“YOu can’t trust a n*****”

I find it both odd and sad when adults who are the first generation of their family in this country become infected by racism. (Don’t read that as any kind of defense for generations that have been here longer.)

How can they speak so forcefully in defense of their parents, who faced scorn (and often worse) when they arrived in the U.S., and yet be so hate-filled in their reactions to people of color?

Their parents told stories of what people said to them and about them. Those words had to make an impression on their children, who nevertheless grew up determined to defend “their” people, but quite comfortable attacking minorities.

How do they not see the similarities?

“You can’t trust a n*****” and other racist sentences were not uncommon to hear in my youth. I’m sure my friends heard similar words, though, as kids, we were too young and innocent to talk to each other about what these words really meant. Nor did we dare even think of confronting our families. No one family has exclusivity on this kind of rubbish, and we’d also be making a terrible mistake presuming only one geographic part of this country espouses racism.

“Of course, we’re not racist” almost instantly followed those racist diatribes. One can hear the unstated “our family is much too good to be racist” in such words. We children were, of course, merely being counseled to recognize good and bad.

Of course.

Children lack the education, confidence and maturity to confront racism, but their parents can, and must, serve as the adults who constantly instill an idea that says “those words and those beliefs have no place in this house.” If children learn racism is wrong, there’s a good chance they’ll become adults who affirm racism is wrong.

Earlier this week, I was part of the first of what will be many Courageous Conversations on my university campus. As much as I enjoyed seeing (albeit via a web camera) nearly three-dozen colleagues whom I’ve not seen face to face in almost four months, I was much happier to see the five total kids who were listening in, even if for only a couple of minutes, on what their parents were saying or hearing.

If my memory is being kind to me, those kids are 10, 9, 8, 7 and 4. (Yes, I know, kids grow up way to quickly, so I might have missed a birthday somewhere in there!) In reality, it doesn’t matter their age; what is important is that their parents didn’t tell them to leave or get out of the way. No, their presence, however brief it was, was a reminder that this was a moment to learn.

One of my colleagues was in another part of the state with his son. He mentioned that as they drove there (and, no, I’m not naming the location), they saw more and more indications of race and hate.

Yes, my friends, we have so far to go to kill the cancer that is racism. And each of us as adults — whether we be parents or not — must demonstrate anti-racist conduct 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

That might seem hard; but remember the racists are spewing their hate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And children are listening.

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