This post was (unfortunately) inspired by my daughter’s experiences with next-generation racists and bigots over the years, but particularly by a couple of recent incidents. Through this I have been reassured of my belief that ignorance, prejudices, stereotypes, and racist attitudes are learned, and thus transmitted from generation to generation. Unfortunately, there is no cure or preventative measure for this transmission and, also unfortunately, these messages can be received and re-transmitted to peers as soon as kids begin to talk.
Last week, at a town night out in the park, my daughter was trying to make friends. Anyone who knows her realizes that she isn’t your typical five-year-old and is quite wise beyond her years. In an effort to make a new friend to play with she approached a little girl who was about 8 years old. As my daughter began to talk to her the girl became uncomfortable. The girl first asked my daughter how old she was, to which my daughter responded with her age. The girl then asked my daughter if she celebrated holidays. My daughter was confused and didn’t respond. “Do you celebrate Christmas?” “Yes.” “Oh, then you can’t be my friend!” Discouraged, my daughter walked away; soon she asked to go home.
The week before, while at the register in Marshall’s, my daughter was playing with a girl who looked to be of Southeast Asian descent. After playing nicely for awhile, the girl said “Where’s your Mommy?” My daughter pointed to me. To this the little girl said “That can’t be your mom…you’re black and she’s white.” My daughter insisted I was her Mommy and the two began arguing as she tried to defend my honor. Both my shock and curiosity as to how this would play out prevented me from intervening right away, but my daughter was extremely offended while the little girl was clueless as to what she said that was so wrong (at least the girl’s mother, who was in earshot of the incidence looked somewhat embarrassed; perhaps there is hope after all).
Sadly, these are not two isolated incidents. My poor baby has encountered way to many of these types of incidents to count in her short (but wonderful) tenure upon this Earth. However, the upside to all of this is that these next-generation racists and bigots are still kids, and they have time to (re-)learn new ideas and beliefs. All hope is not lost in that they can still be exposed to new environments and experiences that have the power to change their lives. And so I wonder, how young is too young to experience ignorance of this sort? I know that these attitudes are learned, but they seem to be internalized and acted upon at such an early age. As a mother, you try to protect and shield your child from having to experience these things. And if you fail at that, you work double-time to make sure they don’t internalize the incident and aren’t scarred for life.
But, most importantly, how do we stop the generational transmission of ignorance? If we don’t find a way to proactively combat it, as opposed to reactively cope with it, won’t these attitudes potentially endure the test of time and last forever?
by Portia Allen-Kyle