Racial put downs compared to others

Two times in the last monthone of my children has been racialized. During an exchange amongst a group of friends where they were trading (not so) humerous barbs, the other child made a racial comment about my son’s skin color or hair. These comments were made by children having received from another some comment designed to make fun of their glasses, weight, height, and/or athletic ability.

What I find interesting is how unreactive my kids have been and how extremely reactive their friends were. None had any problems calling someone fat or stupid or short or slow or blind or whatever. But as soon as the race card was played, that changed everything. Alarms sounded, parents notified, etc. But my kids probably wouldn’t have told me that these events happened (even though they have no problems tattling on each other).

I know that racializations (generalizations, stereotypes, etc.) are extremely painful to the receiver. And whenever we hear them, we ought to confront them without delay. But lest our righteous indignation overwhelm us, let us not forget that other forms of objectification are equally painful. This is the message I am delivering to my kids: We do not tolerate making fun of other people, period. I think my kids get it but I’m not sure their larger community gets it. And the biggest problem we have is from other white kids looking to get others in trouble.

But here’s my dilemma. I notice that in much of the literature written by transracial adoptees concludes that their parents never talked about race, never understood the deep pain they felt from racializations and racism, and have no interest in living in their old neighborhoods. Now, I could conclude that those writers, now in their late 20s and 30s, grew up in an era where parents tried to be “color-blind.” But I do wonder if the message my kids hear from me as I confront them on their own use of put-downs is that I don’t really think racializations are that serious a problem.


Filed under adoption, conflicts, Race, Racial Reconciliation, Relationships

8 responses to “Racial put downs compared to others

  1. Amy

    My cousins were adopted from Korea, so no one ever believed that we were related because we didn’t “look” related, which was just an ignorant thing to say. As if families are just genetic…

    Anyway, I remember my mom got my cousin an “Chinese Princess” baby doll for Christmas one year and my aunt got so mad! She felt that my mom was being “racist.” However, it became my cousin’s favorite doll because it “looked” like her.

    As a big gal, I love seeing a fat actress in a movie. We long for that identity.

    It sounds like you’re doing a pretty good job of helping your boys are fairly secure in who they are in Christ and also know how much you love them. 🙂 And I love how you told them that put-downs are not to be tolerated. Good job, Dad! 🙂

  2. Lou Buses

    Race is real inspite of our desire to ignore its probelms. It affects one deeply. I have a grandson who is “mixed” and I see him struggling with his identity. Keep encouraging your children’s sensitivity to others, no matter the issue.

    By the way, the automatically generated link posted with this article “ORZEO for 02 11 09” is hateful and biased. You might want to break the link.

  3. Thanks Lou for the note about that automatically generated link. Does any of my WordPress blogger readers know how to break that link?

  4. Jess

    I thought this news item fit well with this post:

    Other than that, I just wanted to say that I feel for you and your boys.

    Perhaps a balance approached would be good? In other words, make sure that your boys know that all put-downs are wrong, but also that you are saddened by comments that are directed towards them regarding their race. Then maybe ask open-ended questions (ie., “How does it make you feel when kids say things like that?”)

  5. I know you are my brother in Christ. And I totally agree with you that no put-downs should be tolerated. The way I see it, there’s nothing you can do about race and it’s about who you ARE. Theoretically, you wear glasses and you can get contacts; you are overweight and you can lose weight. You’re not athletic? you’re probably good at something else. There are SOME objectifications that are as painful. Not all. But race? Mmm – it’s your BEING. And to attack your entire identity and being – that is really a deeper more primal issue. The other thing about race is that in this country, where caucasians still rule and are the de facto race, being pointed out for race is to be pointed out as an outsider, that you are not American. I’ve likened it to not being welcomed in your own home.

    I personally believe that you need to let them know that there IS a difference. Yes, truly, everything needs to be balanced and seen in the light of Christ’s grace. They are Christians first. I think esp being caucasian, it’s especially important to let them know that you “get it.” Of course, I am assuming you “get it.”


  6. Grace,

    Any friend of Brenda is a friend of mine. I hope I get it and continue to work on getting it. I wasn’t really trying to make all put-downs equal. When teaching on white privilege I talk about the very things you mention. I can “lose” many of the things I am objectified by. But a person of color never is granted that opti0n in a white dominant culture.

    I think racial put downs are different because of our history. They do have more meaning. They do have more power. But, I am also trying to teach my boys that what they feel when they receive those put downs is something of what others feel when they make fun of someone’s lack of athleticism, etc.

  7. Thanks, and Brenda swears we’ve met. At Doug’s graduation?

    Yes, that putting down of somebody else, even if it doesn’t have the raw, primal threat of racism, does have some hint of what they feel. You ask if you seem serious enough about racialization to your kids …of course only you can answer that. I would think that the key is to affirm and justify their feelings without always playing the empathy card.

    Next time we shall share a glass of wine.

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