Growing up we were poor. Trailer park poor. Ketchup sandwich poor. Socks on your hands instead of gloves poor. If you’ve been there you understand. Today it is fairly recognizable that poorer communities have more racial tensions and prejudices than affluent communities even if that recognition hasn’t been backed up by some kind of cultural study. I grew up in and lived through it and know first hand that there is racism in those communities.
My older brother Joe and I used to go to the park down the street from our trailer most evenings and almost all day on Saturdays and Sundays. This wasn’t a park with a walking trail, off leash dog area or a lot of trees for that matter. It was a park because it had a swing set, jungle gym, and a basketball goal. This park also doubled as a babysitter as very rarely parents were with their kids or even within eyesight of them. Joe and I were around 6-7 years old around this time and played hoops with kids of all ages and races. Let me tell you those games were not for the faint of heart as winning took priority over feelings or even personal safety. Even if we were years younger then all of the other kids we were treated as equals and that meant we were cussed at, pushed around, and forced to stick up for ourselves on the court just as much as the other kids. It was ugly and it made an impression in my young mind. This “scene” is played out all over our country on urban courts. I was never “taught” racism, not formerly anyway, but I was exposed to it at a young age at the “park with no trees”.
One day out on the court Joe and I were playing a bunch of games with and against older kids. It was very common for all of us kids to get mad and cheating, fouling and trying and intimidate each other was common practice. Like I said earlier winning took priority and that usually meant by any means necessary. One particular kid, who was African American, was always at the park and on this particular day he was winning everything. He was quieter than the other rowdy kids and never really talked a lot of trash. He was also fair which didn’t really coincide with the “winning by any means necessary” mentality. He was also really good at basketball and knew the rules much more accurately than most of the other kids. He beat us several times this particular day and each time I would lose I could feel this anger building up inside of me. When I was younger I, like most kids, didn’t know how to control or even direct my anger. After one particular play in which I lost the ball the anger just exploded out of me and I grabbed the ball and threw it at this kid while at the same time calling him a “stupid n****r”. Wait a minute. Did that really come out of my mouth? Instantly I knew that I had crossed an invisible line and even at such a young age I knew that I was about to get my ass whooped.
This kid was at least 5 years older than me and easily could have beaten the living hell right out of me right then and there. Instead of that response he grabbed me by the arm and proceeded to drag me all the way up the street to the front door of our trailer. Realizing what was happening and that the kid was about to knock on the door I panicked and tried to get away. Not a chance. He tightened his grip and pounded harder on the door until my mother answered. She looked down at this boy who was holding her son by the arm and then looked at me and asked “what’s going on”.
My mom always has her kids back, but she also doesn’t play games. She was/is a firm believer in you get what you deserve and in this moment I knew she was not going to stand for what I said. You see my mother is not racist. Never taught us to be racist and certainly didn’t stand for us calling other kids racist terms. The boy held my arm and proceeded to say “your son called me a stupid n****r”. The look on my moms face. It was equal parts rage and sadness. If you’ve ever truly disappointed your parents you know the look I’m talking about. She took my arm from this kid and turned me around to face him, made me apologize to him and then took me to his parents and apologized to them as well. When we got back home she proceeded to give me the southern version of an “ass whoopin”.
The confusing part for her was how I even learned that language. She certainly didn’t teach me and I never heard her say anything remotely close to that. Unfortunately that’s the type of language I was exposed to on the courts and around my peers. We all called each other names and sometimes that name calling led to “fisticuffs”. Its the way it was then and you can bet it goes on today. You see some kids are exposed to that type of language in and around their households and then spread that nonsense around to other kids who then continue to spread it. Its a lack of knowledge. Its close-mindedness. It’s a lack of awareness. Kids pick up everything. Even racism.
You might have read that and asked yourself how in the world you, as a parent, can prevent your kids from being exposed to that type of hate. And the real honest answer is you can’t because it is impossible for you to filter the world.
Here are the best ways for you to combat racism for your children today.
EDUCATE – Talk to your children about racial differences and let them know its ok and normal for people to be different. Tell them differences should be celebrated and talk to them about how boring the world would be if everybody was the same. Help them see that skin color does not make a person and there is only one race – the human race. If you see racism displayed either in a movie, out in the real world or hear something offensive use that moment to help your child understand.
LEAD BY EXAMPLE – This is the key. If you speak to your child one way and then he or she hears or sees you doing the opposite what do you think is going to happen? You cannot be a “closet racist” and expect your child to be the opposite. This goes for most everything, but is especially true when it comes to behavior. As dads our child will emulate our behavior and adapt their behavior according to ours.
DONT BE TOLERANT – If your child displays racist behavior, speaks with a racist undertone, or downplays the importance of racial equality don’t stand for it. Educate them and let them know that in your house that behavior will not be tolerated. If your child has friends that you feel are negative influences in this area talk to your child about how important it is for him to display their beliefs and help their friend see the error of their ways. Your children are never too young to be influential.
START YOUNG – Your children need to hear and see this racial equality displayed early and often. It doesn’t matter if they live in racially divided communities because television, music and social events are not racially specific. They will see and hear other races. They will know that the world is filled with people of different ethnicities and backgrounds even if its not prevalent in your neighborhood. Help them understand. It is vitally important for you to start this at a young age. Check out this video and notice how the views change as the children grow older.
As a dad I feel like it is incredibly important to influence my sons view on racial equality in a positive manner so that he doesn’t have the same negative experience that I did and many children have around the globe. There is no reason racial hate among children, or adults for that matter, should exist. I can’t imagine the sadness that the parents of the child I called those words felt or the immense challenge they had in comforting him. The way he handled it shows they were not the reason those words were around the park in the first place. Please take this seriously with your children. Racism should not be an issue in todays world. It is up to us as dads and parents in general to prevent racism from spreading and allow our children to grow up in a fun loving and enjoyable world devoid of hate and racial prejudice.