a response to racism

The comments on my last post have got me thinking about how white people learn to respond–and to challenge–racism from other whites. I think that one thing that makes me unclear about how to respond to racism, especially to coded racism, is that I just don’t encounter it that much. And by the way, I’m pretty happy about that whole situation, thankyouverymuch. I’m not asking for more racism in my life, coded or blatant.

The reality is that we all learn to do things through practice, and the less practice that we (here, I speak for all white folks) have about confronting the racism of other whites, the worse we are at it.

After all, I’m certainly better at dealing with sexism. I’m all about the snappy comeback, when some stupid guy gets up in my grill. I don’t allow the intern in my office to call women ‘girls,’  unless they’re actually under the age of 18. I’m not putting up with any second-class citizen status for myself, or any other woman I know.

And I feel pretty well-equipped to prepare my daughter for dealing with the sexism that she will invariably encounter in her life. I hope that we’re raising the Potato in a way that will produce a man who is not oppressive to women, and will stand up to other men who are being sexist.

But I don’t feel like I do a good enough job of standing up to racism myself–how am I going to teach my kids to do it?

I was talking to a co-worker of mine a few weeks ago about an idea that he had to create a camp for kids who have families in social justice movements, where they could learn various movement-related skills, songs, and activities. Maybe my kids will benefit from Anti-Racist Rhetoric 101.

I’m not giving up on the idea of teaching them myself–and I think that growing up in a family where the idea that all humans are the same will at least give them a solid base to oppose racism. But I’d like to have a better theory about how to teach my kids to challenge the racism of others.

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September 29, 2007. politically motivated, thoughtful parenting.

4 Comments

  1. Kimberly replied:

    I missed the Back to School debacle, but my jaw just dropped, reading about it.

    I think you did great, actually. I agree that it’s hard to confront that sort of offhand assholery, but I think that a simple “wow. That was *really* offensive” is often the best approach. No lecture, no grandstanding, and no real opportunity for defense. If met with some sort of inane justification, an “I’m sorry you feel that way” is a good comeback. The best part is that you’re being non-inflammatory. While it might feel good to go all Chris Rock on someone’s ignorant ass, the message often gets lost in the hyperbole. A simple, rational pointing out of the fact that the person in question is an asshole is often far more effective.

  2. Jay replied:

    I am so proud of you for saying something – anything. It’s not easy. Even if you’re wishing your response was a little zingier, it’s clear that your heart was in the right place, and that’s what kids pick up on. It’s hard to teach about racism when your environment isn’t very diverse, that’s what it comes down to, but as their world expands a bit and they encounter it more, I think you’ve probably already given them enough without knowing it.

  3. elise replied:

    I think Kimberly is probably right!

  4. Anjali replied:

    I’ll be the first to admit that I have trouble coming up with snapping racisim comebacks. As a female, I have no trouble barking at someone for being sexist. But there’s something about racism, particularly when it’s directed at me and my “kind.” It just causes a lump in my throat, and takes me back to being a child on a school playground where I was asked if I was the N-word or otherwise teased for being brown.

    I just clench my jaws and walk away most of the time. I wish I could swallow the hurt and hurl something back. I’ll have to work on it. I think what puts me off guard the most, is that the comments come from some of the most educated, “liberal,” people I know.

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