If being raised as a white person in a racist society means that white parents are inevitably racist, in ways that they may or may not know about, how do they pass that racism on to their children? How can they prevent themselves from passing it on?
I'm sure many of us who read this blog have seen the movie American History X. In a scene that shows the genesis of the young white protagonist's racial hatred, he and his brother, both children, are sitting around the dinner table while their father, a firefighter, rails about minorities: "I'll tell you one more thing. This 'affirmative blaction' shit is driving me up the fucking wall. Firefighters gettin' 99's on their tests while rappers who score a goddamn 62 walk away with the job. . . . we keep givin' niggers everything, there'll be nothing left for us."
And of course we hear about the egregious cases: parents who name their children Adolph Hitler and JoyceLynn Aryan Nation; parents who put swastikas on their children's arms with marker and send them to school; the Stormfront types who proudly talk about hanging swastikas above their baby's cribs; the mother who tried to turn her daughters into white-nationalist pop stars.
Those are the types of parents that most Caucasians will think of when they hear the term "racist parent." But I'm not here to talk about those people, as I believe they're in the minority; I'm here to talk about the many white parents who would back away in horror at the thought of using a racial epithet in front of their children, and yet they nevertheless pass racism on to the next generation.
These are the parents who would never say "those wetbacks," probably not even among themselves with no children in the room; they almost certainly consider themselves non-racist. Yet they will talk about those Mexicans in front of their children. And "those Mexicans" is always said in a voice just above a whisper, leaving no doubt in the children's minds that Mexicans are something so unspeakable, you can't even say their ethnicity in a normal tone of voice (of course, another oft-despised minority group, black people, gets whispered about in similar ways as well). These parents will go on about how those Mexicans keep coming up here and stealing our jobs, using our resources, overcrowding our schools. . .*
These are the parents who will chat with other parents about things minorities (supposedly) do. One that I remember well from growing up was about how Mexicans would get one of their young-adolescent daughters knocked up, sneak up to America just in time for her to give birth, and then the baby would be a U.S. citizen. And of course nobody's going to deport the mother of a U.S. citizen. And if that mother happens to be a young adolescent, of course nobody's going to deport *her* mother! So just for having a baby, now THREE of them get to stay in the U.S.! [/exasperated sarcasm]
Of course nobody ever offers proof to back up this tale. When parents are calmly discussing this tale as if it's fact, why do they need to? The children overhearing it take it as gospel too. (And of course those parents aren't being racist -- after all, it's not like they're making judgments on those Mexicans -- they're just stating "facts" about things that minorities do!)
These are the parents who are appalled by the idea of sending their child to a school where the pupils are predominantly minorities. This is always phrased in terms of "the education there isn't as good" (even though they've done no research and have no idea whether it is or isn't) -- never in terms of "I don't want my child around those children."
These are the parents who, like some of my family members, will be cracking jokes about the supposed incompetence of the Mexican Army (in front of their children) and then snidely follow it up with, "Like that's a surprise, coming from Mexico." Yet these same people would be deeply offended if you said they were racist. They'll trot out their Mexican co-workers, the fact that they're fine with their kids being friends with that Mexican girl down the street... we know all the rationalizations already.
These are the parents who, with the best of intentions, expose their children to other cultures in a way that is profoundly Othering. They take their children to Chinatown and Little India and point out clothing and wares for sale as if they're at a zoo. They'll fawn over their child's new friend of color (often taking this as a sign that they're successfully raising an anti-racist child), leaving no doubt in their child's mind that there's something very different between their white friends and their friend of color. They'll take their children to "ethnic" restaurants and -- well, just see the post (and comments) from a few days ago about Othering in cuisine.
These are the parents who don't challenge racial humor when it's used in front of their children (or worse yet, don't see it as racist at all) ; who stay in all-white neighborhoods and send their kids to all-white schools and socialize with other white families; who raise their white children to believe that everything they accomplish is due solely to their own hard work; who raise their white children to be "colorblind"and "not see race"; who never discuss race with their kids because it's too uncomfortable, or they don't understand why it needs to be discussed; who are proud of themselves for having a token PoC come over to visit, because it's a "positive learning experience" for their children to be "exposed" to PoC (that is, parents who view PoC as a learning tool rather than as people).
These parents don't hang swastikas in their houses, they don't use epithets to refer to minorities, and they certainly don't consider themselves racist. Yet, with the best of intentions and completely unconsciously, and also because of their sheer numerical preponderance, such well-meaning, self-satisfied parents are doing more to keep systemized racism and white privilege alive than any Stormfront member could dream of.
These parents are raising a generation that believes racism is something obvious that has already been pretty much conquered; a generation that believes they themselves are non-racist, and therefore there is no work to be done; and a generation that continues to ignore (and thereby protect) systemized racism and white privilege.
Have you noticed other covert or indirect ways that white parents pass on their racism?
Do you have memories of things your own parents did in these terms, and how it affected your perception of race?
Could you suggest links to any good online resources about raising anti-racist children?
Have you have noticed any successful ways that parents have dealt with racial situations?
* Note: Some of the examples above are specifically Mexican-related. Although the phenomena discussed in this post can be applied to any racial or ethnic minority, I cite racist sentiments toward Mexicans as examples because I grew up in Southern California, where anti-Mexican sentiment is as common as oxygen.