As the parent of an Asian American child, do you brace yourself for that moment? Or what about as the parent of a Black child in America? Do you brace yourself for that moment? That moment that I, and every other Asian American kid, experienced (many times over) when someone pulled their eyes back and made some nonsensical “ching chong” sounds. Or for the parents of Black children, that moment when someone uses the “n word” against your child.
A good friend of mine, whose son is mixed Korean recently experienced the inevitable. Three of his good friends, all white boys, teased him by pulling back their eyes. Her son was unprepared and so he put his head down and cried. My friend, the boy’s mother, was born and raised in Korea. She, never having experienced racist teasing as a child, was also unprepared. This is not something she had ever thought would happen to her child. Oh, to be buffered by a bastion of sameness.
My children are Black Korean and so I have braced myself for both of the aforementioned situations. I have often heard the question – always by white parents – when do we start talking about race with our child? Oh, the privilege of being able to ponder this question.
Having children of color in America demands that we, as parents, prepare our children for the unfortunate and highly likely moment when they will first encounter racism. We do this by discussing history. In our house, we predominately discuss accurate American history and accurate African history. Emphasis on accurate. (Together we try to learn more about Korean history.) We also discuss global history. (Conceding here that it helps tremendously to have a spouse who is one of the most learned historians you will ever meet.) Without a solid foundation of understanding how America was built, our children would have no context to understand why so many continue to use racism as a way to try and stay ahead.
A continuation of the discussion centers around the fact that the one being racist is the one who is hurt. We have made the message clear to our children that if, and when, someone tries to make you feel badly because of your race, they do so because they in some way feel badly about themselves. It has nothing to do with you, my dear child, it has everything to do with them.
These conversations started when our children were toddlers and are ongoing. We do not protect our children by allowing them to be naive. Lest they be taken aback and too hurt to do anything other than cry when another child is being racist against them. We have the conversations at levels they can handle. And we understand that we do no favors for our son and daughter by dumbing them down.
I spoke with my son and daughter about what happened to my friend’s son (who is also their friend.) They felt very sad that it happened to their friend. We discussed, again, what they would do if the same happened to them and both responded that they would not cry, that they would be curious as to why the person was being mean.
I recently made the statement, “If you want to feel like a failure, become a parent.” This was only a half joke when I said it because, dammit being a parent is hard af! Most of my regrets in life have to do with something I wish I had or had not done for my children. I am constantly wanting to be a better mom for them, more patient, to be able to provide more opportunity, to expose them to the world and all of its possibilities. But I can count on the fact that I, in some moments, have failed at being a good mom. And I can count on the fact that I will fail again and again. But for all of my failures, I hope and believe that my son and daughter have that armour. The armour we have helped them create by knowing who they are, where they come from and feeling good about themselves. They understand that no one can take this knowledge and understanding of self worth away from them.