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What to Do When Your Children Come Face-to-Face with Racism

What to Do When Your Children Come Face-to-Face with Racism


Despite my best efforts, my kids have been forced to confront the issue. What can we, as parents, do about it?
 

Growing up, my parents never discussed race. Born to a Puerto Rican mother and white American father, I saw the difference among members of our families, but I assumed that’s the way things were supposed to be. It wasn’t a topic of discussion at the dinner table because people were worth more to us than skin tone. It wasn’t as if we were ignoring race, it was just that it wasn’t so important—until we were confronted with it and forced to talk about it.

When I married my dark-skinned Dominican husband, I never questioned race or racism because, once again, I thought this was the norm. Why would anyone have anything to say about it? I was that kid who didn’t see color—and once I became an adult with my own kids, neither did my children—until we actually experienced racism.

Even if my parents shied away from discussing race, I still encountered racism as a young girl. My sister is a darker Latina than me, and for my family, moving from a not-so-good area in Brooklyn to a “better” area brought us negative attention. The area in which my parents purchased our first home was predominantly white, so we stood out as being among the few Latino kids in the area. One day, my sister and I were riding our bikes in what I thought was our new “safe” neighborhood when someone started following us in a dark four-door car. It was a moment of pure fear and darkness. He nearly ran us off the road as he yelled obscenities at us, including a racial slur often hurled at Latinos. I’d never heard that word before, but I knew it had to be bad and we started pedaling for dear life. That day I truly thought I was going to die. It was a horrible experience that I knew I never wanted my children or anyone else to ever experience.

It was our first encounter with racism, and it stung. My dad just brushed it off and said he didn’t want to cause an uproar in the neighborhood. We never saw that guy again, but because of the experience, we never rode our bikes again, either. I wasn’t happy about it as a kid, and now, as a parent, I know I would deal with it differently than my parents did if something like this were to happen to my children.

My children didn’t encounter racism until my oldest son, Victorio, was in his last year of elementary school. That’s when Victorio’s uncle (Dominican and darker-skinned than us) picked him up from school one day and a classmate asked, in an obviously hostile tone, “Is your uncle black?” My son’s response was, “No, he’s my uncle, and what’s the big deal?” When he came home and shared what had happened with us, he was obviously upset. As a parent, I felt for him, because I never wanted him to go through this. I hoped he’d never have to feel like I did when my sister and I were chased down the block. 



Victorio opened up and shared how it made him feel. “Why does it matter if we are a different color?” he asked. “What matters is that we have a good heart, right Mami?” He took what I have always said—“You can tell how good a person’s heart is by how they treat you”—and he applied it. He went on to say, “That’s not having a good heart if you worry about the color of someone. We should worry about their insides more than their outsides.” My lessons had really sunk in and he got it.

This experience led to a great discussion about accepting others for who they are. I thought, “How can I help as a parent?” But, as it turned out, I already had. Victorio handled himself appropriately. Was he upset? Sure. But he knew that the little boy had not been shown how to accept people for who they are regardless of the color of their skin. Is my job over? No way. I am sure we have a ways to go, but as parents we have to continue the discussion about accepting others for who they are inside. We need to teach that outer appearance has nothing to do with the person and the goodness in his or her heart.

Racism still continues and has happened to us on the playground as well. My boys didn’t hear it, but I sure did. In response, I removed my boys from the situation and I tried to be the better person. I now know why my dad didn’t make a big deal about the racism my sister and I experienced on our bikes that day. What would it do if I had acknowledged it? Probably breed more hatred and racism, everything we are trying to abolish. What good would I be serving? None. So my best advice to parents is to instill a love for humanity in your children, and slowly but surely it will become contagious. Little by little, racism will diminish. It all begins with us, the parents. Let’s break the cycle and spread the love of all. That’s what I hope to do, because in the simplest way that’s what my parents taught me.
 

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Eileen Carter-Campos

Author:

Eileen Carter-Campos is a New York City Public School teacher in Brooklyn by day and a freelance writer, wife, and mother of two boys by night. A contributor for various online publications and heavily involved in social media. Eileen is the founder of mommyteaches.com, where she blogs about her pride in teaching, parenting, and the blessings and trials that life have to offer. She is a Circle of Moms Top 25 Teacher Mom, nominated for Best Latin@ Education Blogger, Hispano Blogger Award and The Socia Revolucion SXSWi 2013 award.  

Carter-Campos graduated from NYU with honors with a Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education. A children’s book collector from a young age, Eileen loves cooking all types of food, reading, and being arts-and-crafty with her boys. Born and raised in Brooklyn, Eileen is married to her high school sweetheart. Follow Eileen on Twitter @EileenCCampos and @MommyT3aches.com.

 

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