Although it might seem that we’ve made progress since the days of "No dogs, no Indians allowed," racism has not been eradicated, it has simply been driven underground. Although the American media has made racism into a black/white issue, all indigenous people have been oppressed by racists, including some whites, like the Irish. Some of this oppression has been quite recent. (Most people are unaware that it wasn’t until 1978 that Native American people were given the right to vote and practice their religion in this country. That’s less than thirty years ago! )
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 husband went to a convenience store and set down the items he wanted to purchase on the counter. Behind him was a white woman, who was also waiting to purchase items. Although my husband 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 husband was clearly first, the elderly cashier smiled smugly and said, "He’s being a gentleman." Unperturbed, my husband 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 his belt, my husband knew that this cashier’s actions exposed her and revealed nothing about himself. Although he has endured many such experiences at the hands of whites, he 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 we all must fight against.
Explain to biracial children that racism is based on fear and insecurity. Extremists and hatemongers 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.
Read biracial children biographies of those who have achieved their dreams in spite of growing up in racist environments.
If you are a white mother or father, raising biracial children without a partner, find a trusted person within the child’s community of color to share cultural stories and experiences with your child. Although this will be the subject of a future article, for now, understand that it is crucial for your child to identify with someone who looks like him. In that vein, buy biracial children dolls that look like them - dolls which have the same skin color and facial characteristics.
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.
Act with your highest ideals in mind, while acknowledging reality. 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.
If you’re white and think you’re immune to the effects of racism, begin to investigate how it dehumanizes us as a people. It destroys and discards entire cultures, preventing them from contributing their unique flavor, aroma and texture to the stew. Racism is anti-spiritual and anti-humane. You can’t be spiritual and be a racist.
Realize also that as the tables turn and the minorities in this country become the new majority, the pedagogy of the oppressed will dictate that at least some of those who have been oppressed will become the new oppressors.
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.
As a parent, you have a choice. Teach your biracial children that racism is a fearful god that diminishes those who follow it. The true joy of living in this melting pot called America is in savoring the flavor of each ingredient and the full-bodied experience of the stew.