Racists in the Crib

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Babies are hard wired to notice difference.

Millennia ago, Difference Mattered.  A Lot.

Difference could mean "Hey, you aren't part of my tribe and therefore, you are dangerous and possibly fatal to me, if nothing else you are competing for the food/shelter/reproductive rights that I am trying to preserve!"

We still see residuals of this hard wiring in our infants today. Stranger Anxiety? Yep. Part of that response system. Babies remain hard wired to know who their caregivers are and to be resistant to new faces as part of that system. It is a wholly natural ( and useful) tool in the bonding of infant to adult.

From Difference rose lots of wonderful things. Our species ability to conquer environments,  problem solve, and keep a genetic pool that is at once so different and so similar has been key to our success in evolving and changing with our planet. From Difference came categories - Male/Female, Black/White/Asian/Hispanic/ Pacific Islander/Inuit, Jew/Christian/Muslim/Hindu/Buddhist/Agnostic/Atheist, and so on. Categories gave us a lightening quick way to look at another human and do a rough assessment of how we should act, socially.

We are, after all, social animals.

In my dissertation, I am putting forward the idea that we do NOTHING that is not socially motivated.  Even things which were previously accepted as being a wholly individual act - That of a child talking out loud to themselves in "private speech" - is really a social act. Bakhtin has written that every utterance is produced for an audience, and as such even talking to oneself is speech produced with the external in mind....but I digress.

From those categories came stereotypes. Those thumbnail sketches of assessment became informal "rules". So, if I know you are Jewish...and I know people who are Jewish don't eat pork, then I should not offer you  a ham sandwich.

Of course stereotypes serve other,  and far less altruistic purposes. At their worst, stereotypes serve to further divide us into categories and then brick us up behind them.

Do All people of Asian descent often use Rice as part of their meal? Possibly in some places.  But not everywhere. Do African Americans All Play basketball? Possibly some do. Do all White people Dance poorly? Well, I don't dance well, but there are some who Do.

Part of becoming an Adult who is sensitized to issues of race and culture is being able to recognize stereotypes, and then deconstruct them. We recognize that we hold these stereotypes, but that they do not fit every situation or every person.We recognize our own part in holding these stereotypes, but we refuse to allow them to do the work of getting to know someone for us.

Now, the most unsavory part of stereotypes plays into the Monster in the Room - Racism.

Let's go back to that baby I talked about before. If that baby ferments the differences she/he notices inside a cauldron of fear and dislike that he/she receives directly from the adults in his/her life?  It is, I think, a recipe for disaster.

The internet has been abuzz with a video of a young white American woman who stupidly posted her Anti-Asian rant on You Tube.  She has since apologized, removed the video, and her university, UCLA, is promising to look into it to see if she has violated and "university codes of conduct". One article even asked  "Do Colleges need Mandatory Diversity Classes?" to which I say "Sure - but all the Colleges and Universities I have attended starting in 1992 DID and by then it is almost too late."

See, White People in America generally KNOW it is not cool to start foaming at the mouth and saying some of the crap they may be holding in their brain. Especially when it comes to Racism. Oh, they may THINK it...but the vast majority of them wont say it until they feel safe.  I know this because I have heard it. I know this because I have seen it in my own mother, and her friends.

"Well, you know all these trashy white women having babies with any black guy they meet and then you have a bunch of these kids who don't know WHAT they are running around." ( and here you can insert your own variations on the themes - Gay, Asian, Muslim, Jewish...you name it.)

*cough, cough. That would be Me you are referring to there, family friend who has know me since 1972.

But I am "different" you know - I am MARRIED to the "black guy" in question.  And he's "nice".

Code words, code words, code words. What she meant to say was "Oh Shit, I forgot you were married to a black guy and that little tidbit of racism that just erupted from my mouth should be disregarded because you 1. Caught me and 2. Know Me."

She also knows now to be more careful around me. That, however, doesn't stamp out that ugliness. Just subverts it deeper. I know it is still being thought, being said, being felt - but that I am no longer included in that conversation.

Perhaps this foolish young woman  forgot that she now lives in an age where information moves with unparalleled speed. Perhaps she, like many of her age, have grown so comfortable with technology that they have forgotten that it does not "know them" and so will forgive the lapses of polite white society when indulging her racist rant.

The root of the problem remains. I don't think this is the first time she has said it, or the first time she has heard the hateful things she repeated. I don't think that she is going to reform her ideas, despite any mandatory diversity class she takes at the university level. I do, however, think she will look around and check before saying anything like this in front of people who may not be "SAFE".

We do not, despite anything which gets said over and over on certain media outlets, live in a Post-Racial society.  Electing President Obama did not erase the root of the problem of racism in America. If anything, it allowed deeply racist people to point at the election, throw up an elaborate smokescreen and declare the work to be Done! Voila! See! Not Racist! Move On Here! Nothing to See!

The work of digging out the tangled roots of racism must be done when children are young. It must start in Child Care and Early Learning Centre's where children can test out their ideas with adults who are well educated in doing the  hard work of Anti-Bias Curriculum.

By the time a child gets to University, they write essay's in their multi-cultural society classes about how oppressed THEY are, as Privileged White Students...or how culturally astute they are because of their Filipino nanny/housekeeper.

I know, because I have read and graded those essay's in those classes at University.

If we truly want to start to significantly end racism in America, then more classes at University isn't going to help. We need to meet the Racists, in the crib, and start from there.

4 Baleful Regards:

Gurukarm said...

Absolutely HAD to click "love" and "truth" for this one, Dawn.

Story my family used to love to repeat about me: My mom and dad owned and ran a tractor dealership when I was very little; they worked long hours and I was in day care (then known as "family friend who watches kids" :-) ); this friend also had foster kids.

For awhile she cared for a tiny black baby who I vaguely remember. But the story was, the first time I saw her bathe the baby, I excitedly exclaimed "Oh look! He's dirty all over!"

Hmmm... that would have been a good teachable moment, no? I just remember everyone thinking it very funny, and the source of lots of later laughter.

I always enjoy your posts on early childhood education, Dawn. Thanks for educating those of us WAY past early childhood :-)

sweatpantsmom said...

Amen, Dawn. (I have a racism post coming up tomorrow but it will be nowhere near as eloquent as this.)

Anonymous said...

well written, do you have a phd or something?

SUEB0B said...

The thing about racism is that it blinds us and makes us stupid.

Example: I was traveling with a young man of mixed ancestry (black, white, probably other things) who is a very softly spoken Princeton student. He speaks four languages - English, French, Spanish, Mandarin. A man took it upon himself to ask the young man "Why do Black people speak like they do?" He was blind and deaf to the fact that this young man, who fell under his category of "Black" clearly did not behave as he was assuming all Black people do, and was demanding that the young man explain the behavior of a massive group of people, who he assumed all behave the same way, which is just stupid.

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