Blog Contributor, Family

Racism in America: 4 Lessons Learned and Ways to Respond

A post by Blog Contributor, Cescelie Jelks

Racism in America is a subject that I started to discuss with my children when they were very small. Why? Because, we were being confronted by acts of racism on a regular basis. I live in a small rural town in Alabama. I can remember being a child and feeling this underlying tone of inequality and unfairness towards black people. No one ever explained it to me so I didn’t have the words for what I was feeling.  I just remember feeling that everything was so unfair and it made me feel angry, powerless and frustrated. I didn’t want my children to grow up feeling powerless. So, I have always talked to my children about the subject of racism. In addition, we have had many opportunities to address the issue and teach our children how to respond to acts of racism.

The Tennis Camp

I signed my children up for a tennis camp. My daughter was being taught by a white former classmate that I had known my entire life. There was a white teenage male that was throwing the tennis ball to the children and they would hit the ball. My former classmate was the adult overseeing the process. The only children they had in this particular group were my daughter and the classmate’s daughter. I watched as the teenager threw her daughter three balls to every one he threw my daughter. He just kept letting her daughter hit over and over while giving my daughter only one opportunity to hit.

I watched these people blatantly cheat my daughter and waited patiently for the adult, my classmate, to correct the young man’s actions. She stood there and watched him cheating my child and said nothing. Lesson learned: The incident taught me that some adults will cheat your black child while giving extra opportunities to the white children. The Response: I waited until they took a break. Then, I called my former classmate over to the sidelines and I informed her that I didn’t pay people to mistreat my children. I asked her how did she think my child felt as she experienced them cheating her. She apologized and had a talk with the young man and he started to do right by my child.

It may come off as intimidating, however, keep your eye on the adults that are managing activities where your child is a participant. Don’t make the assumptions that your child will be treated with fairness.

The Taekwando Classes

A similar incident happened when my children were taking taekwondo classes. My beginner children were getting the best of the star pupil who was supposed to be close to getting her black belt. They were doing an activity where they were being scored every time they made contact. They were blatantly acting like they didn’t see my children making contact. It was obvious that they were making calls to make the other child come out on top.

The room was filled with adults watching this cheating happening and no one spoke up. When we left that night, my children said that they didn’t feel the judging had been right. I explained to them that what had just happened to them was the result of racism. They had been cheated out of their win because the adults who were judging wanted the white child to win. I assured my children that I would not allow the incident to go unchecked. I couldn’t address the issue in that moment because I was too angry about it.

The response: I waited a few days. Then, I took my children with me to have a talk with the woman that ran the taekwondo school who also witnessed the incident. Once again, I explained to her that I didn’t pay people to mistreat my children. I told her that I did not appreciate how they had cheated my children, not to mention the silence of others who saw what was happening. When we completed our talk, I was assured that it would not happen again. She told me that she respected the way that I protected my children not only physically but spiritually. Lesson learned: Sometimes an unfair incident will have to be addressed at another time. I had to give myself time to calm down because I didn’t want my children to see me act inappropriately. By doing this, respect was gained and initiative to make it right was honored.

Dodge Charger vs Honda Accord

My son really loves muscle cars. My husband wanted to get him a Dodge Charger for his 16th birthday. I vetoed the idea because I didn’t want my son to become a target for the police because of the car he was driving.

It happens around here all the time where black kids in nice cars get pulled over and questioned because they are racially profiled as drug dealers. So, I said no to the fast muscle car and put my son in a Honda Accord instead. I chose a car that doesn’t have a flashy paint color and won’t draw undue attention. But, it makes me angry that my husband works hard and can’t get our son what he wants because we don’t want to jeopardize his life. This may seem extreme but, look around at the current state of affairs. These are the type of decisions that black parents have to wrestle with.

Lesson learned: There are times when certain decisions have to be made because of what’s at stake. The response: Do what is in the best interest for your children, despite how it makes them feel.

The Fashion Experiment

My daughter loves head wraps and has been sporting them as a fashion statement. I have noticed some of the looks that she gets when we are out and about. I had a talk with her after reading about a black woman who was wearing a head wrap and was denied entry into a children’s play place in a neighboring city. They told her that her head wrap was not appropriate attire and that they could refuse service to her based on that premise.

So, I told my daughter that I loved her head wraps but I also wanted her to be aware that some people assume that you are Muslim if they see you with a head wrap. After 9/11, Muslim people became targets for racism in America. Lesson learned: I wanted her to know that by choosing to wear her head wraps, she may have to deal with ignorance on the part of others. The response: Her response to me was that she loved her head wraps and was going to continue to wear them.

Love Conquers All

When I tell you that I HATE having to have these conversations with my kids, I mean I really HATE it!!! That’s why I am very grateful for the online community of moms who are teaching us how to turn our kids into young entrepreneurs. I want my children to be able to take care of themselves and not to be totally reliant on a job for their livelihood. Above all, I want my children to walk in the light and to be instruments of love.

I truly believe that love is the most powerful force in the earth. The Most High God on our side is greater than the whole world against us. There will always be racism in the world but, hate doesn’t win the day. Love conquers all. I teach my children to be excellent in all that they do and continue to rise in spite of it all. This should be the goal of all parents for their children… to raise them in a way where love is expressed to all, no matter the skin tone.

CHIME IN: Have you experienced racism? What was the lesson learned and how did you respond? Tell us about it in the comments.

 

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