I often think about how lucky I am to be able to raise my daughter in the small Connecticut town where her father and I grew up. It’s the town where both her grandmothers still live, and has many wonderful, endearing factors with a strong sense of community perfect for families.
While in college I moved to the neighboring city of Danbury where I lived happily for six years. Many of my neighbors there were Hispanic, and probably some of the friendliest, most welcoming individuals I’ve ever met. I still have very fond memories of my time in Danbury, which is why recent remarks by students of nearby Wilton High School toward the students of Danbury struck a particularly painful note.
Students of the affluent town started chanting, “Build the wall!” to the students of Danbury during a football game on November 11th. Instances like this really hit home when it happens next door, despite the fact that these events have been happening, and continue to happen, all over the country.
In mid-December, a similar incident occurred in Missouri when a group of white students turned their backs on the opposing basketball team who was predominantly African-American, deeply upsetting those who believed their actions to be racially motivated.
Racism is not dead, and while I don’t believe students in either of these situations fully understood the harm their words/actions cause, I think it is important that we educate our children about the pain these behaviors inflict on others. Especially because they seem to have increased as of late.
When I was in high school I knew racism was far from invisible. It just didn’t seem as overt as it's been in recent weeks. I experienced the feeling of discrimination myself on few occasions, from people who didn’t even understand who they were possibly offending.
Sitting at a party I overheard a guy behind me saying how he wished “all the wetback Puerto Ricans would get back on the boat and sail away,” not knowing that the blonde haired, green eyed, fair-skinned girl sitting in front of him was half Puerto Rican. Surprised and insulted, I spun around and said, “Um. What the hell do you mean? I’m Puerto Rican.”
His response was, “Oh. I don’t mean ones like you.” Ones like me? Ones who don’t fit the stereotype of what people envision Hispanics to look like? Because I’m not tanned with brown eyes and thick, dark, curly hair my bloodline doesn’t count in his racist remarks? Yeah, sure, he meant the other kind; the people he deemed to be the “obvious” kind.
While the severity of my experience pales in comparison to others, it stayed with me, and I know I never want my daughter to feel the frustration and anger I did at that very moment.
While the incident at Danbury was referred to as a teachable moment, I venture to say this is more than that. This is a teachable time.
In light of the recent comments, such as the supposed wall being built on the Mexican border, some people feel license to let discriminatory comments fly, and it's not okay.
Unleashing such remarks and acts under the umbrella of "border security" is simply an excuse to practice hate. One need only look at the news in the last couple of months to find reports of Muslims being threatened with violence, and swastikas and other cruel, racially motivated statements being painted on buildings, to understand that things need to change. Though in some instances apologies were issued, the problem remains that people suddenly feel bold in their expressions of hate.
I don’t wish to question why this increase in outspoken hate began; I just want it to end. This is a time that parents need to sit down and explain that just because one wishes to get a rise out of people, dishonoring other people’s race or heritage is unacceptable behavior. One of the beautiful things about this country is that it’s a melting pot for people of all cultures, races, and religions. It’s a beautiful thing to hold our arms out to all people, and nothing would be more depressing than to watch this attitude, to which many still commit, change; for our home to become a place where people are made to feel ashamed, afraid, or need to defend their heritage.
Teaching our children kindness and respect towards others is more necessary than ever in these confusing times. It’s our job as parents to explain that despite what kids may see and hear on television or social media, hateful, racist behaviors are not funny, and not to be tolerated. It’s the only way our melting pot can remain a place where everyone is accepted, and anyone’s dreams are always possible.