The closest I have ever come to experiencing racism, which wasn't even me but my daughter, whose boyfriend, who is German, asked her to keep her Jewish heritage a secret at the German Club he is very involved with. Apparently, some of the old Nazis are still diehard Jew haters.

However, we are dealing with people in Belize - last time my husband phoned down to talk to our guy, his father called him to the phone calling Gary "El Gringo". I don't think that's exactly a compliment but Gary thought it was pretty funny.

I do think it's incredibly rude to totally ignore one child and fuss over another - I don't care what colour they are. (Heck my mother fusses over my 2nd son and leaves my other 2 kids out - and they are in their 20's)

Jason, as himself said...

Why? How do people have to much time and energy for such absurd behavior.

We all discriminate in some way. But there is a huge difference between the kind of discrimination that you describe and racism.

So ignorant!

Great post!

Garnetrose said...

I don;t know why people would be amazed that racism exists.They should be angry at it like I am. This baby in this pic is my grandbaby. Like her mom, she looks white but her mother is half black. We adopted her when she was a young girl. I have had people come out and tell me my daughter should not have been born because she is mixed.

She ran into racism on the black side when she went to college and decided she would learn a little more about her black side and went into a black history class and was told not to bother cause she was too white. She had to take out a pic of her biological mom and brother to show she has black in her to be accepted by them.

Sad to say it is alive and thriving....I hate it. Give your little man a hug.

Racism is everywhere.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe that it still happens. I teach school and have all types of children. I do see some teachers are having problems accepting illegal immigrants. Basically they look at it as the one's that cause problems and don't pay taxes. I try to educate everyone to the best of my ability. Every child is special.

Caution Flag said...

I know it's out there. I hear about it,but it's not so easily seen here in my metro area. I hurt so much for anyone being treated that way or for children who are being taught to treat others that way.

SSG said...

Racism, or any typre of ignorance leading to prejudice, i can't stand.

You can dislike someone who is black- maybe they were mean to you. But disliking them because they are black is completely different, the same if they are old, gay, straight, white, fat, think, young, educated or uneducated.

Prejudice can rise from different things- from one bad expereince, through wanting to impress others, through being scared of difference and the unknown, from extreme representations in the media, to mis understanding and learning from others prejudice. But all these stem from ignorance. Tarring any one group with one Brush is never a good thing.

I'm sorry your step-grandson has to be privy to small minded ignorance, especially at a young age. Some prejudice is ingrained in people and as you point out, to bring this down you have to get to know people and break down barriers.

I wish it was easier, and I wish people didn't make assumptions, but it is a natural thing to do- take for example a restuarant chain. You read one review, or have one bad expereince, or your friend tells you she doesn't like it, and, well, you don't go there do you? You decide you'll use the stereotype and think all their restaurants are not worth going to. It happens. But with people, you hurt people directly, and someone being so directly mean, as in your example, is just horrific. I might have called them at their game and ask them what they were doing- almost wish there was someone to report them to.

As a teacher, how do you deal with it if you find a student being racist in class?

SSG said...

Reading my post now sounds a bit dodgy- in no way am i trying to say being racist and no liking a restaurant are one and the same!
Just incase it comes across that way ;)
I remember being at a school camp, with students from lots of schools, and a boy of Indian descent I made friends with. These other boys started calling him a "Paki" and asking him where his curry was. I remember being totally shocked at how stupid and offensive these boys were, and totally not understanding why they called him a Paki. Where I came from, i hadn't heard this term as a form of abuse. I told them he wasn't from Pakistan, and I remember them laughing. They told him to go home to his own country, and I remember saying to them "He's not from India, he's probably never been there!".

As a child, I could see why the boys might tease someone who was foreign, (though not condoning it) but teasing someone with different coloured skin, I didn't understand. Isn't it the same as different coloured hair and eyes, I thought. And to go further than tease and to be outwardly mean... well it made me so angy. I still hate when anyone is mean to anyone else, and I wish I would stand up to people more, or in a better way. Sometimes I get too angry to make myself understood!

Maria said...


I've been reading your blog for some time, and I just love your style. You always make me think, and sometimes make me cry.

This post reminded me of something that happened some time ago. Our nanny had to quit suddenly due to a family emergency, and we ended up hiring someone that came somewhat recommended, but that we didn't really like all that much - we just had no choice. A few days later, the nanny's husband picks her up; I come outside with my baby in the wrap to great him while she gets her things. There is a black girl of about 10 or so hanging out nearby, showing an obvious interest in my baby. I thought she must live in the neighborhood or something, and turn so she can get a better look, when I notice the nanny's husband sort of shoo-ing her away! Needless to say I was rather shocked, but unfortunately not too surprised as racism is very prevalent in the Russian immigrant community (of which I am a part). My shock grew to total disgust, though, when I heard the man speak very harshly and rudely to her in Russian and realized that the girl was actually his granddaughter! Their daughter had her our of wedlock very young; as a working single mother, she often asked her parents to take care of the girl for a few hours after school. I just couldn't believe that someone could treat their own grandchild like that (OK, so maybe I am just spoiled by my 3 incredibly loving grandparents)! I mean, I can conceivably understand how someone can be mean to someone they don't even know (G-d knows I've seen enough antisemitism growing up in Russia), but this was the child who grew up under his eye! I still can't believe such meanness exists! BTW, when we put on the nanny-cam (we don't usually use it as it makes me very uncomfortable to spy on anyone) we discovered that the nanny was ignoring the baby crying - literally watching TV with the "surround sound" of baby crying, and also yelling at him as he sat in his highchair. After I saw this, I said I'd take vacation days off and/or ask my mom and dad to do the same, but that this nanny wouldn't spend one more day with my son. My husband drove to her place to return some things she kept at our house and settle the pay; he says he was glad he went instead of me because of the unbelievable rudeness he encountered during his conversation with the nanny and especially her husband.

Sorry for the very long response...

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry you (and little man) have to deal with ignorant stupid people. You'll have to explain to him that there are people out there like that and he's just got to understand that they ARE ignorant and small minded and try to over look their cruelty. I know that's easier said than done and my heart breaks for you all. HUGS

Stepping Thru said...

I am fair skinned and blue eyed. Both of my children are dark haired, brown eyed and olive complected. When they were young they had people say some unkind things to them. Now my daughter has an adopted son who is Hispanic and the two of them look so much alike that you would never know he is adopted. Life works out funny sometimes.
Hate and meanness are ugly and anyone who sees themselves above others is headed for a lonely sad life. You are raising your little people to love and respect all people and those qualities will take them far in life. Hang in there. Stupid people should be called out for their ignorance.

Bina said...

People ARE mean and I have no clue as to why. How hard would it be to just say hello? Are their hearts made of frickin stone? WTF!!!!!

This makes me so mad and so hurt. That poor little guy. I give a crap what someone's skin color is. I never have. What I care about is how they act, what their attitude is like. I don't care if you are the most beautiful person in the world, the richest, or whatever, if you are an ass I'm not gonna like you. I won't suck up to you. But if you are kind, and caring, and considerate, and have a frickin heart? I will think the world of you.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely unbelievable!! I just don't understand how people can be so mean to children. It scares me that uneducated people like this woman have the power to make us feel unworthy. She should be ashamed of herself, unfortunately I'm sure she does not!

Sprite's Keeper said...

He does not deserve this treatment! I want to stand up for him! My cousin married a black man and has two dark skinned sons, and proudly stands up for them whenever they meet any resistence due to the color of their skin. Of course, here in urban Florida, it's as common as a fair skinned child, so people don't fret much, but there are those who refuse to change with society.

Life with Kaishon said...

This broke my heart. I talk with Kaishon about racism often. When he was called Brownie last year on the playground he was devestated. I told him that we can never be defined by our color only by the love that is in our hearts.

thistle said...

Racism is an ugly thing...but if anyone can educate your little guy in the meaning of compassion and how to turn his own experiences into a way to teach and reach out to others, you can. I think courage and compassion and dignity are the only way to respond to the ugliness of racism. Like your friends from treatment experienced.

pamajama said...

I grew up in Illinois surrounded by racism. As a child I heard an adult say that blacks were going to "take over" and I clearly remember thinking "Then I want some black friends!" I will never, ever fall for the fallacy that racism no longer exists, even though some would want you to believe it. It's alive & well & more silent than ever.

When I went to college I had black roommates & then worked in a group home where I was the only white staff person. It was the best thing that ever could have happened to me at that time. Even today, my cousin married a black man last October & it took her father years to accept him. He was a school superintendent, a very educated man, no matter.

If this was my situation to deal with, I actually think I would want to have a prepared card to hand out to people that treat your little boy this way. I don't think I could let it pass, and if I spoke I'd lose my temper. Some of the best lessons I've ever learned have been the times when I've misjudged a situation & have to acknowledge I'm wrong.

Regarding your time in treatment, it really points out how every situation has a silver lining.

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