Babies don’t have preconceived notions on race, but somewhere along the line while growing up they pick up on them.
Elaine M. from New Jersey, whose children are half Chinese and half Irish, shares her son’s story: “When my son was 5, we played Guess Who? In this board game, you guess who is the person that your opposing player has chosen by asking yes/no questions to eliminate those it cannot be. It was all based on physical appearances (e.g. Is the person wearing a hat? Does the person have black hair?). My son had it narrowed down to two people who basically had the same features except that one was black and one was white. He said, ‘I can’t ask anymore questions…the two people are exactly the same!’ He did not notice the skin color difference at all. I’m glad he didn’t feel like people were ‘different’ just because of physical appearances.”
|When do others see you as different?
When do you start viewing yourself as different?
When I was a kid I knew I was Chinese because my parents told me so. In 3rd grade, my desk was positioned next to Jim McLoud’s desk. He was a nice boy with reddish-brown freckles that dotted his cheeks. One day I announced to him, “I’m Chinese!” To me it was just like saying, “I live in Michigan!” or “I have a sister!” He just shrugged and said, “Oh, I didn’t know that,” and continued reading his book.
During that same year, I experienced my first taste of racism. I didn’t know what is was at that time – I only knew it made me feel bad. During recess, twin brothers Ray and Tim would stalk and taunt me. They were in 1st grade, and though I was two years older, they were taller. The blond boys would follow me, pulling the corners of their eyes up into slits and say things like, “Ching Chong, me Chinese, me go pee pee in my pants!” They’d finish it off by putting their hands together in a prayer position, bow down, and say, “Gong!” Other times they would tell me to go back to China then push me. I would report them to the recess mother; she scolded the boys, but it never stopped them. I started to wish I wasn’t this thing called “Chinese,” and it wouldn’t be until college that I would truly embrace my heritage.
Why is it that my 3rd grade desk buddy could care less that I was Chinese while the twin 1st grade boys sought me out? How did these young bullies even come to know the phrase, “Go back to China?”
I believe it stems from parenting. Kids model after their parents, absorbing the attitudes and mentalities they’re exposed to. But let’s say the twin boys picked up racism through watching television instead of from their parents. It’s still the parent’s responsibility to monitor what their children view on TV.
I’m sure Ray and Tim don’t remember they taunted me, and they certainly wouldn’t realize the impact they had at the time. Decades later I still remember their names, what they looked like, and what they said. The bullying only stopped after I used candy to bribe a big boy in my class to act as my bodyguard.
What do you think? Share your experiences and comments here.