2. August 2013 07:34
"What's a racist?”
That is the question my inquisitive eight year-old daughter asked me, as we watched a story on the Today Show, about Philadelphia Eagles Wide Receiver, Riley Cooper, who was caught on video using the “N-word” at a Kenny Chesney concert. The first word out of my mouth was “wow.” It occurred to me as I was ironing my shirt for work, that we have discussed the Civil Rights Movement, but had not used that word in her presence. As I tried to explain the things that constitute racial attitudes and actions and tried to use examples, the next question was: “What’s N*gger?” At that point, my wife and I just looked at each other in amazement. This word that had lived with us like an unwanted relative all of our lives. This word that has been used to demoralize, stigmatize and degrade. THAT word that has been part of a pop culture tug-o-war over the last twenty years of the Hip Hop generation…….had not touched her little world.
During a week where Mr. Cooper’s drunken rant went viral, an unarmed black man looking for a cigarette in his mother’s car IN his mother’s driveway was nearly killed by Florida police officers because he “didn’t comply,” a national politician said that undocumented immigrants had calves the “size of cantaloupes” from smuggling drugs across the border, and a close friend’s wife overheard a conversation at her workplace in which Brazil nuts were referred to as “N*gger toes”……comes my little angel’s question.
“What’s a racist?”
Part of me felt glad that she had not had to deal with that notion. Part of me felt like my wife and I had done a decent job of enforcing the idea that “everybody is equal” to her and her little sister. However, part of me felt like I had done her a disservice. Although I have tried to be frank with her about how black people and other minorities have been treated throughout history. Although I have explained to her that some people will hate her just because of her skin color, I wondered if I had left out too much. In my effort to shield her from the ugliness of racism, have I not started equipping her with the tools she will need to cope with it? Since the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case, the scab of racism has been peeled off in a new way. Everyone from TV pundits, “leaders” and politicians are debating whether or not “it” still exists. Even as I am writing this piece, I see Internet “commentators” condemning the 60 year old that was shot looking for his cigarette, because “he was acting suspicious looking through his car” or “why was he outside at 3 am?”
Everything happens for a reason, so I feel the events of the last month are happening so we can take yet another look at race in America. Because this country refuses to have honest conversations about systematic racism and the specters of race and class structure, it is cursed to continue to struggle with this issue. As for me and my house, it starts with answering that particular question in detail from here on out.
“What’s a racist?”
Little girl, for the life of me….I wish I didn’t have to tell you.
Ahmad is the Head of Education and Exhibitions, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute