Saturday, January 3, 2009

Racism From Generation To Generation

For those that cannot view the video: The child is saying sparkling wiggles but it sounds like fucking niggers.


Child: Hey Sparkling wiggles. There's so many sparkling wiggles at the party. 

Parents: No sparkling wiggles here

Child: No sparkling wiggles here

Parent: Say get a job sparkling wiggles

Child: Get a a job sparkling wiggles

Clearly this child is not to be faulted for her mispronunciation of sparkling wiggles.  When children are learning how to speak, they often confuse words.  The issue here is that her parents are delighted with her mispronunciation enough to encourage her to repeat it and add a racialized feature.  To add insult to injury they then put this little video on youtube. 

People who want to know why it is that we have not experienced the death off racism and white privilege need look no further than examples like this.  This innocent child is being encouraged by her parents to utter a racial epithet repeatedly.   At her age she is far too young to understand exactly what she is saying, and that it demeans an entire race of people.  What she is learning is that her parents find this acceptable and cute.  She will repeat this over and over again.  We teach children though our approval, or disapproval what is standard behaviour in our society.  We socialize them into performing certain acts and teach them to understand the world through a lens of their race, class and gender.

In this hilarious video, the little girl has learned not only that she is white, but that this whiteness comes with privileges.  She is barely a toddler and already the world has taught her that she has a power that she may wield over others simply by existing in the body that she does. 

Power is one aspect that we often leave out of our conversations about racism.  Being a racist is not simply saying negative things about a group of people, it is having the power to make these statements real.  It is about having the ability to negatively impact the lives of others based on unearned privilege.  It is about knowing that you will have advantages in life that others will not have and using this power to ensure that the "others" will forever exist as secondary in the social imagination.

I understand that this all seems a bit much from a 30 second youtube video, but racism begins in small, private moments.  It starts the first time a child views a cartoonish image of a person of colour and it is not deconstructed, and explained as wrong by a parent.  It is reinforced if a parent uses racial epithets, or constructs all of the "others"of this world as negative, desperate beings.  On an average day just in media viewing alone a child will see many negative examples of POC, and if a parent does not explain the historic inequalities between the races and how they came into existence, what is a child to think but that this is the natural course of events?

We teach that the difference between the races is natural.  Just look at the different cultures, how could we all be separate and equal?  It seems right somehow to privilege some over others until we realize that by adding a value discourse to difference many end up living lives of marginalization and exploitation.  If we decide that only whiteness is worthy, the cost for failing to meet the impossible standard means that POC will forever occupy the bottom rung of social hierarchy.

Whiteness invests in the racial imbalance on a daily basis,  it is a necessary act to keep building on the power base.  It is not accidental that education focuses on the achievements of whiteness, and reinforces racial privilege.  By the time a child is in kindergarten it has already internalized many negative stereotypes even if they have not developed the ability to speak coherently about it yet.  When they enter the education system it is comforting to them because it is simply a continuation of the racist ideals taught in the home and through their media viewing.

As a parent I am committed to teaching my children not to equate difference with value, but I am more than aware that I am in the minority in this.  Though we speak of being post racial, few have the real dedication that it takes to confront racism on a daily basis.

We may have the good sense not to have a house dedicated with swastikas, or say nigger, spic, or gook, in their presence, but if every other action that we perform teaches them the code to reinforce a difference and value based discourse we might as well use the language of hate.  Teaching them to express power through a coded performance means that racism will be with us for generations to come.  Power concedes nothing without a forced demand.

H/T Sociological Images via Cara @ twitter

No comments: