Downplaying The Racist At Camp
“Racist” is a potent word even from the mouth of an eight year old.
I picked up my son, Yuri, from summer camp earlier this week, and he complained about a “racist”.
Skeptical, I suggested that he exaggerated.
Yuri tensed and shook his head. “He made fun of my name.”
I said, “People make fun of each other’s names all the time, especially kids. That’s not a big deal.”
So, this summer camp kid made fun of my son’s name, a Japanese accent, and the slanted eyes associated with Asians. That was a much stronger case for his fellow camper being a racist then I’d expected.
Was this kid really a racist?
I squatted down so I was eye-to-eye with Yuri, and I attempted to explain that someone may say a racist thing, but that doesn’t make them a racist. For them to be a racist, they need to consistently speak and behave in prejudice manner towards a race of people.
It’s a powerful word that sticks and stays, especially in this politically correct age, and I don’t want him to use it lightly.
The husband of my wife’s friend was a child in a Japanese internment camp during World War II. I hope Yuri can interview him soon about his experiences to gain some perspective.
Labeling someone a racist dehumanizes them.
It is ironic to me that the label “racist” can be used to permanently label someone as less than human.
In effect being labeled a racist can ruin someone’s life in similar ways to how racism has ruined lives. For example, lost jobs and being socially ostracized as happened to many Americans of Japanese heritage during WWII.
How can I teach my child about social justice?
My society is in a high state of flux when it comes to social justice.
Being respectful is an easy thing to espouse, but I don’t want to arm him with postmodern jargon.
Dr. Seuss changed his mind about the Japanese
He said and drew some deplorable things, not just about the people of Imperial Japan, but also the Americans of Japanese ancestry.
I might have censured his children’s books, if not for the fact that a few years after the war, Dr. Seuss changed. He spent time in Japan and is reported to have written Horton Hears a Who! to show he had evolved his feelings and dedicated the book to a Japanese friend.
He was a racist. He was still a human being. Time gave him the opportunity to evolve and make amends. He did not die a racist.
My wife didn’t like America
As a tour guide, my wife traveled throughout Japan. Visiting Hiroshima and Nagasaki cemented a deep resentment towards my country.
My curly hair and immense charm eventually thawed her enough to visit me in Portland. I got her drunk on red wine, and she evolved her feelings.
I saw her as a human being despite her prejudice against me
Free speech allows hate speech
I value the first amendment so much that I appreciate the racist man that accosted me on the sidewalk last week. He lambasted me for being white in our neighborhood.
He was bitter and hateful, but that is his right. Gentrification has rapidly changed our city, and I wouldn’t want his frustrations bottled up with no outlet.
He did take things too far when he called me Jewish and himself Palestinian and promised to kill me like a terrorist would, but prior to that, I was cool with letting him rant.
Don’t say “Oriental” and Paris Hilton is famous.
When I first came back from Japan, I learned two things. Someone named Paris Hilton was dominating pop culture, and I couldn’t use the term “oriental” anymore to describe people from Southeast Asia. If I did, then I was a racist.
Fourteen years later, and this experience haunts me as I teach my son.
How can I explain political correctness to an eight year old?
I refuse to simplify the world into good and evil.
Yuri is working his way through the Marvel movies in preparation for the latest release where spoiler alert he’s heard most of the heroes die.
I couldn’t let that sit. Decades ago I read the comics the Infinity War movie is based on, and I had to tell him that Marvel doesn’t allow any character making them money to stay dead.
I couldn’t give him the simplicity of main stream enjoyment. I had to ruin it for him because I dread mass delusion.
Someone was a racist towards my son this week, and I told him to forgive and forget.
I’m not sure if this was the best thing to do, but I know I don’t want him to seek out political correctness as a tactic to bully others.
A parental safe space would be nice to unpack this, or maybe it’s better if some hateful people attack this. Regardless, I feel blessed to be in a country and state with free speech laws strong enough to protect most any thought I decide to broadcast.
Of course, if I’m outed as a racist, I’ll lose everything I care about, and I don’t think any children’s book would be allowed to redeem me.