Is my kid racist?

What to do when not so sweet things come out of this sweet mouth...

What to do when not so sweet things come out of this sweet mouth…

Kids say the darndest things…okay, sometimes they are blatantly offensive.

A few weeks ago, I was taking my 5 year old son to our local pool for a swim.  Unfortunately, it was closed for maintenance.  In order to avoid the tantrum that would ensure if I told the boy we couldn’t go swimming, I quickly checked on my phone to see where else we could go (what on earth did people DO before technology existed?).   A quick bit of sleuthing revealed that their was a public swim at another pool a few minutes away.

When we arrived at the alternate location, we had to wait about 20 minutes as there was an adult-only swim happening. This community centre is located in a primarily Asian neighbourhood.  As we sat in the lobby, quite a few groups of people came in and out, speaking to each other in what was likely Mandarin or Cantonese.  My son tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Mama, I need to tell you something in your ear.”

This is his way of indicating that he needs to tell me something that is either a secret or that he knows he probably shouldn’t say out loud.  Nothing prepared me for the next words to cross his lips.

“Mama, I don’t like Chinese people.”

WTF??!!  I was floored.  How did my child who I have taught to embrace all people come to this conclusion?

“Buddy, that’s not a kind thing to say,” I said. “You have lots of Chinese friends…your teachers at daycare are Chinese.  Why would you say that?”

He looked ashamed, which is not how I wanted to make him feel.  He didn’t say what he said out of hatred or intolerance…but I still needed to get to the root of it.

“I just don’t like it when they speak in their language,” he explained.  “I can’t understand what they’re saying.  Maybe they’re talking about me.”

Awesome.  Racist and paranoid.  I felt like parent of the century.

I composed myself.  “Lovey, I know it can be frustrating when people speak a different language and you can’t understand.  I’m sure there are children who don’t know English and feel the same way when they hear you speak.  But, honey, that is no reason to dislike someone.”

His innocent comment then opened up a dialogue about difference and acceptance.  I want my children to grow up knowing that it’s okay to notice differences about others…especially because we live in a city that celebrates diversity.  While I know my son’s comments were not meant in a mean or hurtful way, I explained to him that words can hurt.  I reiterated that it’s not acceptable to decide you do not like someone because of how they look or the language they speak.  He seemed to understand, and off we went for our swim.

Have you had conversations with your children about different races and languages?  How do you approach this topic in your family?



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  1. For what it’s worth, I think you handled it as well as you could have. My kids attend a school with a pretty balanced ethnic mix. My 7 year old is definitely aware that many of his classmates’ families come from different parts of the world (including ours), and that they look differently and speak differently, and I often wonder what he thinks about that. But to be honest, I don’t think he thinks about it all that much.

    One of the great things about growing up in Vancouver in 2014 is that being surrounded by people of all different races, and indeed as Caucasians finding one’s self in the minority oftentimes, is not something that our kids will have to “get used” to. One of the big reasons why we haven’t decamped to the North Shore like so many people we know is that I want our kids to have the benefit of having grown up in a mixed urban environment. I want them to be much more aware of, and open to, the possibilities of the world beyond Vancouver than I was. I think our kids are being raised with a totally different (and much better) mentality than I was, having grown up in a suburb that was 90% white.

  2. I think you handled it well. Although I was raised not to condemn the doer but the deed so explaining this concept may help him in one way or the other given he got Asian friends. And when he’s with his friends who start talking Chinese, perhaps he can remind them to speak in english so he could ride along the conversation. That’s my take. :)

    Good job mom!

  3. This is a great post! You describe not just what children often do, but what adults also struggle with when faced with a disconnect across cultures. We humans love connection and language is one of the most essential ways we can feel empowered to connect with another human being. Your are a such an observant parent…so tuned in! It appears your son just articulated his experienced of his first language related “culture shock”. The way you discuss and support him as he navigates the diversity around him is his best chance at growing into the beauty of the cultural diversity Vancouver has to offer. Who knows what the future holds for your little guy…maybe one day he’ll move to Hong Kong from Vancouver like I did! 😉 The world opened up to me after living in Vancouver. I wrote about it in my latest blog post found here:

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