Is it Really a Racial Thing?

By: Wendy Rhein

Because of a blog I wrote a few weeks ago about talking to my 6 ½-year-old son about racism, I had a great conversation this week with his best buddy’s mom. Here are two little boys (they would both puff out their chests and tell me they are NOT little!), both biracial, who intend to become the President of the United States and the head of the Secret Service so they can work together when they are old. Old, like when they are their parents’ ages.

So, I had the good fortune this week to talk to this great kid’s mother about this very fine line we tread as mothers of biracial kids: wanting them to be aware of racism and other people’s bigotries, while also not planting the seed that any bad behavior or injustice is racially motivated.

I want my kids to be aware that racism exists and is often displayed in the most back-handed, cruel, and mean-spirited of ways. It is this kind of racism that eats away at the soul and passion of people. It could be any ism I suppose. It is belittling, causes you to question and feel judged, for being different, or other. I want them to know so that as they grow they can point it out, literally point, at the person or situation and say “ah, I see that. I see that that really isn’t about ME as a person but about that person’s narrow-mindedness,” and then not take it personally. On the other hand, I also want them to be aware of it so they can fight against those injustices and again, point them out and bring them into the light so that they become shameful and unacceptable instead of quietly endured and tolerated.

Not that I have high expectations or anything…

But on the other hand, I want to balance it with the very real idea that mean-spirited actions, cruel and back-handed comments are not always about race. Someone ignoring you in a store? An older woman crosses the street when she sees a couple of teenagers coming her way? A teacher says she didn’t expect you to do well on that math test? Not necessarily a black thing. I don’t want to put a chip on his shoulder, that’s not my goal as his mother, and I want to be sure to knock it off if he develops one of his own. Be responsible for your own actions, your own choices. Recognize that while yes, there are racist people out there and he will certainly come upon them, as we do now, there are also people who are just having a bad day. Or are generally unhappy and mean. It isn’t all about you, baby. You’re the center of my world, but not the world of the cashier at Safeway.

So as a mother, how do I impress these very heady ideas on a young child, giving him the space and support to stand up for himself and what he believes while simultaneously allowing him to be a kid, see good in other people, and not think that other people’s crap is about him personally? I keep talking. I keep making mistakes. I ask him what he thinks. It is a daily balance for me.  I probably think about it more often than I need to.  And I know for a fact I talk about it more often than makes some of my friends comfortable.   That mama bear thing comes out in a way that can make others uneasy but hey, these are my kids and for me this is a very real parenting issue. I am incredibly thankful for the friends and a forum to share stories and concerns.   Maybe we need a club.  One that serves wine.


  1. says

    What it comes down to is that some people are just arseholes. If it ain’t colour, it’ll be your hair, your clothes, the part of town you’re from or just how much money you look like you have.

    Most of my adult life has been spent seeing people avoid me cos they have a Hollywood idea of what a biker is. If folks don’t like my tatts, my leathers and my friends, then they are welcome to stay outta my way. I hate those sort of shallow cowards anyway, so I ain’t missing out.

    I wouldn’t worry too much about the race thing, just teach them not to take any crap from people. They’ll be fine as long as they understand that not everyone is righteous.

  2. says

    Love the wine idea. I have been in a interracial relationship on and off for 11 years. My friend’s son is biracial and I have known him since he was six. I know his Dad always talks about how it is different for him (the son is now graduating high school). He always tells him to be careful about his surroundings and that most likely he can easily be singled out by the police for a routine stop or at a mall. My friend lives in a beach city almost all white. He personally has been stopped in his own neighborhood (driving while black) and even asked sometimes by stores or Ma and Pop shops around his home if he lives nearby.All seemingly casual remarks but he doesn’t feel that way. Subtle and not so subtle racism. He wants his son to be prepared for comments and has always encouraged him to just be aware of his actions. His son is a terrific young man and gets it. He is off to college this September and will takes those lessons of awareness with him but he won’t let them define him. I think because you are so on top of it your sons will understand the issues and prepare for them without losing their zest for life in this world.

  3. Wendy says

    Thanks Madge. What you are describing for your friend and your friend’s son are exactly the kinds of things I see as well and want my sons to understand. I want them to know so they can see it, confront it, deal with it and not internalize it.

  4. Carrie says

    Love this article. By the way, I’m signing up for that club. We could serve a fine Australian blend of Shiraz and Sauvignon!

  5. says

    We live in a very racially and culturally diverse neighborhood now (Jackson Heights) but at one time it was very white, and there are still a fair number of elderly folks around. I’ve been stopped several times while out walking with Ben. Well meaning, I’m sure, but who have no problem with saying “What a beautiful child. Don’t see so much blond hair around here any more.” or “Handsome fellow, he is. And what pretty green eyes. So unusual.”

    It makes me crazy. It’s something that affects all of us, as parents. We’re all trying to raise our kids in a world where color ought not matter anymore.

  6. Wendy says

    Diane – I get that with Sam sometimes as well, the stopping, but more because they are fishing to figure out the relationship. Just last month someone asked me if I was his nanny when we were at the park!

    Color does matter for me. I don’t want to negate the fact that by the sheer virtue of pigment some of their experiences in the world are going to be different than mine. I want to celebrate those differences, live in them, rummage around in them with my boys.

  7. says

    I know Heidi Durrow. She is a fascinating woman with a great story to tell. If you can get to LA in June she is the founder of the Mixed Roots festival here in LA on the weekend of June 15-17.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *