Friday, September 11, 2009

Perfectly Normal

This Newsweek story is getting some run on the web.

For some reason, it's caused people to sit up and take notice. I guess the fact that babies identify each other by race, or the idea that really young children are anything but colorblind, surprises some folks. I'm sure people are dismayed by how uncomfortable some parents are with discussing race.

Don't count me in that number.

I can't muster surprise. There is no shock. This story doesn't present me with any startling revelations, nor will it require me to reconsider my worldview. Matter of fact, I only had one reaction when I finished checking it out.

Damn, I was right again.

Now, I can't say that I've spent a lot of time musing about whether little children notice race. I've thought about it, but it hasn't been something that has consumed my attention. But, I've always believed that our attitudes about race are deeply ingrained in us due to a combination of our natural human instincts, and our societal indoctrination.

I call my oldest son my mockingbird. That little dude repeats the darnedest things, and loves to mimic my behavior. If I scold him, it's a given I'm going to catch him giving his younger brother a similar scolding. He loves to repeat random tidbits of conversation back to me and my wife and his ears are always open.

I make that point because almost all children are sponges. Just like my little boy learned to say "Michael Jackson" and bob his head at The King of Pop's music because I started playing a Greatest Hits cd, little kids learn about race and discrimination from watching their parents and the world. It's obvious. Teaching kids how to behave is cool, but they will always learn more from watching our actions.

See, we're not just fighting against the world's influences, we're fighting against human instincts. Discrimination isn't a social construct, it's a genetic mandate. In the face of limited resources, humans have always tried to figure out ways to deny access to others. It's as deeply ingrained in us as the desire to fornicate.

Therefore, the current popular idea of just avoiding race and racial discussions is stupid. It's only inviting a place for the same trite ideas about the world to flourish. Because, while certain bad habits are natural, that doesn't make them right. Often times, we need to buck our natural instincts because they do not serve our higher purpose.

Consequently, we have a responsibility to our children to have uncomfortable discussions. We must move outside of our comfort zones because comfort typically leads to stagnation. Only when we push our children on matters of race will they move beyond our failures.



Deacon Blue said...

Your comment about bucking our natural instincts really speaks to me, because some people do argue that "it's only natural" to favor one's own race and push back others.

But by the same token, it's only natural to kill another man who's a rival to you, if you get down to the nitty gritty. Or at least call him out for a duel. And having sex with many partners is pretty "natural" too, especially for men, but yet we strive for fidelity in society.

Why discrimination against anyone for ethnicity, color, religion, gender, etc. should be exempt from such moral imperatives I simply cannot fathom.

Imhotep said...

"It was no surprise that in a liberal city like Austin, every parent was a welcoming multiculturalist, embracing diversity. But according to Vittrup's entry surveys, hardly any of these white parents had ever talked to their children directly about race. "

I'm not surprised, I live in Austin. Now, Austin maybe liberal by Texas standards, but Austin is still the South.

I must confess, I thought that placing children in a multi-cultural environment would bring about a greater acceptance of others, according to the article that's more fiction than fact. Apparently the home is the great breeding ground for racial anxiety and separation.

Unfortunately the indoctrination is complete by the time young Jmmie make it to pre-school. Even the liberal parents are unwitting involved in creating racial anxieties. And some white parents were concerned about Pres. Obama giving a speech to little jimmie, if they only knew, they would have sent Jimmie to school.

Big Man said...

Yeah, people rarely make that logical leap. It always seems simple to me, but I'm a simple dude.


I must admit, I was a little shocked to learn that multicultural environments helped so little. But, when I really thought about it, I realized that while the environment might be multi-cultural, kids were probably picking up on the subtle clues from the adults about all the differences. All though these parents didn't discuss race, their actions likely exposed their true feelings, and children are pretty perceptive.

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