Thursday, June 26, 2008

sacrifice the selves of their children

[This is a guest post from SWPD reader jw, who adds the following self-description: "As a white German I see it as my responsibility that history never again can repeat itself. Without ideology I am politically left, embracing humanism and trying to be a part in the fight against the system of white supremacy. Anti-racism is more than just being against racism."]

When Alice Miller wrote her book The Drama of the Gifted Child, she did not intend to address specifically Eurocentric or "white" families. Nonetheless, her book is in effect about a specific tradition within Eurocentric families, or what amounts to the training of children to "become white." Miller's book doesn't talk about the intelligent child, as the title may imply. The "gifted" children are those who are sensitive enough to empathize with the emotions and needs of their mothers, and thus learn to act in ways that do not hurt their mothers' feelings, and thus to "fit in" most comfortably within their families.

Such children learn, via emotional abuse, that they aren't accepted and loved because of their own identity, but only because they are able to fulfill the needs of their parents. They learn, then, to silence themselves. The "drama" for the gifted children is that they learn to create a "false self" in order to be an accepted member of a confining family. The true self can't develop, and so the child, and later the adult, doesn't know his or her own emotional needs, and thus becomes alienated to itself. Miller writes about the lost world of emotions and the disconnection of the individual to one's own self. So much for Miller's book.

Being nice, decent, not emotional, perfect, an object—the presence of a controlling environment of other whites creates an unquestioned tradition of standards. Relatives, neighbors, schools, and so on control the families, and the parents control their children.

This control from outside can start as early as kindergarten. My niece, who is four years old, is a child who knows what she wants. Curious, active, and hardly ever accepting a "no" from the kindergarten teachers, she caused the kindergarten to write a letter to my sister. The letter stated that my niece is hyperactive, uncontrollable, and therefore an unacceptable burden for the kindergarten and the other children there. She needs, the letter said, a special kindergarten for difficult children.

Now, while nobody would call what these kindergarten teachers expected of my niece "making a child white," it definitely would be a first step in the direction of producing a "yea-sayer," a person who would learn that resistance to the status quo in whatever form will not be successful. My only response to my sister was:"Fight for your daughter." Finally my sister did, and after some interventions from outside, the kindergarten teachers were told that they have to change their expectations, and that they have to respect the needs and limits of my niece. The interveners recognized that she is a normal, active, and lively child who merely challenges the expectations of some adults about "comfortable" children.

Curiosity, "uncomfortable" emotions like anger, and questioning adults, including parents, are unappreciated characteristics, and they are therefore suppressed with different methods of emotional abuse of the child, who will later become the adapted adult who doesn't speak up against authorities (be they imagined or real). The more a child is able to deny itself and to instead "properly react" to the needs of other whites, the safer it will be in a white world. Empty, but safe.

Eurocentrism is full of irritating contradictions, and even the notion and celebration of individualism is not real: True individuals aren't welcomed. Eurocentrism concentrates on the outside, and image is more important than true being.

Children "becoming white" also means that they finally feel comfortable with their status quo, including the mistreatment of people whom they learn to regard as "Other." They accept the definition of success, which is materialistic, and they adapt to the rules of white society.

Their whiteness is nurtured by learning that they belong to a supposedly superior group, which they are told is "civilized" and should be considered an example for other nations or races. Positive stereotypes about whiteness as a synonym for goodness helps with denying a history and reality which is the opposite. They replace the self that they lost during their childhood with a dangerous feeling of safety, by belonging to a group that they think will accept and protect them.

That this tragedy for a child's soul does not always work as intended, by creating functioning members of (white) society, is not surprising. As Tim Wise says, in "Membership Has Its Disadvantages,"

specific crimes, like serial killing, mass murder, child sexual abuse, or drug use, and other dysfunctions, like suicide, eating disorders, or alcoholism, are mostly found in the white middle class. And whereas everyone, right or left, would seek to explain "why" in the case of dark and poor folks—the left saying economics and structural causes, the right saying genes or cultural flaws—when it comes to white and middle class dysfunction, the question, "why," isn't asked.

Or if it is, the "causes" are inevitably located externally—the video games, the music, the movies—and never viewed as possibly intrinsic to the group in question or the environment in which that group finds itself.

I would like to add: We need an education and training of children that doesn't deny them the right to be human.


  1. Positive stereotypes about whiteness as a synonym for goodness helps with denying a history and reality which is the opposite. Well said. What I am starting to notice is the similarities in steps taken by non-whites to become successful. Whiteness is presented as the universal success story that all should strive to achieve. The lessons here, just as in the gendering of children, begin at an early age. We are rewarded for conforming.

  2. Thank you for a beautiful, thoughtful post, jw. I have two children, and I remember what it was like being a child and being socialized by repressive adults. Children are indeed the most silent of victims because they lack sophisticated words that many adults need to hear in order to truly listen. They are not viewed as complete humans in many cultures, but as “blank slates” that their parents and ambient society need to fill to create a full person.

    In my experience, I have noticed some overlap in European, European American, and Asian parenting techniques and culture. My father is Chinese and my mother is Anglo-Irish. Although I didn't know this as a child, both were extremely domineering and repressive to me and both of my sisters. What is one of the most esteemed professions in white American culture? Well, my father was hell bent on all of his children becoming doctors. My mother taught us that money is THE way to happiness and freedom.

    Although my parents were not racist in the classical sense, being trained to view the world in such black and white terms caused me to put myself and other people in a very rigid conceptual box; a box that disabled my ability to feel compassion and empathy for myself and others. I think forcing kids to define the human world in racial terms produces similar results. It took me years to unlearn these axioms of my childhood and to find who I really was as an individual. Sometimes I think of all of the years I wasted doing what I was supposed to rather than what I liked and made me happy.

    I am, like most other parents I know, trying not to repeat mistakes my parents made. I think it is possible to raise inquisitive, intelligent, independent children, but difficult (especially in the U.S. where such attributes are culturally sanctioned in name but not in practice). The fine line I find myself constantly treading concerns how to give my kids guidance and structure without imposing my ideals and beliefs on them.

  3. This is a very interesting post. As I raise my own child I often reflect on how I will teach her, both implicitly and explicitly, to live in the world. I do think class plays a critically important role here too, though.

    Also, I would like to correct the statement that child sexual abuse occurs predominantly among the white middle class. This is a bizarre and false claim, and it annoys me to see messages that might minimize or call into question the experiences of
    survivors. In the U.S., an estimated 20-30% of women have experienced sexual abuse as a child; these women are quite diverse and there is no picture of the "classic" sexual abuse survivor. Childhood sexual abuse is a "white" syndrome only insofar as white survivors get the most attention in the dominant culture (the same can be said of alcoholism; for that matter, the same can be said of certain other diseases such as breast cancer, which is hardly a "white" disease but you wouldn't know judging from the extremely white face of the breast cancer prevention/advocacy movement and its beneficiaries).

  4. I really liked this post, jw. I've wondered myself what role abuse plays in generating the go-along-get-along society (and I'm a Miller fan).

  5. This post was both well written and thought provoking!

    I'm getting flashbacks to my years in school as a "gifted" child who was super (annoyingly) precocious and knew how to act to please my parents and teachers in order to simultaneously fit in and stick out.

    As a black child in a completely white environment, I was also expected to "represent" my race and not be an embarrassment to my race in front of white children/teachers, so I was expected to act "good" like my white peers (who weren't, really) and do very well in school. I did, but I realized that I never truly fit in and made myself stand out even more when I was forcing myself to be over-the-top perfect.

    It got to the point where I would act out due to the stresses/pressures of trying to be perfect. This leads me to my second thought.

    People don't even have to reduce themselves to emotional abuse anymore. Parents/teachers can just have a child (mis)diagnosed as having ADD or ADHD and feed them ritalin or adderall to squelch their "hyperactivity"! I can't even imagine how different/depressing my life would have been if I had been diagnosed as having either of these "diseases". I know I'd have been first in line when the diagnoses/prescriptions were being handed out especially once being "good" didn't have as much positive feedback as it did when I was younger.

    It's also not surprising that ritalin started as a drug for "rowdy" middle class white children (mostly boys) and has rapidly trickled it's way into predominantly minority and low-income classrooms as a means of "fixing" rambunctious children.

  6. Thank you for this post. I am very pleased to see Alice Miller's work being referenced.

    I must add: I am a black American woman, and it was Alice Miller's books that saved my life.

  7. You might want to check out Alice Miller's website:

    The Readers' Mail section is very interesting and the most up-to-date.

  8. Wow, I am astounded at the seemingly lack of regard for teaching children basic social skills. As parents, it is our responsibility to teach our children how to behave.

    This "let kids be themselves" mentally is a lot of what is contributing to the violence that children are responsible for now. Even animals give their children codes of conduct as given evidence by the events that happened in one reserve in Africa - they killed off the older elephants as a humane way to counter limited food supplies for the elephants. What happened is the younger male elephants turned into violent and agressive bullies. Turns out that the older elephants taught the younger bulls how to act and would put them back in line should one of the younger bulls act out. But because they were killed off, no one was there to teach the younger bulls how to behave and become productive adults. Wow! What a concept!

    We shouldn't look upon teaching basic social skills as trying to "white up" a child.

    BTW - I am a white married woman with two children. It is my understanding that because I am white, my opinion won't be given serious consideration - but there it is!

  9. Anonymous,

    Teaching your children to think critically and develop their individuality is not the same as giving them no guidance whatsoever. I don't think anyone on this post is advocating a "Lord of the Flies" approach to childrearing.

    You can be an authoritarian parent, order your child around, and not allow them to understand the logic behind your rules. Or, you can help a child discover good reasons to behave in certain ways at certain times.

    My parents pushed me to make a lot of money. Would I have become a homicidal maniac if they had not done this? I think not. Will white children become violent sociopaths if they are not trained to think in racial terms or think of themselves as better because they are white? Quite the contrary, in my opinion.

    There is a middle ground, you know, between absolute dictator and complete vacuum when it comes to parenting.

  10. One more thing, anonymous:

    "BTW - I am a white married woman with two children. It is my understanding that because I am white, my opinion won't be given serious consideration - but there it is!"

    You sound very defensive here. I don't care what color you are! Black and white simplistic thinking is what it is no matter who it comes from.

  11. Anonymous wrote: "It is my understanding that because I am white, my opinion won't be given serious consideration - but there it is!"

    Interesting and compelling:

    It is my understanding that because I am black, my opinion won't be given serious consideration...If I had a dime for every time I said or felt the above statement ...

    But, what I find extremely fascinating is that I believe that anonymous BELIEVES WHAT SHE SAYS too, from her own perspective, even though I see absolutely no justification, merit or validity whatsoever in her statement. My experiential connection with my being "black" and male (and thus often invisible) reality - in terms of color - is the exact opposite of what she said.

    Sometimes the chasm that is the racial disconnect between whites and non-whites seems so utterly vast, I wonder at times (like this) if it can ever be truly this world. I'm not optimistic at all.

  12. >"It is my understanding that because I am white, my opinion won't be given serious consideration - but there it is!"

    this comment of anonymous is so out of the blue that it seems to be some sort of knock out. (White) denial in action?

    I also would like to know how the example with the elephants is relevant to the topic.

  13. Redcatbiker, thank you for posting the link

  14. Has anyone seen this? Perfect for this post.

  15. jw,

    You are welcome. I was more than happy to do it.

  16. anonymous,

    i just wanted to let you know there's at least one other person out there--actually i'm pretty sure there are more--who hears what you're saying. equating racism or "white training" with teaching children to respect others is just stupid. i don't think any of these people drinking the kool-aid here appreciate the extent of the generational blowback we're experiencing now in the u.s.--finally, a generation of kids whose parents were too afraid of them to actually parent are finding that they can't cope in this world. The story about the kid who got her way by getting her mom to take on the teacher (instead of, i don't know, FINDING OUT IF MAYBE HER DAUGHTER WAS INDEED OUT OF LINE?) is just typical.

    anyway, here's to you, anonymous.


  17. Repression and decent home training are different matters. And violent repression of children is hardly exclusive to whites:

  18. "specific crimes, like serial killing, mass murder, child sexual abuse, or drug use, and other dysfunctions, like suicide, eating disorders, or alcoholism, are mostly found in the white middle class."

    Blacks, at least in the US, have more serial killers per capita than Whites:

    " FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
    October 2006
    Volume 75
    Number 10
    Editor John E. Ott

    A lack of understanding of base rates can lead to misinterpreting research findings and forensic results.4 Consider the oft-quoted fact, “Serial killers are usually white males.” While technically correct, at least for the United States, this statement is incomplete. To understand it properly, the relevant base rates also must be considered. Three different studies of serial murderers found black offender proportions of 16, 20, and 20 percent, and female offender proportions of 9, 10, and 16 percent. According to the 2000 census, the U.S. population is 75 percent white and 49 percent male. So, while disproportionately male, the only reason most serial killers in the United States are white is because most of the population is white. More important, all else being equal, serial killers are less likely to be white in predominantly black or Hispanic areas."

    As for suicide:

    "American Indians and Alaska Natives have the
    highest suicide rates of all ethnic groups in the United
    States, and suicide is the second leading cause of death
    for American Indian and Alaska Native youth."

    Certainly not everything is wonderful among the white middle class but given the false information on two of the statistics that you cited I question the balance of the quoted assertions.

  19. thanks to anonymous for getting out the bullshit detector.

  20. Miz Darwin, the article doesn't say that it is exclusive to whites, but I didn't talk about violence but emotional abuse.
    And because I believe that whites have to clean their own sh't I also want to know what is going wrong within the white 'community'.

  21. jw, what you say is "As Tim Wise says, in "Membership Has Its Disadvantages,' specific crimes, like serial killing, mass murder, child sexual abuse, or drug use, and other dysfunctions, like suicide, eating disorders, or alcoholism, are mostly found in the white middle class." As it turns out your claim is bullshit. So you should probably just stand corrected and let others who know better have the floor.

  22. Identifying near-universal behaviors (emotional or physical violence to make children behave as adults want them to) as a "white thing" isn't going to help you clean up the white community's shit. Also, what anonymous said.

  23. I think it is important for whites who want change and an end of white supremacy to understand or trying to understand all aspects of this system and society.
    Emotional (and physical) abuse isn't only a white thing but an important tool to make in this case white children conformists and silent supporters of the system or like in the case of Hitler perpetrators and mass murderers.

  24. "I think it is important for whites who want change and an end of white supremacy ..."

    Could you clarify what you consider as white supremacy..? Certainly there are cretins like David Duke running about but these people, on the whole, appear to be fading. I can't comment on Europe but the US currently (on the cusp of the white majority in many states voting for Obama...) seems very far away from a society like Hitler's. In my opinion those who equivocate the current status of the US and Germany from 1933 - 1945 are diluting Hitler's crimes.

    "in this case white children conformists and silent supporters of the system or like in the case of Hitler perpetrators and mass murderers."

    Although Hitler and company were basically the worlds worst mass murderers (and white) it should be pointed out that they were (predominantly) stopped by other whites (*). Peasants from Russian, Shopkeepers from Britain, and farmers from the US. (I believe those were the terms the Nazis used to described those respective countries..) * - Of course there were Indians who served in the British army, Asians who served with the Russian forces, and Black, Native American, Latino, and Asian soldiers who served in the US Army in WWII.

    Also there have certainly perpetrators of genocide who aren't white. Rwanda, The Sudan, Imperial Japan during WWII, Pol Pot's Cambodia, etc. Unfortunately genocide is more than a "white thing" it's a human thing.


Please see the "commenting guidelines" before submitting a comment.

hit counter code