Ask ARP: How can I protect my children from hate?

Dear Anti-Racist Parent,

Thank you so much for your blog.  It is helping me hold it together at this time when tempers are high and hidden racism in my community is raising it’s ugly head.  We live in a suburban community  in Ohio.  We chose this particular town for its good schools and strong racial mix (at least a good Asian representation).  At a Halloween party last week, a mother touted how if Barack Obama wins, all the blacks will rise up and take over and we will become a Muslim country.  Then last night, my daughter came home from gymnastics very upset.  Apparently a 10-year-old on her team told her that if Barack Obama wins “a lot of babies will die.”

“Mommy, why will all the mommies kill their babies?” 

This is particularly sensitive as my 6-year-old, along with her three older sisters, were all adopted from China.

We have tried to instill in our children that both Obama and McCain are good people and they only want good for our country.  The differences lie in how to do it.  We support Obama because of his ideas and the policies he wants to put into place – not because we hate McCain.  We also feel that trying to break racial barriers is a good thing in this country – not just for those of color but for ALL Americans regardless of race, color or cultural background.  I was brought up right-Christian but having lived in other countries and traveled to many places, I have developed a deep respect and
tolerance for those that are different from me physically and culturally.

How do we protect our children from all this hate?

Karen W.

From the Editor:

Of course the election is over, but I thought it was important that we discuss Karen’s question. The virulent hatred, bigotry and xenophobia stoked during the “silly season” won’t go away simply because America has elected Barack Obama its leader. And, our new president aside, there will always be those who aren’t shy about voicing their considerable prejudices.

So, what’s a parent to do?

As much as possible, offer your child a diverse environment and experiences. An anti-racist parent should seek relationships, toys, books and media that encourage understanding and celebration of other races and ethnicities. I acknowlege that some of us live in areas with little racial diversity–that may make this step more difficult, but not impossible. Familiarity makes fear and hatred a lot harder, and it helps to immunize against infection by other people’s biases.

Use brushes with racism as teaching moments. Acknowlege the wrongness: “You know some people are afraid of folks who aren’t just like them, and it makes them say silly things. It is too bad that Mrs. Johnson doesn’t know any better.” And let your child know what is right. If you have exposed your little ones to diversity then you can use examples. “You know your friend Marisol’s family is from Mexico.” Or…”Remember when we read about how Muslim children celebrate Ramadan?”

The hardest part of using encounters with racism as teaching moments is that it requires parents to speak up–and not just after the fact. The woman who expressed that an Obama presidency would usher in a race war should have been publicly confronted, especially  if she made those comments in front of children. As a parent, you send messages not only with what you say, but also by what you don’t.

Karen, you asked how you can protect your children from hate. And I suppose I haven’t answered that question. The reality is you can’t. Not really. You can, and should, keep children away from obvious hate mongers. But racism and race bias exist in the most surprising places. Now that the election has passed, most of it will return to being covert, but it will still be there–lurking. Particularly since your daughters are “of color,” bias will surely find them. I think the key is to prepare your daughters to stand up against the ugliness.

Readers–what do you say?

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About Tami

Tami Winfrey Harris writes about race, feminism, politics and pop culture at the blog What Tami Said. Her work has also appeared online at The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Ms. Magazine blog, Newsweek, Change.org, Huffington Post and Racialicious. She is a graduate of the Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism. She is mom to two awesome stepkids and spends her spare time researching her family history and cultivating a righteous 'fro.
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