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In 1984 My 4 year Old Son Taught Me About Racism

Updated on July 20, 2020
Susan Shienfield profile image

Susan is an intuitive healer who developed her own guided mediation and healing tools. She has practiced as a therapist for 35 years.

Out of The Mouth of Babes - Comes the Truth

Mommy why is that man’s face so dirty, doesn’t he take a bath?

I was in the middle of the supermarket and in his loudest outside voice he screamed it. I was mortified. Not for yelling the question, but I had just realized he must not have seen a black person before that day.

I sat him down as soon as we got him home and explained to the best of my ability, age appropriate, which for a four year old needs to be simple. I told him he was born that way, just as you were born with white skin. That’s how God made him. Our bodies and brains on the inside are exactly the same.

He was satisfied and at the time so was I. What a difference 36 years can make. I never thought of myself as racist. Up until now I didn’t understand what it really means or what white privelage means as it relates not so much as the opportunities we get but rather to all the negative trials and tribulations that we don’t have to endure.

Trials my son didn’t have to face because his skin is white

He was 18 and it was a Saturday night. He was lucky enough to have his own car and went to party downtown. The rules were simple, don’t drink and drive and the car had to be home by 1:00 a.m. At that time the drug of choice was ecstasy and while I was focused on not drinking he was partying on E which I never even heard of. When he got home past curfew I was first angry and then scared. His windshield was smashed and I was scared he was in an accident or worse.

As it turned out he was high on ecstasy and smashed the window himself. He was stopped by the police and interrogated and they were going to arrest him. He somehow talked them out of it and let him go. He was always a good talker but this must of been a dozer. He told them that he came from a very good home and he had wonderful parents who were going to be very upset. He told them he works very hard at school and hoped to be a successful entrepreneur like his dad and he was terribly sorry for making a bad choice. They let him go. I thought at the time what a lucky break he got . Today. I see it for what it was, white privilege.

What was the white privilege exactly

The police officer looked at him and saw himself. Perhaps something he might have done when he was his age. He resonated and understood him culturally. White from a good home going places…so he gave him a break, a chance and opportunity.

Across the street a policeman was stopping another 18 year old who wasn’t as lucky that same night. He got stopped wearing a hoody and also was high. He wasn’t as articulate or should I say as good as a bull shitter as my son was. He told him “I ain’t doin nothin wrong”. He couldn’t brag about his happy intact family. He could have said how hard his mom works to provide for their family. He could have said how living in his government subsidized housing was difficult and maybe the cop would give him a break; or how he misses school to help look after the little one’s when they were sick so mom can go to work. He wasn’t given a chance or an opportunity, he was arrested.

The cop on a conscious level may very well not have been a racist. What he saw was someone not like him. He did not resonate with his life or his culture. He was probably afraid of what he might do because the gangs in the area are black and he may have had a weapon. And even if he doesn’t have one today he thought it was a good idea to arrest him because tomorrow he will be back and have a weapon.

We are all afraid of what we don’t know and don’t understand

Giving power to someone like that is a recipe for disaster. Is it possible that the cop that night was unconsciously or even still part of his ancestral history and DNA passed down. Black is the color of dirt and like my 4 year old wants to know, why he doesn’t wash it off? The inference being if he washes enough he would look like you and me.

While we know the challenge is deeper then skin color, is it really? Do we really want equality for men, women, black, white, disabled. Or is there a part of human nature that if you don’t look like me, sound like me, dress like me, have the same culture as me then one of us has to be wrong and it must be you that is wrong. Following that scenario, since you were once slaves….if you get equality or more power will you want people who are different then you to be the underdog?

Solutions I have heard, but will they work in the immediate?

  • Defund the police,
  • private or charter schools in poor areas,
  • all board rooms should be comprised of black, white, men, women and disabled who will make decisions reflecting all of society
  • integrate socially with people of all races
  • live in mixed neighborhoods
  • pay people today for what their ancestors suffered
  • education opportunities for both school and families.
  • Teach fathers who never lived in the same family unit with their children how to be committed to raising their son’s in particular.

Families today are more of a triangle then a square.

Above are a lot of good ideas that I don’t believe will happen for many years. You need solutions that are going to work in the immediate. It reminds me of how my husband has tried to explain this eutopia I seek for all my children and grandchildren when they visit us at our country home and have cumbia. All getting along singing songs around the campfire and me smiling to beat the band. When it didn’t happen I was angry and disappointed. Once I stopped having that as my expectation and was happy when they came to visit and enjoyed the moment.

Our family and our extended family is a mosaic. Different cultures, different interests, different personalities, different hopes and dreams. However they all loved coming to grandmas country property to enjoy the surroundings equally. Our larger family, society, is also a mosaic and must be equally entitled to enjoy the surroundings.

A Overly Simple Solution to A Multi Layered Problem

Like my children, stop trying to make so many different people cumbia. However the solution is that everyone gets to enjoy the surroundings equally.

I think in the immediate as we have all witnessed a few bad apples, the problem runs much deeper. Reforms for the police are good but again won’t really address the issue of differences. Hire police to police their own culture. Along with the police hire trained mental health specialists who are of the same culture, who can address the underlying mental health problems that society is increasingly afflicted with. A trained professional who also understand the cultural norms will go along way to unecessary overuse of force when they answer a 911 call. As well, it will go along way to restoring faith in the system.

I worry about the anarchist and a certain segment of BLM (people with money who have hijacked this movement). They are elitist who are not interested in an equal society but seek a different global economy. They believe that change can only come by destroying and burning everything and starting all over again. We all need fair rules that apply to us all if we are to enjoy any semblance of peace. That does sound like more white privilage like don’t come and burn everything I have built because you don’t have it. To be fair if the shoe were on the other foot perhaps I would be protesting for sure and maybe worse as I have been known to have rage.

My mother had a very insightful saying “It’s my shoes that are too tight” When she got breast cancer we all may have felt bad for her but it was happening to her. I really understood it when last year I got breast cancer and truly understood the meaning of “It’s my shoes that are too tight”. My family were terribly upset and my husband felt horrible but it was me who went into battle to first have a double mastectomy and work positively to get through it and rise above it to win the battle.

It’s The Black Community Whose shoes are too tight

This is your battle but many of us want to support you to win. Help us to understand how knowing that most of will never be able to feel the tightness of your shoe even though most of us have worn at one time or another tight shoes.

Is the Word Black ingrained and Referenced in our Psyche as Negative ?

black magic

it was a very dark movie

the sky is black and menacing

black comedy

black face

It Looks Like I’m a Racist according to the Definition on Google

“Racism is the belief that groups of humans possess different behavioral traits corresponding to physical appearance and can be divided based on the superiority of one race over another.”

When I went back to work full time in 1987 I hired a women who had just come to Canada from Grenada. She was wonderful and put my mind at ease when I was at work. She lived in with our family for five years and moved out after she gave birth to her daughter. Although she had a full time job and was able to buy her own home she still came twice a month to clean. The extra money allowed her to send money home to Grenada to help her family.

She is still with me today and comes about once a month. From the day she moved out and came back the first half hour we would just talk and catch up about our lives. She is 10 years younger then myself and I would do my best to help her out with whatever she was going through at the time. Raising kids, working full time and being a single mother was at times very daunting.

Sounds ideal and not racist and I would have agreed back then. However when my son was confirmed, a big celebration as well as when my sons were married, I did not invite her. My reasoning was that she would be the only black person and would probably feel uncomfortable. At least that’s what I told myself then. After all when my mother would ask me to bring her to our family gatherings to do the dishes, I was apalled and told her she wasn’t a maid. I care deeply about her and her family and yet we have never gone out for lunch or shopping together. We moved away 20 years ago about 50 miles from each other and we spend time talking when she’s here to clean but I have never had her family up for the day to just hang out.

Since Covid I have not seen her as she is still working her regular job and has been exposed to a couple of people who tested positive. We check in with each other about once a week and have our talk and catch up.

Now that I am consciously aware of my unconscious racism, I hope to invite her and her children and grandchildren up for a day of fun.

Multiply my awareness with millions of other people and we will be on our way to cumbia or at least equality.

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    • Ken Burgess profile image

      Ken Burgess 

      12 months ago from Florida

      I wonder, in a black neighborhood what the reaction of a four year old black child would have been to a white man being in the store, back in those days?

      What we have today is a world where there are more women than men in college, more blacks than whites with scholarships, we have billionaires who are minorities of all creeds and colors, and we have had a African American First Family.

      That we are creating this culture where we look back at the past aghast at the fact that a country that was 90% white behaved as if the majority were Christian and White is what is ridiculous... because they were, and that was America as it was then.

      Just as hundreds of years ago there was slavery... everywhere in the world... in Africa, in the Middle East, in Europe, there was Indentured servitude and slavery everywhere, with every race.

      It wasn't an American only issue, it wasn't a white only issue.

      You were privileged enough not to be poor, to live in a decent neighborhood, your race didn't guarantee that anymore then than now.

      I have run State programs that helped those below the poverty level, and I can tell you for a fact that there are just as many poor white people out there, as there are any other race.

      Being poor is not a black only issue, and in today's world where tens of millions are losing their jobs, it is going to be equal opportunity for all people regardless of race.

      That said, black communities have been discriminated against by systemic racism more so than any other in America, as is often the case with most minority groups anywhere in the world be they religious or racial.

      Non Chinese are discriminated against in China, non Japanese in Japan, non Muslims are discriminated against in much of the Middle East, etc. etc.

      It is America that fought a war with itself to end slavery, to give equal OPPORTUNITY (not equal outcomes) to all, regardless of race or religion... and here we are on the verge of tearing apart the very system that gave more opportunity and freedoms to the masses than any system ever developed by mankind.

      Its sad to watch a people destroy themselves and lose all perspective.

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