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.

 

 

 

 

 

No Candy for You If You Come Dressed Like This

Ignore the fact that Christmas displays are popping up all over the place. Keep your eyes on the prize, my dear readers.

Candy. Free candy.

Halloween is not my favorite holiday, not because of its pagan roots and dark images but because it wreaks havoc with the kids’ schedules when it falls on a weeknight conflicting with homework, extracurriculars and dinner. And because it brings out a kind of crazy and lack of wisdom in adults, that does tend to trickle down.

The candy is free so long as you make an attempt at dressing up, but that is where the crazy comes out to play. God help the kid who shows up at my door dressed up in a sombrero, or as a “pimp” or “thug”, or a geisha, or in an “Indian” headdress. It is not respectful (why do you get to choose what is respectful to my culture without asking me?). I’m not accusing the parents or the child of racism or of being a racist. I won’t actually refuse to give you candy. I won’t yell at you or the kid. I am simply asking people to reconsider their choice of Halloween costumes, whether it’s for themselves or for a loved one.

The taking a piece or part of a minority group’s culture by the majority culture is known as cultural appropriation. Some examples would be Chief Illiniwek – the University of Illinois’ former mascot and dress-up/theme parties. There are plenty more out there. Chinese character tattoos on the arms of people who think it “looks cool”.  Just Google “Deadly Viper controversy”. There are plenty of folks who don’t think it’s that big of a deal. That’s fine. I think it’s a big deal.

And while we are at it, dear female readers. Please encourage our sisters, young at older, to avoid Halloween costumes that focus on our sexuality. No holiday is an excuse for grown women to wear bloomers with thigh highs or for young girls and young women to mistake dressing sassy=sexy. If you have to ask if something crosses the line, it probably already did. And male readers, keep your shirts on and pants pulled up. You know what I’m talking about.

It’s a big deal because we are all made it God’s image, and God sees inherent value in both our sameness and our uniqueness. God knows each one of us (Psalm 139). And even in John’s revelation he writes of seeing unity and diversity (Rev. 7). So it’s a big deal when we create a caricature of another culture for our benefit, entertainment, amusement and abuse.

So please, don’t come to my door dressed up to honor my Asian, Latino, Black, First Nations friends. I’d rather you put on a Cubs hat and come as an insufferable optimist.