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That kid at school

“Where did you hear that?” I demanded.

“From a kid in my class.”

One of my sons had just repeated a racist joke. It was the first time in my mothering history I’ve heard any of my kids tell a joke like that and it ticked me off. I had to take a deep breath to stay calm.

I explained if a joke mentioned somebody’s race or religion, they were never to repeat it. The best thing to do was to tell the original jokester they aren’t funny. There are so many funny jokes in the world, it isn’t necessary to put anyone down to get a laugh.

(why did the toilet paper roll down the hill? to get to the bottom)

They said they understood.

Later, when I told my husband about the incident, I made sure my kids knew I wasn’t going to repeat the joke for context. I wasn’t going to use my voice to put it out there, giving it life. The joke stops here, with me, with us.

It’s remarkable this issue hasn’t come up before. In fact, we talk often about the beauty of diversity in our world. Wouldn’t the world be a boring place if everyone was the same? Yes, my kids readily agree. I always figured the best way to fight racism was to demonstrate appreciation and admiration for all people, everywhere. As fellow humans, we all have inherent value and dignity.

It’s normal for preschool-aged kids to notice not everyone looks the same and I never hid from their curiosity or made them feel bad for noticing in the first place. Pretending people don’t look or sound or dress differently only serves to confuse little ones.

My little boy isn’t a racist because he told one joke. I suspect there are people who would disagree with me about this because lately, I’ve noticed the racist label and accusation flying around freely. It seems like if you disagree with a person about something and the other person happens to be a different race: RA-CIST! RA-CIST! RA-CIST!

I encountered this recently on a public forum when disagreeing with some of our president’s policies.

Of course, I can’t possibly have a quibble with how money is being spent and (uh-oh), I don’t appreciate the brilliance of Cash for Clunkers and cap and trade.

My skepticism about Cash for Clunkers is based solely on me being a drooling, throwback, seething racist.

What the accusers are doing is terribly dangerous. The word “racist” loses meaning and power when it is overused. True victims of racism are the ones who are hurt. Soon, being called a racist will be as bad as being called a doodoohead. You’ll think: Whatever.

I am not a racist. The Grand Wizard (how stupid…) of the KKK is a racist.

I am not a racist. Hitler was a racist.

I am not a racist. The person who looks at my skin and thinks my disagreement with a few policies is because our leader is black?

Racist. Or doodoohead. Take your pick.

12 comments to That kid at school

  • Great post. I try to help Anja understand differences, even at her age. So far she is able to distinguish between boy and girl, big kid, man and “mama” (every woman is a mama or a grandma to her). We live in a fairly diverse neighborhood where she will see many cultures, and I’m not afraid to explain when the questions come.

    You’re absolutely right about the word racist being overused. It’s really remarkable how unthinking people are. And, for the record, our president is just as much white as he is black, so any black person who disagrees with his policies could also be labeled as such.

    We all have a filter through which we view the world, shaped by our own experiences. Some people will fit stereotypes, some won’t (for instance, I have a Minnesota accent, but it’s nothing like what you hear on movies like “Fargo”). As we inform our kids about differences in an intelligent and respectful way, we help to form their filter. Big responsibility; may we all carry it well!
    .-= Minnesotamom´s last blog ..Drug-related Violence =-.

  • Great post Gretchen.
    .-= Heth´s last blog ..Miscellany =-.

  • Lizzie

    Well said. I have a new interest in how these types of things are handled in parenting. I imagine we’ll have lots of opportunities to explore these issues in our family.

  • You are absolutely right in how that term gets bantered around and overused. It really does rob the power from the meaning of the word.

    Minnesotamom is also very spot-on in pointing out President Obama’s racial background. Seems like there are many who forget that.
    .-= Megan@SortaCrunchy´s last blog ..3 Reasons to Use Cloth "Toilet Paper" (aka "Family Cloth") =-.

  • amy

    I feel like you have this other life where you hang out on message boards with name callers. Anyway, sorry that happened. I noticed that some libertarian bloggers were calling Obama Snoopdogesque for saying “call you out” during his speech, in other words, suggesting he’s kinda Ghetto.

  • Excellent post, Gretchen, and I couldn’t agree with you more. It seems that screaming “racist” is a way to move the focus of the debate away from substantive issues. And yet, not so long ago, dissent was supposed to be patriotic.
    .-= Shayne´s last blog ..Happy Birthday to Me! =-.

  • edj

    Yes! I totally agree.
    .-= edj´s last blog ..Patterns =-.

  • Well put. Thanks for saying what I was thinking, only wording it much more eloquently than I ever could. 🙂
    .-= Sara Joy´s last blog ..Sanctuary =-.

  • How do you always capture it so brilliantly? I was just called a racist for the same reason.
    .-= Rach´s last blog ..mindfulness =-.

  • Inkling

    I encounter this a lot at school–thirteen year olds are quick to use the word. I don’t give an A? Racist. I won’t let you go to the bathroom in the middle of an activity? Racist. So we talk, and explain, and read, and practice empathy and define scapegoating and I hope that eventually it dies down and the word is used for what it really means.

    On the other hand, I have observed (in the same arena, my classroom) a lot of genuine racism toward Obama–kids parroting what their parents have said. And I am disappointed that a person’s appearance should still sway people’s judgement. But then I think, still? When in history has appearance EVER been more important? We are at the height of our country’s obsession with appearances. At least, I hope we are at the height, but actually, I fear we’re still climbing.

  • Yes! I’ve been feeling pretty frustrated with this lately. I feel I can’t express my opinions for fear of being called names. Just because I feel things should be handled differently in our government doesn’t mean I’m a racist, dumb or naive. Besides, I’m mostly concerned with Congress, as they are the ones making laws and spending money. Funny, I feel persecuted sometimes.
    .-= Chrissy´s last blog ..It’s been too long =-.

  • Preach it.
    .-= Kimberly´s last blog ..Potty training =-.

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