The Parents Anonymous Group I attended for many years touched on many current topics concerning children and parenting them; racism and prejudice were on that list. I do not like to point out race or sex unless it is important to what I am writing about as a whole as this is. (You can go back through my posts and check.) Bear with me…
By Jackie Saulmon Ramirez | December 10, 2014
The racial unrest in the news is always upsetting to me, even from the time I was around ten or twelve. I had written a piece, a short poem, about the senselessness of racism. I had wondered about my father’s hatred and my mother’s fear and watched them to learn why black people were so disliked. As I mentioned last week, my mother destroyed all of my writings but the part I do remember went something like this:
Little children play together
Because they don’t know any better
Yeah, the entire poem was childish but it shows my curiosity upon discovering the conflict in what I heard and saw. My religion said one thing but peoples’ behavior said another. I could not reconcile that in my own mind.
My first husband was in the military and I was more comfortable with that environment. There was a perception of equality like I had never known and it fit like a glove. When we were no longer in the military and that environment, everything changed and we were back to square one. By that time, we had two children and the oldest was seven. Neither child had ever heard the “N” word until we went back to our home state of North Carolina. Can you imagine explaining the “N” word to my children for the first time?
After my divorce from him, I worked about six blocks from where I lived. Something happened that brought race and prejudice back to the forefront for me again. On a drizzly morning after a rain-drenched night, I began my trek to work. On the sidewalk a couple of blocks from home there was an elderly black gentleman walking towards me. As we got closer, we both nodded ‘good day’ and the gentleman stepped off the sidewalk into the soaked ground. At that time it struck me as very odd, ‘why would he step in the wet grass and ruin his shoes when there was plenty of space on the sidewalk?’ I turned to ask for an answer…
“Excuse me,” I said, “Why did you do that? Why did you step off the sidewalk and into the grass?”
He looked puzzled and I repeated the question.
“Well, ma’am, because you are white,” he said nervously.
He kept his head down as if he had done something wrong and I was truly stunned.
“Well,” I told him, “That’s ridiculous; stop doing it!”
That was my introduction to white privilege and I was at a loss for words.
A few years later in New Jersey I met Elaine in the Parents Anonymous Group; she was one of the sweetest people you could ever hope to meet. Elaine and her husband were white and they adopted three interracial children: a black boy, Korean girl and a black-Hispanic biracial boy. Elaine explained how children’s race is classified by agencies for adoption by their skin color, hair follicles, hair color, hair texture and the size and shapes of noses, lips and eyes.
We all listened very curiously as she began to tell about the challenges of having interracially adopted children. Since she and her husband are white she had to learn to care for the children’s skin and hair; their black friends at church were instrumental in providing information and guidance. Elaine and her husband had already though about racism and prejudice… and now they had to teach their sons.
Can white parents ever imaging how awful it is for black parents to explain to their child about race?
“Your white neighbors may not want you to play with their children.”
“Your white classmates may not want to sit with you at lunch.”
“Your white classmates may want you on their team because they assume you are a good athlete.”
“White parents may steer their daughters away from you.”
“White teachers may not call on you so you must raise your hand higher to get attention.”
“Whites may legally carry guns but if you have one it could get you killed.”
“Whites may be suspicious of you for no reason.”
“White people may assume you are guilty, no matter what the offence.”
Being white has not shielded me from experiencing prejudice, though. Because my husband and daughters are Hispanic I have seen firsthand how cruel people can be. Being white, I have been privy to slurs and jabs because the person speaking did not know my background. I once asked a white grocery clerk if the Spanish peanuts had been ordered and she laughed and said there were too many “Spanish nuts in here, if you know what I mean.” Unfortunately I did know; this woman was a close friend to my daughter’s second grade teacher but her words are burned into my memory.
Understanding strangers’ bigotry and hate is not easy, but when it comes from my own family, I would expect they would at least try to tone it down because of my 33-plus years with my husband and daughters. The problem with racism is that it is so entrenched that I doubt they even think about it; racism comes as natural for racists as breathing.
Being a mother, though, gives me courage and strength I never knew I had; the only way a minority-hating racist can hurt me is through my children and my husband. I have worked in retail so I understand shoplifting prevention. The real problem, though, is that while security is following a black or Hispanic person, the nicely dressed white woman in the next aisle is robbing them blind. What I do not understand is why my daughters are only followed when I am not with them. Staples employees were so obvious about dogging my daughters’ heels that I went to management to tell them I would take our money out of their store if I or my girls saw it again.
My daughter and husband went together to buy shoes late one night; he was wearing well-worn jeans and an old shirt. A white employee holding a pricing gun stood over my husband with her arms crossed and announced loud enough to be heard several aisles away, “It’s okay, he’s just trying on shoes.” She continued to stare down upon my husband as Chelsey rounded the corner and saw the woman standing guard over her father.
Poor Chelsey, she had been presented a basketful of emotions she did not know how to handle. She has been upset before over employees following her before but her rage at Target was ten times stronger than anything she had experienced before or since. The love for her father, whose honesty is above reproach, temporarily drove her over the edge. For her to see her father in such a vulnerable position and the white woman standing over him like that, it was more than she could take. She took her rage out on her own belongings, probably seeing the woman’s face. THIS was why people rioted in Ferguson, Missouri and across the country. Let it suffice to say, we have not spent a single penny in Target since that incident so long ago. As for the woman, my husband quietly said that she is an ignorant pauper; he makes way too much to be concerned with the likes of her kind. Key word: BOYCOTT
Mr. Ramirez has met racism many times in his life and career. Once when he traveled to North Carolina to teach a group of about 30 professionals at a company, his white assistant was perceived to be the instructor simply because of his race. Questions were directed to the assistant who knew very little; my husband observed the spectacle until the assistant explained. Can you imagine all those professionals with egg on their faces?
Like black drivers, Mr. Ramirez has been stopped for no reason in predominantly affluent, white areas of New Jersey. Fortunately for him, he always carries his company’s picture ID card in his shirt pocket; once police see the company logo, they immediately change their attitude. When flying to Peru to visit family or returning to the U.S., he is targeted for closer searches; after all, he must be carrying drugs or drug money since he is Hispanic. Again the company ID reduces the harassment when needed.
But what if he were a simple store clerk or a trash hauler? Should he be treated any less of a human being because of how much or where he earns his money? What if he wore an Armani suit, should he be given special privileges? His station in life should not matter; he came here legally to study then applied for citizenship and was always employed. Anyone should enjoy life unencumbered by racism, stereotypes and misperceptions. When people get it wrong, as they often do, it hurts all of us and makes us so much smaller than we could be.
What can parents do to fight racism and prejudice?
• Be aware of your biases and work to change them.
• Stop laughing at hurtful, harmful jokes about any group, even blondes. Delete offensive e-mails and tell the senders what you did.
• When you encounter slurs and stereotyping of anyone, call them on it and, friend or not, let them know you disapprove.
• Learn about racism, stereotypes and myths; Asians are not all musicians, not all African Americans are good at sports and not all Irish drink.
• Get newsletters and information about prejudice and discuss issues with friends.
• Learn more about other cultures and groups, their celebrations, religions and so on.
• Patronize small businesses owned by minorities.
• Put knowledge in the hands of children (books, movies, experiences) and encourage them to learn with an open mind.
Human Rights belong to every human being, not just whites. When anyone is deprived of those rights, we all suffer. If I were physically able, I would be at every march I could until prejudice is eradicated. Until that day comes, the whole world is watching what we do. What will you do until that time?
Love is much easier and more productive than hate.
PHOTO: Courtesy of Hepingting Under Flicker/CC License.
PHOTO: Courtesy of Tim Hamilton Under Flicker/CC License.
PHOTO: Courtesy of Young Yong Kwon Under Flicker/CC License.
PHOTO: Courtesy of Éole Wind Under Flicker/CC License.
Copyright © 2014 Jackie Saulmon Ramirez. All Rights Reserved.
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