Every day, as a woman of color, I am confronted by small indignities of life. From the innocuous question of being asked “Where are you from?” to confronting those who racially profile me as a foreigner, every day, I am exposed to people with good intentions who perpetuate inconspicuous form of racism.
Racism is not exclusively about white men dressed in white hoods burning crosses, and it implicates more than terror and violence that people of color have experienced throughout the history.
The belief in white supremacy is more than overt displays of racial hatred, and sadly, detecting and confronting insidious racism can be more challenging. Even for someone like me who considers themselves to be proficient on racial issues, these covert form of racism can be daunting, and more often, awkward to confront.
The stereotypes that perpetuate so-called positive attributes can be also demeaning, as the revelation of my Korean heritage often incites a response, “Oh, Koreans are great programmers.” or a stranger who goes out of her way to tell me, “You speak good English.” Just because the statement is made without hostility or with a smile doesn’t mean their words or actions are not racist.
Racism isn’t always angry and mean. It’s subtle, mild and, at times, even friendly.
I frequently encounter well-meaning people who would inadvertently reveal their unconscious bias and in the midst of a conversation casually drop a statement that would indicate their bigotry.
Unintentional but insidious bias are the most disarming, and confronting racism is even more daunting as a parent. I know all too well that our son will face the same issues, and it’s heartbreaking to think that inevitably, he too will have to walk through this muddy river of racism.
How do you explain to a child born in the year that our country’s first African American president was elected the indignities of racism? More importantly, how do I help him to navigate through its impact on his life?
During our recent trip to France, my husband, our son and I dined in a restaurant in a small village, where we met the owner who welcomed us as if we were old friends. We were taken aback by his hospitality, and during dinner, he joined us at our table and had a great conversation about our lives and our children. As I often find while traveling, I was delighted to see that once again as parents, we were able to connect and talk about our shared experiences.
Then, after sharing quite a few drinks, the conversation turned to politics, specifically American politics and Donald Trump. It was a topic I was accustomed to discussing, as my friends, especially in Europe remain astonished by the fact that we, Americans, elected a man like Trump to the highest office in the country.
However, the anticipated questions became a statement as the owner of the restaurant proclaimed that he agreed with Trump. He began reciting the dogmatic anti-immigrant rhetoric I have heard too often from Europeans and Americans alike, and he went so far as to state that the immigrants from African and Arab countries were to be blamed for all the economic woes and violence in his country.
As I sat listening to his argument, my head began to spin at the realization that our host, who had been so gracious all evening, was a raving racist. Although I felt anger rising from every inch of my body, as my husband and my son simultaneously came to the same realization, I knew we had a choice to make.
The three of us could have simply walked out of the restaurant, but then again, I asked my self what would be the impact of our action. I doubt that he would ever see himself as a racist. More likely, we would be viewed as an overly sensitive Americans, and he would continue to perpetuate his racist views.
Instead, I decided to engage in a dialogue with him. I told him that violence was also rampant in America, most of which were being perpetrated by white men using assault weapons to shoot and kill innocent people – children at schools, concerts and even movie theaters. Even worse, the legislative body made up of overwhelmingly white men allowed these assault weapons to be sold in malls, at trade shows and on the internet because they benefit from the funds that pro-gun organizations, namely NRA, provide.
Putting my outrage aside, I managed to reiterate my point that despite all the atrocities committed by white men, it is ludicrous and nonsensical to blame an entire group for the actions of individuals, and for that reason, the racist actions and policies of Donald Trump are egregious.
After a few more hours of discussion, we cordially ended our evening with our host wishing us a “bon voyage”. I don’t know if our conversation will have an impact on him or change his warped views about immigrants. However, I was glad that I had spoken up and had a chance to present a perspective which he would not have been exposed to otherwise.
For me, the most important part of the evening was when we walked outside the restaurant, and my son turned to me and said, “Mom, I guess nice people can be a racist too.” At that moment, I knew, the best way to teach my son about racism is through my actions.