Are We Raising Racists?

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How we are raised as children profoundly affects how we relate as adults. But I hope this isn’t always true . . .

You see, I was brought up in a staunchly conservative and stereotypically southern environment. Rules and humidity were everywhere. Cornbread was a staple, the radio was forbidden, and everyone I knew was suspicious of “dem libruhls” [sic].

Some might call my upbringing strict and religious. I call it paranoid and shame-based.  Potato, potahto.

As you might imagine, growing up in a John Grisham novel gave me access to the good, the bad and the ugly of the American South.

  • The good? Short winters and sweet tea.
  • The bad? I know all the words to the Hee Haw theme song.
  • The ugly? Racism.

You see, when I was growing up, people important to me indulged in a not-so-secret bigotry.

Though the racism was rarely displayed, it was never really hidden.

Like the bourbon bottle your dad keeps in his cabinet or the “romance novel” your mom stashes under her bed, prejudice was the thing we could all see but never acknowledge.

People older and wiser than I whispered the n-word, mocked political correctness and screamed about reverse discrimination. I vividly remember being told that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a “troublemaker” and that I shouldn’t marry someone from another race or ethnicity because it just “makes things difficult.”

To this day, I still regret rejecting the advances of the most beautiful girl in my ninth grade class. She was biracial. And I didn’t want to make things difficult.

Ugh. I told you racism was ugly.

Recently, I overheard my young children discussing Rosa Parks. Because their conversations usually revolve around Minecraft, Pokemon or flatulence, I eavesdropped anxiously wondering what they might say.

To my great delight, they spoke about this civil rights icon in heroic terms. The masculine child wondered aloud if Parks understood the long-lasting impact of her bravery, and the princess simply declared:

“I’m sure glad Rosa Parks didn’t give up her bus seat.”

This is when I knew things could be different. This is when I knew things could change.

I realize we haven’t solved all racial divides or cured all ignorance and hatred. I understand there is still a battle for equality and there is much work left undone.

However, I have new hope. We don’t have to perpetuate ugly lessons. We can reject the lies passed down to us.

Bigotry isn’t invincible.  Racism isn’t immortal. Even children can vanquish them.

Small children.

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