Could we make this the last generation of racists?
By E.R. BILLS
A few weeks back, a 7th-grader who hangs around the neighborhood told my kids that Barack Obama was a stupid Muslim terrorist and that if that “nigger” got elected he and his family were moving to Canada.
A week ago, my 10-year-old daughter related the new joke going around her elementary school: What’s the difference between Obama and Simba? Simba is an African lion and Obama is a lyin’ African.
And the day after the election, in a high-school lunch line, a sulky-looking kid standing behind my 15-year-old son was asked by a friend what was wrong. “There’s a nigger in the White House now,” he said. “Yeah, I know,” the girl replied. “I don’t like him either.”
As a parent of mixed-race children, I find the ignorance inherent in these sentiments offensive. I would find it just as revolting if my kids were white, Hispanic, or of any other ethnic background. But I’m not upset with the children who parrot such ideas. I’m unhappy with their parents.
Teenagers are not genetically predisposed to use ugly racial slurs. That kind of prejudice starts at home. Ten-year-olds don’t independently question a politician’s integrity or sit up thinking of ways to mock half of his ethnicity. And young middle-school students don’t instinctively suspect Obama is a Muslim or equate that with being a terrorist. It’s something they get from Mom or Dad – from the language routinely used at home, or the jokes repeated there, or the attitudes that, subtlely or overtly, the grown-ups at home display in dealing with other people.
The “trickle-down” theory of economics may have proven to be a terrible blunder, but the moniker itself is solid. It’s simply misapplied.
Wealth doesn’t trickle down, but ignorance sure does.
If a child’s parents are members of the Ku Klux Klan or the Aryan Nation or are simply active, vocal racists, chances are that child will absorb those repugnant ideologies and learn to discriminate against ethnic minorities. If a child’s father hangs out on street corners holding up signs that say “God Hates Fags,” the chances of that child becoming a homophobic bumpkin who is afraid of gay marriage increase exponentially. If Mom and Dad are shallow, xenophobic neocons who mock anyone the talk radio jocks tell them they should feel threatened by or disagree with, little Timmy is much more inclined to denigrate people who make him uncomfortable or who have different political opinions.
Hate breeds hate. So many of the evils that plague our nation – racism, sexism, homophobia, and general narrowmindedness – are passed down from grandparents to parents to kids like family pictures or precious heirlooms.
Hence, ignorance and cruelty continually dim our collective future. American poet Anne Sexton put it best: “Live or die, but don’t poison everything.”
If you’re so eaten up with hate and fear that you can’t abide the skin color or free will or liberty of others, that’s your prerogative. But please, do us all a favor and keep it to yourself.
No offense, but the world might be a better place if the chains of which you are a link were broken – not to mention the chains you’d like to see the rest of us wrapped in. If we could stop stuffing our children like Thanksgiving turkeys with our preconceived notions and prejudices, they might grow up to figure things out for themselves.
Trust me, as a fellow parent: For my children and yours, life is too short to make them spend years trying to transcend our follies. Let’s allow them a fresh start, a clean slate. And who knows, one of our kids might grow up to be president someday.