For a few days, I scrolled right past the headline without clicking. “Elder students aim racial taunts at St. Xavier basketball players.” Really? We just made national news for team jerseys sporting racial slurs, which no coach or parent bothered to intervene before they headed to the printer. And now THIS. I couldn’t bear to read another story of despicable behavior by teens in our city. I am aware it happens way too frequently. I didn’t want the details.
Today, I clicked and sighed so loudly at the summary of events I read that it caught my teen’s attention. He asked what I was reading. So I began to read aloud the events recounted by local sports columnist, Paul Daugherty, who claims that “we’re all better than this.” I only got as far in the story as one mom going home and crying after fans of the opposing team chanted, “P.F. Chang,” “Open your eyes,” and “A-sian,” at her son. For over half the game, not a single adult stopped the teen fans from yelling their hateful cheers. Like Nate’s mom, I was choked with tears and couldn’t read any further.
My husband took my phone and finished reading the article aloud to both of us. Neither he nor my son seemed surprised by the events. While my heart was breaking for this mom (as well as the boys involved), they couldn’t really muster any shock that this happened. As second and third generation Asian-Americans, they are well aware of the world we live in. They live in a world–in a city–where things like this happen regularly. And while I worry about the hateful words my children will encounter, I know many moms have even greater worries about the physical danger their children face because of skin color.
Despite what Daugherty suggests, I do not think we are better than this. Unfortunately, THIS IS US, Cincinnati. We might be able to do better, to be better, but we are not there yet. The news keeps confirming this. Are we going to let it continue?
Let’s be clear—those teenagers would not be chanting racist slurs if the adults in their lives made it crystal clear that racism is wrong. It would not be the third quarter of a game before adults step in and stop racist chanting if all the adults in the room believed racist chants are wrong. It would not be the second time in as many months that adults had to give token apologies for poor behavior learned in private that kids then displayed in public.
Yes, behavior learned in the privacy of our own homes becomes the behavior our children take into the world with them. Children learn most from what we do, not what we say. So what are we teaching them by sitting quietly by when racism enters our homes and lives?
Oh, not in my house, you say? Look again, I say. Look around when you have a holiday gathering. Look around as you listen to the news. How many times have our children heard adults—politicians, news reports, television shows, and even our own relatives—express racist views without being challenged? Do we let it go to keep the peace, so that no one feels uncomfortable, to avoid a difficult discussion? Or do we point out to our children, right then and there, with no qualms or hesitation, that those views are completely unacceptable?
I have been known to pause the television to point out how backward an idea is, how a scene promotes racism or sexism, or why the person talking is not someone whose thinking we agree with. You can imagine how much my children love that, but what mom doesn’t love a teachable moment, am I right? However, I am also as guilty as anyone of staying silent when I should be speaking up instead.
Over the recent holidays, we visited an elderly relative who told us a story from her childhood. Her story included language that is no longer acceptable, assumptions that aren’t true, and stereotypes that are hurtful. Because of this person’s age and long-standing, unspoken family rules, I listened quietly. I didn’t stop her or even comment. When we got in the car, my children’s faces said, “What the heck was that?” Of course, we talked it through, and I made sure to point out all that was wrong with the story. But you know what? I WAS WRONG. My children deserved for me to speak up in the moment, to say to our relative that her ideas and words are not true, not kind, and not ok with me. All children deserve to live in a world where adults speak up for what is right instead of allowing hate and intolerance to continue unchecked.
I can no longer let my children sit through a lesson on being a racist without challenging it simply to keep the peace. Not with family, not with friends, not at a sporting event, not with anyone. I can do better. We all can. And we have to, for the sake of our kids. It will take work, but we can change this, Cincinnati.