Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Being Raised up Biracial

Monday, during recess, a schoolmate went up to Peanut and proceeded to call him a “white n*****”. Peanut and his friends immediately launched into the, “But I’m/He’s not white!” defense, to which I agree. Then I told Peanut that is when you tattle, to let the teachers be aware this phraseology and supposed insult is being used and hopefully a talk with the child’s parents will come out of it. After all, the kid didn’t pull it out of thin air; he had to hear it from somewhere.

Charlie was astounded when I said I wasn’t angry, which got me thinking, “Why am I not?”

Peanut is biracial: his dad is Filipino and I’m Caucasian, or Euro-American if you want to break it down that far. We live in a very urban neighborhood, far from being suburbia it is. We live in a city that has a prominent African American/Black population and in Peanut’s school, he is the only Filipino kid with the majority attending being African American/Black and maybe even biracial.

The kid who referred to Peanut as the racial epithet has probably never seen a Filipino person, much less been subjected to the influence of said culture via a 4th grader. Peanut’s hair is straight and a very deep chestnut with skin a shade of russet. (There are a ton of pictures in my flickr pool to the right.) So to him, Peanut is either white or black, there is no in between as no experiences have taught him otherwise.

Which brings up another issue entirely: How do we teach kids racism transcends all boundaries that once seemed solid but now are becoming fluid-like? With the increasing population of biracial children, how are they to learn who they are and, unfortunately, where they belong?

I did a quick goggle search using the term “raising biracial children”. I didn’t expect to be alone in this strife and was not disappointed.

As the mother of biracial children, I am well aware of racism in America and how subtle it’s become. Although we like to think of ourselves as evolved, there are still many among us whose actions reveal attitudes about those they consider different from themselves.
As I stated above, I am white. How do I prepare Peanut for a world of racism that I don’t experience daily but he will? Taken a bit further, how does the occasional white guy I date take this on as well? More importantly, how does me dating the occasional white guy affect Peanut when many strangers assume he was adopted and yes, at times talk to both of us with that assumption in mind (or does it matter since either way he is my son)?

When discussing the incident Monday afternoon, I informed Peanut that, regrettably, now is when he is going to start experiencing and being aware of the attitudes of those who think everyone belongs in a box with 4 sides and no way out. That our society places people into categories, whether we like it or not, and that eventually, someone is going to put him in a position where he will feel like he has to “choose sides”.

Before you can offer biracial children guidance, you must explore your own experiences of racism in America.
Oh how spot on this is. Your children are a mirror of your true self, reflecting your own idiosyncrasies, prejudices and quandaries. Just listen to them talk sometime, I mean really listen. I find often that Peanut repeats a lot of the same views I have and that’s obviously because he thinks I’m right and awesome enough to emulate. However, through his repetition, I have often realized just how flawed my way of thinking can really be, not to mention my desire he think for himself.

Being aware of who you are, why you are that way and of course taking on a heavy dose of self-responsibility, help you better see yourself in someone else’s eyes. Empathy is something definitely worth obtaining the rights to as well. Just a little bit of self-awareness can really go a long way; kids will show you the way whether you wanted to go there or not, but it’s up to you to pay attention.

For example, I was brought up to believe everyone was the same no matter what and they deserved to be treated as such. I don’t recall my parents ever saying a discriminatory word toward anyone though I do realize now my mom thought them on occasion. But no matter what your parents teach you, being in school around a diverse group in terms of thought and practice is something else entirely. I remember kids in high school, white kids for clarification purposes, stating black girls were to be feared because they were mean and angry (oh yes, this stereotype has existed for decades). My high school was predominately self-segregated. After hearing this belief repeated over and over yet having no direct contact with anyone other than my handful of white friends, I internalized this prejudice, fighting hard years later to rid myself of them.

This is what racism feels like. Someone exerts their power over you because they want to and because they can. You are judged for what, rather than who you are. The sense of injustice is overwhelming. Although sometimes the oppressor is someone who holds no true power in the world, it’s an experience that leaves the victim feeling dehumanized and shamed. Imagine feeling this way every day of your life.
Which makes me wonder where the kid got the phrase from and what place from inside him was it coming from. Being 8 years old, I doubt he’ll know, but kids are wondrous little people and can be talked through the process of discovery over time.

Then the question prompted is what does that mean anyway? Is this the “reverse racism” people erroneously purport exists in this day and age? Or was its use misunderstood? Perhaps the kid was joking around with Peanut, but something tells me he wasn’t.

Either way, racism is a power play and in the very depths of the individuals soul who is the racist, they are afraid. We crave power because it means we can be better than someone and in order to feel superior, someone needs to feel inferior whether honestly or ill-begotten.

But how to explain this rather large deeply rooted problem to a 9 year old?

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 there is one thing Peanut has had hammered into his head, it’s the fact that people are human beings first, and everything else secondary. We bleed the same; have all the same organs, facial structure and body parts. We are one until someone sets themselves apart.

And unfortunately, because he has the benefit of looking much more like his dad, Peanut will always face some sort of racism based solely on his skin color then again when they find out he has a white mom.

(I highly recommend reading the rest of the article quoted here and I added this book to my wish list.)


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