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Growing up in white America, I learned in school that the United States was a melting pot of ethnicity and culture. The fact that many races and cultures could live together in one land was supposed to be a source of pride and proof of our evolution. As a student, I pictured this melting pot as a simmering pot of stew, in which each morsel contributed to the flavor of the whole, while retaining its individual taste, form and texture. Of course, this ideal belied my experiences in the real world.
Understanding this is key. Although we want to give biracial children ideals to which they can aspire, we must first teach them how the real world operates. Only when we recognize the gap between what is and what could be can we take the steps to change. This gap and the yearning it creates builds the bridge between today’s reality and tomorrow’s dream.
When I was a child, and until this day my grandparents don’t say a word to me, just because I’m biracial. When they looked at me I could see the hatred in their eyes. When my Caucasian uncle died, my stepfather, which is black attended the funeral. Less than ten minutes later the policemen escorted us off of the premises because of our skin color. When that happen that turned my world upside down. How could someone be that prejudice?
This was my first experience of racism that substandard. In that moment, I knew that I was different from my grandparents and that they wanted to hurt me because of that. I will never forget how I felt, like I had shrunk inside. At the heart of my refusal to defend myself was my sense of cultural shame.
During this experience, I was well aware of my powerlessness in the face of the inhumanity of these boys. This is what racism feels like. Someone exerts their power over you because they want to and because they can. You are judged for what, rather than who you are. The sense of injustice is overwhelming. Although sometimes the oppressor is someone who holds no true power in the world, it’s an experience that leaves the victim feeling dehumanized and shamed. Imagine feeling this way every day of your life.
Imagine growing up, as my African American uncle did, in a world in which you were constantly barraged by racist comments and prejudicial treatment. In such a world, even the people who were supposed to take care of you would use their authority and knowledge against you. In fifth grade, my husband’s teacher used him as an example in front of the class, although he’d done nothing to provoke her. She told the class that they’d better study hard or they would spend their lives picking in the fields, as she predicted my husband would. Or there’s the time when my uncle was rushed to the doctor with a gaping wound over his eye. The doctor didn’t want to waste a painkiller on an African American, whom he saw as less than human, so he stitched him up without an anesthetic. My uncle was fifteen at the time.
Of course, my uncle’s experiences were different from his father’s, who couldn’t walk down the street without seeing signs in restaurants that read, "No dogs, No Indians allowed."
When I hear these stories, I’m in awe that people of color have managed to hold their heads up high. When the mainstream culture despises you, the one thing that can save you from turning this hate against yourself is a healthy sense of rage.
My sense of rage over what those kids did to me at that park will prevent me from ever cowering again under a racially motivated attack. It will prevent me from feeling shame over a legacy I did not create. My uncle’s sense of rage over the injustice of his childhood experiences led him to create a life that empowers him and in which he helps to empower others, regardless of their skin color.
Although it might seem that we’ve made progress since the days of "No dogs, no colored allowed," racism has not been eradicated, it has simply been driven underground. Although the American media has made racism into a black/white issue, racists have oppressed all indigenous people,
The racism of today is often carried out with such subtlety that it takes an attentive eye and ear to recognize. But it must be recognized and it must be pointed out.
For instance, the other day, my aunt went to a convenience store and set down the items she wanted to purchase on the counter. Behind her was a white woman, who was also waiting to purchase items. Although my aunt was first in line and had already set his items on the counter, the white cashier rang up the woman behind him first. When she protested and indicated that my aunt was clearly first, the elderly cashier smiled smugly and said, "She’s just being kind." Unperturbed, my aunt replied, "Is that what you call it?" Embarrassed by the cashier’s behavior, the woman apologized to my husband because she realized what was really going on. Although the cashier had said nothing that could be used against her, her power play had conveyed it all.
These are the people we need to teach biracial children to watch out for. With a lifetime of such experiences under her belt, my aunt knew that this cashier’s actions exposed her and revealed nothing about her. Although she has endured many such experiences at the hands of whites, she does not generalize because at critical moments during his life, there were also those who helped him. But if this cashier exerted her power over a child, the outcome would be different.
If you’re raising biracial children, prepare them for the realities of the world by sharing stories from your life. Avoid the trap of lumping people of one color or culture together by telling stories that illustrate that there are people in every race who hate others simply because they’re different. Explain that intolerance is the true inhumanity, which all must fight against.
Explain to biracial children that racism is based on fear and insecurity. Extremists and are fearful bullies at heart. Hating others because they don’t share the same ideas or views gives birth to intolerance. If you are a person of color, put the historical struggle against racism into perspective by sharing stories from your recent past, your childhood, your father’s past and your grandfather’s past. Teach biracial children that many have struggled before them, so they can have some of the rights and freedoms they enjoy today. Be careful of creating prejudicial attitudes by also sharing stories of those who have helped you. Remember, your child must learn to judge each person individually, based upon his actions. Pass on your wisdom and your generosity of heart, rather than small-minded prejudices.
Although ethnicity is crucial to identity, teach your biracial child that first and foremost, he’s a human being. If someone belittles him for his appearance or personal beliefs, then this person reveals his fear and ignorance. I tell my kids to imagine that the heckler’s clothes have fallen off, but he doesn’t know he’s naked. This will empower biracial children in a situation in which someone is trying to take their power away.
If an adult treats your biracial child with racial prejudice, instruct him to report the incident to you. It's up to you to fight the battles in the adult world.
There have always been and will always be racists in the world. Despite this, we must continue to strive for common ground, while encouraging freedom of expression within the limits of decency and respect for others. In a country in which diversity is supposed to be a hallmark of our spiritual evolution, racism is a perversion that degrades us all. It shrinks our hearts and stunts our potential as individuals and as a people.