Sunday, March 18, 2012

Racism Hurts Everybody

In the last week, I have seen  this photo that's made it around facebook and heard about an acquaintance saying something about someone acting "like a typical black kid" - meaning, of course, that the child was being a troublemaker.

Obviously, these both make my heart hurt for a number of reasons.  The first thing I thought of was my Little Sister.  She is an ideal student and friend: thoughtful, caring, loyal, hard-working, and careful to think the best of everyone.  This is a girl who told me that we should give a homeless person her granola bar because the man didn't look like anyone treated him well, and everyone should be treated well, even if they're homeless.  She is also black.  I often think about what her reaction would be to either hateful racism, like this bumper sticker (and as snopes points out, whether it's real or not doesn't really matter, as you can buy plenty of products just like it online), or to ignorant racism like someone mentioning a problem child "acting like a typical black kid."

I feel like her reaction would be the same in both cases: stunned and extremely hurt.  This girl doesn't buy into stereotypes for the most part, and she understands that both she and the wild student in the corner of the room are both black but both individuals who have completely different personalities and temperaments.  When I see or hear of racism like this, I am heartbroken for my Little Sister.

However, recently, I have started thinking about the effects of this kind of racism on children who aren't black.  My almost-two year old (and extremely verbal) niece just got a doll with brown skin and black braids.  My niece is intrigued by the braids and wanted to comb the doll's hair, like she does with her other doll.  Her mom explained to her that the doll's hair was in braids so they weren't going to comb it and later told me that it impressed her that she's so little that she doesn't really know about the differences that the world believes about different kinds of people. 

My niece seems to be much like my Little Sister in many ways - very sensitive and already quite caring.  She talks about the people she loves and told a squirrel in the yard, "Have a nice weekend, squirrel!"  She likes interacting with my Little Sister and her doll with braids and has no idea that there are people in the world who would classify them differently than they would the people who look like us.  One day, my niece will also hear something either said in hatred or in ignorance about another group of people, and she will have to weigh that against what she knows.  It probably won't make a lot of sense to her.  She'll know my Little Sister who is gentle and caring, her cousin who is creative and friendly, and any number of other other people with different colors of skin, and she'll have to see that they're the target of stereotypes and discrimination.  And I think that will probably break her heart as well.

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