Children Education Racism

Are We Great, Yet? (Part One)

(I found that awesome photo when I was looking for a stock photo of children’s hands – it’s credited to Huffington Post)

Hate is taught. I’m not saying hate hasn’t always been around, but I am saying we teach it to those around us, to our children. Sometimes we don’t mean to. A comment in passing, nothing really meant by it, can take hold in a child.

I was fortunate when I was a child because when I overheard a negative comment in our household about the black family that had moved in down the street, well, it didn’t make sense to me. First, thankfully, I didn’t know what the “n word” even meant so it took some time to piece together which family was being referred to. Second, they seemed like nice kids to me, and the negative thing that was said clearly wasn’t true. Third, one morning some older kids threw rocks at these new neighbors, just children like my brother and me, at the bus stop. Okay, *that* shit is just plain wrong, and I did know that for sure even at my young age (under 10 years though I don’t recall my exact age).

I have no idea if my brother was old enough to remember any of this, to catch what was going on then. He would have been maybe six or seven. He was eight and I was 10 when we moved away from that neighborhood in 1977 so it was some time before the summer we moved. Whether he remembers those specific incidents or not, we grew up in the same household, and yet our views on people who have different color skin than ours are the same. When something like that is said in front of us now, either one of us (or both if we’re both there) speak the hell up quickly and in no uncertain terms. That shit doesn’t fly with either of us, and when a parent has tried to pull racist crap with us since, and it has happened, the conversation is abruptly ended.

What is different about our upbringing that made it possible for us to notice that what people say isn’t always true? How did we know that people are people, and the pigment of their skin doesn’t change that? My best friend in elementary school (even after we moved) was someone from my Blue Bird group, and her dad was black. Her dad met my friend’s mother, a white woman, when he was in the service in Germany. My best friend was like me though she did her hair differently, and she had a sister. I wished I had a sister. My friend’s family was like mine. I’d stay overnight often, or she’d stay over, and we always had fun. Her mom was a wonderful cook, and her dad (a musician who worked a lot so we didn’t see him much) was funny and told good stories.

Other than my mom making a comment about a mixed race couple (not my best friend’s parents, oddly enough) at some point when I was very young, I don’t recall anything else from home while I was growing up that might have affected my opinion one way or the other. To me there was right and wrong, and “mixing races” certainly didn’t fall in the “wrong” category as far as my young self was concerned. People were people.

More on this soon as I’m trying to work out how it is that while hate is taught some people, even at a young age, choose not to hate. In my brother’s and my case, I think part of it was that we lived in the suburbs of Kansas City. By the late 70’s maybe it was already recognized that racist behavior was unacceptable especially in public. Maybe I have so few recollections because our parents were trying to keep us away from it. Maybe they were trying not to teach us to hate. Maybe.

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