Seize the opportunity

I think it’s fair to say that any parent wants to protect his or her child from the hard realities of life as long as possible. For us white parents of transracially-adopted children, it’s perhaps a little harder than it is for most. Discussions of race may not come easily to us in the first place, particularly if we are having a hard time letting go of our hope for a color-blind society and believe that our love can conquer all.

So when opportunities arise for discussions about race, we have to grab them. Such an opportunity arose for my kids and me this past Sunday. We attend a church that’s about half an hour’s drive from our home, which gives us a nice, long (in teen terms) discussion window. This Sunday, after we got on the road to return home, I asked my kids what they’d talked about in their RE class that day. The Boy immediately responded that the topic had been race. Little did I know on Sunday how timely this discussion would be.

One of the things I have wanted to make sure my kids understand – and it is, very, very hard – is that they are members of minority communities. Getting them not to think of themselves as "white-alike" was challenging. Nurturing Korean cultural connections aren’t the answer to fostering a clear understanding of one’s racial identity. Most discussions of race came back to the teasing he had experienced, and he wasn’t always forgiving.

So when he announced that race was the subject of this past Sunday’s RE class, I held my breath a bit to see what had been discussed. A white student shared his opinions, which The Boy said negatively stereotyped Black and Hispanic people. And he spoke out in opposition.

It was heartening to know that the discussions The Boy and I have had have brought clarity to his understanding of the complexity of racial issues. So, seeing an opportunity to continue that, The Boy, The Girl and I talked about racial stereotyping all the way home, this time focusing on what kinds of stereotypes might be applied to them.

It’s not easy to tell your daughter that some men view her as an exotic “sex kitten” or that others may think of her as a "China doll." It’s not easy to tell your son that some unforgiving Americans will brand him as a “sneaky Asian,” or that others will expect him to know kung-fu. But it's true. And it's far better, in my opinion, that they recognize these descriptions as inappropriate stereotypes. We talked, too, about the negative effects of being described as the “model minority” - how this might prevent Asian Americans from access to services that appear not to apply, such as support for learning disabilities. They asked questions, they expressed surprise and concern and acknowledgment. And they’re that much wiser today.

It’s an opportunity I’m glad I grabbed. Yes, the discussion was difficult – there’s no question that it’s not easy to talk with your children about things you hope they never experience. But if you are avoiding opportunities like this one because you fear the discussion, remember: your children need you to face your fears, and to face the reality of racially-charged America. Their ability to develop realistic identities may depend on it.


suz said…
i truly adore those kinds of conversations with kids. real guts of parenting. i had to discuss menstruation with my 9yo son recently (he asked me what it was) awkward? yes. important? most def. said…
Margie, you are such a wise mum.
Christina said…
My daughter R~ (born in Cambodia, almost 6) notices skin color and has a knack for picking brown friends (asian, indian, doesn't matter!) but we haven't really gone into the racism thing at all. I admit, the whole topic upsets me and I'm afraid of saying the wrong thing. But your conversation with your sons is encouraging to me and a good reminder to look for "teachable moments" rather than trying to force the issue at the wrong time. I'll be keeping my eyes/ears open for opportunities to discuss the reality of being a SE Asian girl in racially-charged America (in age-appropriate ways, of course). Thanks ... you are a very wise mom.
Michelle said…
At the ripe ol' age of 3, my daughter has already experience racism from a little boy in her daycare. Thankfully, due to her age, she did not take offense and the little boy and his parent's were made aware of these racial slurs and he apologized to her. Stereotypes are brought up often in our community as the Hispanic population is around 40% (something new within the past 10 yrs.) As she grows older I know there will be plenty of opportunity like the one you shared about your children. Unfortunately I cannot protect her from the inevitable but I hope I can help her (like you said) be more aware of the inappropriate stereotypes that will be applied to her as a Hispanic. Thanks for sharing the conversation you had with your son and daughter.
zoe said…
Good job, Margie. Glad you had this opportunity and that you have open lines of communication with your kids. I can see how parents choosing not to address these issues could negatively impact the ways our kids think about/form their identities. Sounds like a great discussion, even if difficult.
abebech said…
My son (5) asks difficult questions all the time, and sometimes it exhausts me, but I am grateful that he asks -- I don't have to imagine what he's wondering or contrive situations to discuss these things.
Yesterday he asked me why "some brown people would want to be called 'black' instead of brown" when he doesn't really like being called "white" instead of "peach." While we've talked about difference before, I don't know if we've ever really talked about race as a construct before.
Mommela said…
You're absolutely right. To not arm our non-white children with as much insight, information, moxie, and compassion when it comes to how the greater majority population may view them is to do a grave disservice to them. It’s not our jobs to do what’s easy or comfortable for us, it’s to do what’s right for our children.

At our house, with the white parents and Eritrean/African American/Caucasian daughter, we’ve found the following books helpful:

I’m Chocolate, You’re Vanilla. Marguerite A. Wright
Does Anybody Else Look Like Me? Donna Jackson Nakazawa
“Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” Beverly Daniel Tatum
Multiracial Child Resource Book. Maria P.P. Root and Matt Kelly, Editors
It’s the Little Things: The Everyday Interactions that Get under the Skin of Blacks and Whites. Lena Williams

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