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.