When Your Kid Says Something Racist

Elias was four years old when he didn’t fully comprehend the racial slurs thrown at him across the hospital room.

The teenage boy in traction on the other side of the curtain was in pain but had refused to take his pain medication. How did I know? The curtain wasn’t soundproof. We could hear him complaining, arguing with his parents, moaning in pain, asking for candy but refusing to eat the hospital food (who could blame him). I learned from his mother that he had been in a horrible car accident. The young man was lucky to be alive after a bowling ball left in the passenger area of the car became a pinball upon impact.

Our families didn’t interact much except for exchanging knowing looks as we passed each other in the room or the hallways. They were focused on getting their teenager healthy and stable. We were doing the same with our four-year-old. We simply exchanged stories and then went to our sides of the room until the teenager decided to call my son a chink and suggest our family go back to where we came from.

I had asked the other mother if they would turn down the television that was on at the same volume it had been on all day long. Elias was exhausted having started fasting for a round of tests the next day, and Peter & I were spent.

“I’m sorry to bother you, but would you mind turning down the television volume a little bit? Our son is a bit restless tonight and the noise is making it difficult for all of us to rest.”

The other mother asked her son if it would be OK to turn down the volume as I walked to our side of the curtain. His response?

“No. I can’t sleep when that baby’s whining and crying. Tell that chink to shut up. They should all go back to where they came from. What are they doing here anyway?”

I waited for the other mother to correct her son, but she didn’t. She said nothing. Instead her son continued to raise his voice. She said nothing. Nothing.

So I did.

I don’t think Tiger Mother is what you think it means.

I walked over to the other side of the curtain and said to no one in particular, “I can’t believe this.” I left the room and headed to the nurses’ station where I asked demanded to speak with the shift manager to request demand  a room change. As I was explaining the situation, including the racist slurs, the other mother came down the hall asking me to understand her son was in pain and is tired and didn’t know what he was saying and that she didn’t know where he learned to say those things.

Full stop.

We are two days away from Halloween, and there are adults in blackface thinking Trayvon Martin is the perfect costume. They are posting photos of themselves dressed up like bloodied Asiana flight attendants and pilots. And when we see these adults doing stupid, racist things I know I am not the only one wondering ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?! Don’t these people have friends who pull them aside and tell them in no uncertain terms, “THAT is NOT a good idea”?!?!?!?!?

But it isn’t just in that moment because those adults didn’t just decide a week before Halloween that blackface or wearing a name badge reading “Ho Lee Fuk” would be HILARIOUS. No, those adults learned long ago that those racist acts were OK, even funny.

Which is why I, as an adult, hearing racist slurs come out of the mouths of children, especially this particular 14-year-old boy’s mouth, and then NOT hearing his parent correct him bothered me so. I did understand the young man was in pain, which is why I was hoping he would take his pain meds. I did understand he was tired because my son was tired, too. I wanted to go back to where we came from – Libertyville, Illinois! But we were stuck in Ann Arbor because my four-year-old baby almost seized to death. I did understand. But I told the other mother that what I didn’t understand was how she could hear her son say things like “chink” and not correct him. I told her this wasn’t about the noise. It was about the racist slurs.

Again, she said nothing. It broke my heart because the other mother could no longer claim ignorance. She knew and said  nothing.

When your kids say something racist, you correct them or you stay silent and give them permission.

It’s not easy. Parenting isn’t easy. Talking about race and racism isn’t easy. But if parents and adults don’t say anything, don’t help lead and correct and answer questions, none of us should be surprised when adults show up at a Halloween party looking the part of a racist fool.


  1. zandaltwist October 29, 2013

    Our silence speaks volumes. Not just with children…

  2. Mark October 30, 2013

    This is a difficult experience. and I feel empathy for you and your family.
    I’d also mention that disinhibition following a brain injury (particularly after being struck in the head with a bowling ball) is quite common.

    This doesn’t make the behavior acceptable in any way, but it could seem quite possibly that this wasn’t an instance of racism as much as severe damage to his prefrontal cortex. I wish both him and your son a full recovery.

    • Jessie October 30, 2013

      His MOTHER wasn’t hit in the head with a bowling ball, which is the whole point.

    • Sarah October 31, 2013

      That’s pretty unlikely. The story doesn’t give any indication that the teenager was suffering from a brain injury.

      I started to click on the link to see if the teenager had any of the other symptoms but that’s ridiculous. That shouldn’t need to be justified or explained.

      And as the commenter below me said, his mother was not injured.

  3. searchingforsubstance October 30, 2013

    ugh. so heartbreaking. i am really saddened to read about this experience, especially at a sensitive time when your son is sick. and in the hospital of all places! ugh.. satan uses every weapon to tear us down.

    be not discouraged… for all the rude insults that people hurl at you, may it bring you closer to the Lord in finding your hope in Him. and may He guide you in wisdom in your daily response (as i know He has been doing, as with the saddleback inicident).

    you’re an awesome mom and i’m glad you called out the behavior to the other mom, even though she didn’t hear you. *fist bump*

  4. […] SOMETHING: “When Your Kid Says Something Racist” by Kathy […]

  5. Hangaku Gozen November 3, 2013

    I lived in the northern Midwest for 30 years: quite often, the only person of color I saw for days was my own reflection in a mirror. I also found the people there mostly well-meaning and kind, but completely clueless about racism, since they met very few people who weren’t northern European, English-speaking Christians like themselves. I heard comments like “You speak really good English for a [name any Asian ethnic group here—Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, etc.]!” “What country are you from?” (My reply, delivered dryly, was, “California.”) “I bet you serve your husband sushi every day.” (My specialty was meatloaf.) On occasion I would hear nastier remarks—while attending a history exhibit on the Japanese American 442nd regimental combat team which served during World War II, I overheard an older man sneer, “I oughta bring my collection of photos from the Bataan Death March!” Rarely would I hear outright racial slurs like “chink,” and those were usually delivered by teenagers. Also rare was the attempt by any adults to correct them. They were either embarrassed, or they didn’t seem to realize how offensive their children’s words were. When I confronted one mother in my child’s third grade class, she said, “They’re just kids, they didn’t mean anything by it.” “So when are you going to teach your son that the word does mean something hateful?” I asked her. I was met by silence. I don’t know whether it was cow-like stupidity, not understanding how hurt I was by her child’s racism, or real incomprehension, but I was relieved when my child and hers never shared a classroom after that.

    I’m not defending these people. On the contrary, the experience left me bitter, and I’ve sworn never to return that area, even though friends there tell me that things are “better” and there’s more racial diversity in the city I left. I suspect the mother of that 14-year-old never dealt with her son’s behavior or language before the accident—clearly, he must have learned the word “chink” before that—and still couldn’t.

    I hope your son recovers and you can all go home safely and without further insult or suffering.

  6. Eastfist November 3, 2013

    So self-righteous. Why now? Again, why now? What changed in American society that made Asian Americans now give a damn? In a short few years, once our black President leaves office, it’ll be back to saying “thank you” when someone calls us “chink” or “gook” again. This is a guarantee. Again… why now?

    • sister_h November 3, 2013

      It sounds like you are implying that Asian Americans have only objected to racist slurs since the election of Obama. Were you born yesterday? Asian Americans have been in this country for over 130 years and have always fought back against terrible racism that included lynchings, arson, massacres, mass incarceration, employment discrimination, housing discrimination, as well as slander and insult.

      I don’t think the writer was self-righteous at all. She was assertive and polite. Nobody says thank you to a racist slur, despite your “guarantee.”

      • naikanomtom November 3, 2013

        And no, the writer wasn’t self-righteous even in the slightest. sister_h, don’t mind Eastfist. I’ve seen him troll on YouOffendMeYouOffendmyFamily all the time and for an incident like this, we don’t need his negativity. You mad brah?

        • Kathy Khang November 4, 2013

          Thanks! Eastfist’s comment was a bit confusing…

    • Marcus November 3, 2013

      Folks like Yuri Kochiyama, Grace Lee Boggs, George Takei, and Norman Mineta were fighting anti-Asian racism long before Obama was even a community organizer, much less President.

      • George December 9, 2013

        Long before Obama was born!

    • Kathy Khang November 4, 2013

      What are you talking about? Why now? Why not now?

  7. naikanomtom November 3, 2013

    I’m very sorry to hear about this incident and I wish all the best for your son. No person should have to experience an incident like that, especially during a hospital stay. I know the other son is in pain, but he really should not resort to those kinds of comments. Parents these days need to get their act straight.

  8. The Beat Man November 4, 2013

    Reblogged this on Life in Anglo-America and commented:

  9. b. November 4, 2013

    Hat dies auf International Adoption Reader rebloggt und kommentierte:
    Add your thoughts here… (optional)

  10. Joe November 5, 2013

    Slap the shit out of the stupid kid.

  11. fein November 5, 2013

    You can call that “MIdwestern” angst. This is a typical scenario in the Midwest where kids will exemplify racism and it becomes a part of their language. It is pretty bad in the midwest because so many will smile in your face and pretend to be your friend, but behind your back calling you chink, gook, whatever. I’m not surprised at this story.

  12. George December 9, 2013

    It happened in the summer of 1985.A colleague of mine at a top midwestern university in Indiana, where I was getting my doctorate. had invited me to dinner at his home. I ran into his sister in law from Texas who was not too happy to see me, a peson of South Asian origin. “We are going to serve beeff” she told me. “But I eat beef”, I said. Her face became small. Then the phone call came. The woman threw up and became very ill. Fearing someone has died at her home, I asked to leave and left. The next day I asked my colleague if everyone was fine. By this time everyone in the department knew that I had left after his sister-in-law became sick…they also knew the reason why she became sick but they did not tell me and I did not push. Ten years later, over coffee and snacks, my ex-colleague told me that she had received a call from her son that he is getting engaged to a young Christian Japanese-American woman in Hawaii and she was dead set against allowing any minorities into her family. He did not know what happened after that.

    But, this happened recently and that too in Ann Arbor? After reading your blog I am pretty certain that racist characters such as this Texas woman still exist across the country…and they tell me that Asian female-white males couples are as accepted in the country as white-white couples. I pretty much doubt it!


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