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Talking to Your Kids About Race, Racism, and Antiracism

10 Things 6

Racism wasn’t something I chose to experience as a kid.

My first memory of racism directed at me was the summer between Kindergarten and 1st Grade. I was flying alone to Hawai’i or returning to Seattle from Hawai’i. An older woman, who I remember as having short curly brown hair and was probably in her 40s, was seated next to me on the flight. At some point in her talking to me she complimented my English. “You speak English so well. Where did you learn to speak it?”

I knew, even at my young age, that she assumed because I’m Asian I wasn’t born here—this is a racist trope that BIPOC have to deal with, particularly Asian-Americans as we’re treated as perpetual foreigners in our own country. “I was born here.” [insert 5-year-old eye roll]

I thought that would end the conversation but she kept going, calling me “exotic.”

Pro-tip: don’t call anyone exotic. We’re not objects. I don’t even like calling places exotic. People call my home state exotic but the tropical climate, the plants and flowers and trees and fruit, and the brilliant green of the mountains in contrast to the red dirt are all normal to me. Exotic, to me, has always mean unusual, not normal. But the things (and people) that get called exotic are entirely usual and normal for those who live with them daily. The other problem with “exotic” is it sexualizes and objectifies the women it’s being used to describe. No five-year-old should ever be called exotic and for BIPOC women, it feeds into the stereotypes that lead to the increased violence against, kidnapping, trafficking, and deaths of our sisters.

“What nationality are you?” she asked as a follow up to the exotic comment.

Again, at 5, I knew the difference between nationality and ethnicity. I thought she was stupid for asking me that when I had just told her I was born here. “I’m American.”

“No. What’s your ethnicity?” Understand that this is just another form of “Where are you really from?”

“Filipino.” [insert another eye roll] I don’t remember exactly how the conversation ended but I do remember being done with her at this point.

I’m pretty sure this experience is the basis for my dislike of conversing with strangers on planes, buses, trains, and out in public in general. I have a friend who I think is fearless in striking up conversations with people she comes across in public.

The same summer or the summer after, I was in California visiting my maternal grandparents and my mother’s late younger sister (Auntie Boogie, if you’ve read previous blogs). While I identify as Filipinx, I also identify as hapa (mixed-race for those of you unfamiliar with the term). My mother’s side is predominantly European and we can trace Papa’s lineage back to Mary Queen of Scots. Papa was a locksmith with his own business in Tustin. I loved going into the shop with him. I would sweep up the metal shavings for him and as I got older I would clean the bathroom, make grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch in the toaster over like he taught me, and cut keys for customers. One day, his good friend came into the shop and they were both leaning on the glass counter, each on opposite sides, as I was sitting on it. They were telling jokes that I didn’t understand and Papa stopped to explain one. Pointedly, he taught me the N-word and what it meant to him. I didn’t understand at the time that the meaning was bad, so when they told another joke, I laughed. Now imagine all the overt racists, comfortable with slinging slurs around doing this with the next generation. This is one of the ways kids learn overt bigotry, through jokes because jokes are easily accessible and also a way to tell if someone is part of your in-group or open to being part of your in-group. I learned soon enough what the N-word really meant after returning home and telling my parents the joke. I’ve never used it since.

We are often exposed to racism at a young age and these memories become indelible. I often see comments from White parents either about not knowing how to talk to their kids about racism and/or not wanting to “expose” them because they want them to keep their innocence. For the most part, BIPOC kids don’t get to keep their innocence. Once we have that first experience, it’s gone. Our world is now informed by knowing people are going to treat us that way for the rest of our lives. Not to mention, Black parents have to have The Talk with their children about how to interact with police so they come home alive at an age in which White kids get to remain innocent. My parents weren’t there to intervene with the woman asking me racist questions. The flight attendants didn’t intervene either. I was on my own and I was lucky enough to have been taught the difference between nationality and ethnicity so I knew how to respond to the woman. Kids are smarter than we give them credit for.

For those of us who are hapa, who have extended family from different races, particularly European, there’s the additional trauma of dealing with the bigotry within the family. There was no question Papa loved me, but I often wondered how when he would spew such awful, racist things about Asians and Black people in front of us, as well as using racial slurs. How had he done the mental gymnastics to keep himself from directing that racist venom at us (me, my dad, and siblings) but still be okay with saying those things in front of us? How could he say he loves us and show that he loves us while still holding so much hatred for people who looked like us? There’s trauma in that, in coming to terms with and dealing with the racism or bigotry of someone who loves you. I was the one who confronted him every time he started the racist comments and slurs. I was the one who made it clear, while still a kid, that what he was saying was unacceptable when others would not. Deep inside, while he was making those statements about others, it felt like they were directed at me because I cannot separate myself from being Asian. It’s why now when I call a friend on using Asian stereotypes and they say, “I didn’t mean you” I respond with “Yes, you did.”

While we don’t get to opt-out of these experiences as BIPOC children, it’s also important to understand that children as young as 5-years-old are already forming racial biases whether we recognize it or not. They already recognize that some groups have higher status or more value than other groups by the time they start Kindergarten. “But I taught my children to love people for who they are!” Please refer back to my first post in this series where I defined colorblind as an ideal and not a reality. It’s important to talk to your kids about the reality of world, not just Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream for us. Opt-in on these conversations so they understand why we can’t opt-out of the experience.

  1. Be honest with your kids and don’t sugarcoat the reality that BIPOC live with. You know your child(ren) the best so I’m not going to tell you exactly what to say or how to adapt what has largely been considered “adult conversation” to their learning level. Truthfulness is going to be the key in every conversation you have with them on race, racism, and antiracism.
  2. Give them the basic vocabulary to understand that racism isn’t just slurs and hate speech, but includes excluding us based on our race, judging us by stereotypes and treating us as if we are those stereotypes. They need to know that acts of racism aren’t just between individuals but can be perpetuated by their schools in how they discipline their BIPOC peers at disproportionately higher rates than White peers, even for things as small as dress code violations which then feeds these peers into the school-to-prison pipeline. Make sure they know what creates skin color and that it has no bearing on our intelligence, skills, or temperament as has been taught by racists for generations. Talk with them about how these harmful myths were used to set up harmful systems to oppress BIPOC. Discuss colorism and White beauty/speech standards that affect BIPOC from treating lighter-skinned BIPOC as more valuable and beautiful to conforming to White beauty/dress standards to standard English being the default demand with use of vernacular languages being seen as uneducated rather than a first language or just another method of communication. One thing you and your kid(s) need to understand is that like racism, colorism isn’t unique to the United States. It’s a global issue.
  3. Teach them that while you don’t have to have The Talk with them, Black parents have to do this with their children, often at a young age and doing so is never a guarantee they’ll return home alive. Tamir Rice was killed immediately upon the arrival of police who pulled up on the playground he was playing at alone. It was less than 2 seconds. He was never given a chance to “comply.” Let your kids know that compliance is a narrative of victim blaming. We’ve seen too many videos of Black people killed while “complying.” Instead, they need to understand that police shouldn’t be killing people at all. Don’t get mired in the hypocrisy of taking armed mass murderers alive or allowing a group of men to takeover and occupy a federal building for over a month, but Black people aren’t afforded that courtesy, armed or unarmed. Valuing the life of the young White man who took the lives of 9 Black Emmanuel AME Church members in Charleston, S.C. over the life of the Black veteran, Micah Johnson, who took the life of 5 Dallas police officers after recent deaths of Black people by police officers is the point. A White mass murderer will be taken alive because he has more value than the Black one who was killed by a bomb that police sent in on a robot. Black children are also not afforded the luxury of maintaining their “innocence” by police when their parents are stopped by them or are refusing to let them in their home: Philando Castile and Korryn Gaines are two examples of parents who were killed by police in front of their child; Korryn’s son was shot as well. The Hate U Give is an excellent resource to help you teach this. You can either read it with them, watch it with them, or both. An extension of this is that Black children are more likely to be treated as and charged as adults by the legal system than White children; they are old enough to know right from wrong versus the defense used by many White defendants that their brain isn’t developed enough to know better. When They See Us, Time: The Kalief Browder Story, 13th, and Murder to Mercy: The Cyntoia Brown Story are resources you can either watch to help yourself understand the subject matter better to teach your kid(s) or to watch with them.
  4. Teach them how they can use their privilege when they witness a peer experiencing racism. I think this can make a huge difference. While it’s not strictly about racism, remember the story about the 11-year-old boy who told his substitute teacher last year that he was thankful that he was being adopted by his two dads? That teacher faced consequences because three of his peers walked out of class and went straight to principal’s office when efforts to intervene as the teacher berated the student were unsuccessful. This is why teaching them the vocabulary is necessary, so they can identify acts of racism that aren’t overt slurs/hate speech that are happening right in front of them and can help squash any gaslighting that occurs when the person is confronted—sometimes BIPOC won’t say anything because we know we’ll be gaslighted and no one will back us up. I’ve been in that position many times.
  5. Know their educational materials and if they are lacking in diversity, supplement them with primary sources and texts that provide BIPOC narratives. While this will mostly apply to social studies/history materials, it can include English and literature. I know younger teachers are working to diversify their materials so BIPOC are more represented but there are going to be teachers who are entrenched in their way of doing things and refuse/are reluctant to change. To piggyback on this, diversify their bookshelves and their screens. Make sure they’re reading stories that center kids NOT like them, this builds empathy and helps fight stereotypes. While you’re doing this for your kid(s), make sure you’re doing it for yourself too. Don’t just read those non-fiction antiracism books, read fictional stories by BIPOC authors that feature BIPOC characters. I post the books I’ve read for the month at the end of the month/beginning of the following month on Instagram. You can build a list from that or my Goodreads bookshelf (links to both are on the sidebar). The books range from Young Reader (7-12) to Young Adult to various fiction genres and non-fiction. I also tend to focus on a specific group for the corresponding history month: i.e. Black authors or stories about Black people during Black History Month and LGBTQIA+ authors/stories during Pride Month. One thing I do want to point out is my fondness for the YA “history” books. Not texts, but books written for teenagers (sometimes younger) like Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You or An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People. They’ve made history a bit more digestible than the boring social studies and history textbooks we’re used to in school. Learning doesn’t have to be a drag and you, as the adult, don’t have to slog through Non-fiction history books that are so dry you find yourself re-reading the same page 10 times because your eyes started glossing over. These books are for us too. Take advantage of that.
  6. Make space for your child(ren) to ask questions, even if those questions are uncomfortable for you or challenge an implicit bias that they’ve observed in you. Kids notice our actions, especially when what we say and what we do do not align. This might mean you need to also be more aware of your own actions and whether or not they are antiracist. If something comes up that exposes an implicit or explicit bias of yours in the process of teaching your kid(s) you will likely need to pause the lesson and sit with it alone as you confront it. You know your kid(s) the best and should know if it’s something that can be processed through with them or not. I think the most important part is to ensure you come back to them and acknowledge that bias and how it’s wrong (based on stereotypes, based on a bad experience that doesn’t represent the race, etc.). One of the best things I think we can do for kids is show them we’re not perfect and we all have room to grow and learn. Prepare yourself for that uncomfortableness. Will you be able to explain why most of their classmates are White like them? Why your neighbors are White like you? Where are all the BIPOC in your life? Why you’re pushing for diversity when your social circles aren’t diverse? It’s okay that you aren’t living a perfectly antiracist life, but you have to be honest (back to #1) about why. Don’t make stuff up because it will make you look better in their eyes. It’s okay to tell them, “I didn’t know…” or “It wasn’t a priority when we moved here…” Again, show them there is room for growth.
  7. Acknowledge when you don’t know something. Don’t make stuff up when your kid(s) ask a question and you don’t know. It’s okay to tell them that you don’t know. Make it an opportunity to learn together, to teach them that it’s okay to not know everything there is to know, to go learn something you may not have thought about but they did and return to them with an answer.
  8. Costumes for Halloween or other activities (school dress-up days, community festivals) is one thing friends ask me every year as Halloween rolls around. What’s appropriate? What isn’t? If a group of people are discriminated against or killed for wearing their traditional clothing then a “costume” is inappropriate. If there’s a bodysuit your kid(s) can take off or makeup they can take off but it’s akin someone else’s skin that they cannot take off–think the Maui full-body costume or the girl dressed up as a Geisha giving a tea party in full makeup. Plus kids should not be dressing up as sex workers. It’s not an inherently bad profession, that’s a different story. Sexualizing kids is just plain inappropriate. G*psy costumes are a no because g*psy is a slur (the group should be referred to as Romani) and they are an oppressed group. There are plenty of professions and characters and things kids can dress up as. Taking away options that appropriate oppressed groups is not the end of the world. If kids can dress up as a Princess Darth Vader and go viral on social media for it we’ll all be just fine.

Resources:

Study: Black Children More Likely to be Seen as Angry by Student-Teachers Than White Children

Why Keisha Can’t Write”: The Marginalization of Black Student Writing

African American Vernacular English is not Standard English With Mistakes

De-stigmatizing Hawaii’s Creole Language

“I’m is talking right”: How The Stigma Around Black Language Holds Us Back From Liberation

The Limits of Standard English

The “Pidgin Problem”: Attitudes About Hawai’i Creole

The Costs of Code-switching

Five Reasons Why People Code-switch

Code-switching is not Trying to Fit In to White Culture, it’s Surviving it

How Culturally Responsive Lessons Teach Critical Thinking

Early Chapter Books with BIPOC Characters by BIPOC Authors

16 Ways to Help Children Become Thoughtful, Informed, and BRAVE About Race

What is “The Talk” White Parents Should Have With White Children?

20 Picture Books for 2020: Readings to Embrace Race, Provide Solace & Do Good

7 Ways to Support the Young Activists in Your Life

Your 5-Year-Old is Already Racially Biased

Teaching Tolerance (Note: I’ve used this organization as a resource for almost 20 years & they have a Facebook page you can follow)

Antiracist Reads for Kids and Teens

School Dress Codes Unfairly Target Black Girls

Black Girls in US Pushed Out of School Over Racist and Sexist Dress Codes, Study Finds

The School to Prison Pipeline, Explained

The School to Prison Pipeline

How the School to Prison Pipeline Functions

When School Feels Like a Prison

The Problem with White Beauty Standards

What’s Colorism?

The Gender of Colorism: Understanding the Intersection of Skin Tone and Gender Inequality

A World Without Black History

You Can’t Sound White

12 Racist Halloween Costumes FOR KIDS!

 
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Posted by on July 31, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

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Are We Still Segregated Fifty Years Later?

National Mall 1On August 28, 2013, I was stopped in traffic a few blocks from Folger Shakespeare Library for about fifteen minutes as police allowed marchers for the 50th Anniversary March on Washington celebration through. No big deal, I wasn’t in a hurry. Someone a few cars ahead of me had other ideas and they kept honking their horn. I looked behind to where an officer was gesturing when I thought the marchers were through and there was a group of white people trailing behind in twos and threes. It struck me as odd because they weren’t mixed in with the rest of the marchers. They were their own little group nowhere near the main group of marchers I saw. The thought that maybe they were there just to get out of school/work did cross my mind. Judgemental? Maybe. But I couldn’t understand why they weren’t with everyone else. It’s 2013. Are we still such a segregated society that we can celebrate a historic moment in the civil rights movement yet remain separated from each other based on the color of our skin?

The stragglers finally passed, the impatient driver stopped honking, and we were moving again. My mind went back to focusing on getting to my destination without hitting anyone or anything.National Mall 2

I sat in my car after finishing at the library debating whether or not to go to the National Mall. I really wanted to walk around and see the war memorials. I knew my other options was to return the next day before heading to Manassas.

But I was right there.

It just seemed silly to return when I was just blocks away.National Mall 3

I found parking right in the middle of the Mall. I figured it was meant to be that I was there. I peeked up at the sky before I got out and it looked like it would open up and pour down on us any minute.

If it does, I can duck into one of the museums.

I got out and fed the meter most of the change I had which was only an hour’s worth. A lot of change for a little time.

I was approaching the Smithsonian Castle heading for the Washington Monument when the rain started. A drizzle. I kept walking. And walking. And walking.National Mall 3

I passed by dozens of people selling t-shirts, artwork, and other commemorative memorabilia. I was between the Washington Memorial and the Reflecting Pool when I realized how foolish I was.

Everything around the Reflecting Pool and the Lincoln Memorial was blocked off. There was no way I could see the war memorials.National Mall 5

Silly Debi.

But I was there. In the middle of the 50th Anniversary madness. Okay, maybe not madness. But there were people everywhere and I felt a bit mad in the head for not thinking it completely through.

But I was there.

I took a few pictures  while trying to listen to the music and speeches (the sound on the speakers was poor) then walked across to the park behind the White House for more pictures. I thought about going to the National Gallery (my favorite museum), but realized I wouldn’t have enough time so I went back to my car.National Mall 6

I had THREE minutes to spare on the meter.

This week, thoughts of the straggling marchers and the President’s speech ring in my head after I read the firestorm of vitriol when the new Miss America was crowned.

How are we still at a place of deep ignorance for truth and reality? How is it twelve years after 9/11 that everyone with brown skin is called an “Arab?” How is it people have no understanding of what an American really is and that it is not based on the color of their skin?

Schools include all races. We don’t have separate bathrooms, drinking fountains, and entrances for whites and non-whites. Inter-racial marriage is legal, yet it still raises ire in people when they witness it on TV in a Cheerios commercial. This country grew because immigrants made the United States their home and people still tell those of color to “go back where you came from” even if we were born here.

Should I count myself as thankful that since 9/11 I’ve never been called an Arab despite my brown skin? No. I’ve had enough people use my race against me in their anger, bitterness, and ignorance to know how it feels. It strips away your humanity and nails you to the wall as if you were nothing but a WANTED poster.

Yes, we still are so segregated mentally that we cannot celebrate civil rights and equality in a truly integrated way.

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Race Relations

Those of you who know me personally or who have followed me long enough know that I am of mixed race.  Race is not only a hot button issue for many people, but it is also an important one because for many race is tied to cultural heritage. So what I’m about to share may piss people off.  Again.

Teaching Tolerance shared the following article last week from the New York Times.  I highly suggest you take some time to read it.  It will help make sense of what I am going to say.

When I was young and taking a trip back home to Hawai`i to visit family and friends alone, a neighboring flyer asked me what my nationality is.  “American,” I answered.  I was correct in my answer because this is the nation of my birth.  All of us who are citizens are Americans regardless of our racial makeup.  In this, I share Amy Tan’s sentiment that Asian-American doesn’t really describe us.  We weren’t born in Asia.  We were born here. In America.  Despite the cultural influence of our Asian immigrant family members.

If I were to go to the Philippines, I would feel completely out of place even with the assimilation of my family’s culture into my daily living.  I am an American with a Filipino influence on my life.

However, society deems is necessary to put labels on us.  To classify us based on our race of ancestry and not really where we are actually from.  Misnomers.  One of my cousins told me she had a friend from South Africa attend an African-American group in school only to find themselves grossly out of place.  They were expecting other Africans and found themselves the only white person in a group of black Americans.  And the choice of “white” is like a catch-all for everyone that doesn’t fit under all the other groups.  It doesn’t tell you anything other than the color of their skin.

Then there is the fact that people will automatically assign your race without even asking.  When Chaz and I got our marriage license, the woman typing up the paperwork didn’t ask either of us.  Thank goodness I looked before we signed or paid for it.  She listed me as “white” and gave me look of death when I made her change it.  I wasn’t taking no for an answer either.  It was unacceptable that she didn’t ask for that piece of information when she asked for everything else. You can’t assume just by looks.

You can’t assume by name either.  My maiden name is Spanish.  Thanks to the Spaniards that conquered the Philippines.  Back home in Hawai`i, people know by looking at me that I’m hapa, biracial.  Technically, I’m multi-racial, but I distill it down for simplicity sake or people start looking at me like I grew 10 more heads. Out here in the South and Midwest it was assumed that I was Mexican just by my last name.  I can’t tell you how much junk mail I got in Spanish before I took Chaz’s name.  I can’t speak Spanish or read it.  And yes, I am sometimes mistaken for Mexican in person and people will start speaking Spanish to me.  No habla español.

So, given the Filipino influence on my American life, you can probably understand why I always check Asian-American on stupid forms that make me identify my race.  Biracial and multi-racial options were non-existent back when I first had to start filling out these forms.

My first semester of college I had a rather angry roommate from Colorado.  She followed her boyfriend to Hawai`i for school and hated it.  She complained about everything and it seemed like they were always fighting when he came over.  I eventually took refuge at friends’ rooms and apartments to study instead of staying in my room and risk being hit by flying pizza boxes.  Seriously.  One night we were in a neighbors room hanging out with them and other neighbors and she went off on how hard it was to get into school despite her GPA and SAT scores.  My GPA was higher than hers and my SATs were lower and I made a comment about that.  She turned on me and seethed, “It’s because you’re Filipino.”

I was absolutely floored.  I understood affirmative action, but it never occurred to me that I would get a job or a place in college simply because of my race.  I was taught to always work hard and I want my merit to based on my work and not my heritage.  I have no control over who my ancestors were or where they hailed from.  I do have control over my work ethic and what I do.

I understand affirmative actions place, but it can be a hindrance. It is a hindrance.  Especially when people like my ex-roommate feel that people are getting where they are simply because they aren’t white male Protestant heterosexuals.  I hate that anyone would or could think that I got where I am simply because of a box I check on a form.  That box I check is based on the choices given that I identify with the most.  It’s not because I think it will get me farther.

I’ve seen people with just a tad bit of Cherokee heritage try to exploit the resources out there for Cherokees even when they have no ties to the tribe.  I am 1/16th Cherokee.  Or maybe it was 1/32nd.  I can’t remember now.  I’ve tried to learn about that part of my ancestry, but I’ve never tried to use what is out there my advantage.  It’s dishonest since that part of my heritage is not a part of my identity.

I think that anyone wanting to use resources or gain positions using their race or part of their race need to show a real connection to it and not just that they have the bloodline.  Harsh?  Yes, Necessary?  For the most part.  But that’s just my opinion.  And my opinion is I got into college and promotions at my various jobs based on my work and not based on a box I checked.  I don’t care what that ex-roommate of mine said.

 

 

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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