Monday, July 07, 2008

What Makes Someone A Racist?

I ask this question for two reasons, one policy related and the other personal. First the policy reason, the UK Telegraph reports that new guidelines have been issued for day care workers, advising them to watch for racists attitudes in young children. Children as young as three could be tagged as racists for such things as saying "yuk" to a foreign food that have been offered to try.
"The 366-page guide for staff in charge of pre-school children, called Young Children and Racial Justice, warns: "Racist incidents among children in early years settings tend to be around name-calling, casual thoughtless comments and peer group relationships."
Does the fact that a child doesn't like spicy salsa or curry mean that they are somehow against the people from which that particular food originates? And name calling and thoughtless comments can happen nearly every time children interact and play together. To say that such behaviors are rooted in racism, is to imply that the child has hate-filled motivesfor their actions. But how does a teacher or anyone else know when it's rudeness or when it's something more sinister?

Now for the personal reasons. My family and I were accused of being racists a few months ago by a friend I've know for about five years. The various emotions that come from being accused of intentionally showing partiality against another person simply because they are a different skin color skin are intense. When I asked what evidence she had to make such an assertion she said,
"Your children are an open window to the standards and belief systems taught in our home. The body language, glares, and refusal to respond when greeted with a smile or word affirm the spirit of racism. The demeaning attitudes in conversation also give light to the truth in heart. These behaviors and spirit are consistent when your family is present. "
I willingly acknowledged that my children don't always respond perfectly in every situation. Whose children do? However, when pressed for specific instances or how she determined that certain actions were rooted in racism as opposed to bad manners, she responded with, "It is no use and not my job to convince you of a heart condition that only God can address and change. "

I guess I was just supposed to accept her assertion because she said it was true. Unfortunately, no progress has been made. I did use the opportunity to ask several of our friends and acquaintances of various races their thoughts about our family. Thankfully, their opinions did not confirm her accusation, but the sting of her words still remains many months later. What we thought was a wonderful friendship with this family turned out to be something totally different. We are apparently a project for their family and the "exposure" to us helped them experience God's perfecting hand.

The trend toward making a judgment of racism based on a dislike for a food or an individual's alleged poor manners is disturbing. It could be true, but shouldn't the benefit of the doubt be given to the individual until there is more concrete evidence of actual racism? My friend's children have been distracted at times and failed to greet me; yet I never thought they were racist against white people. It seems as though baseless accusations and careless judgments might actually fuel racial tensions rather than diminish them.

As the Presidential race heats up, I can only imagine who will be called racist in the months ahead. Especially when the definition of a racist is left only to those making the accusation.

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