I’ve been sitting on this essay for a while. There’s a juggling routine that requires precision or the balls come tumbling and everyone you know unfriends you.
Let’s be provocative for a moment. When exactly is the right time to teach my daughter to be racist?
I have a confession to make. I’m a bad father. I’m allowing my daughter to think she lives in a world where race doesn’t matter. Where she is just another kid in the sea of other kids.
From the beginning, my daughter was born in Korea to Korean teenagers. My wife and I were privileged to be selected by her parents and grandparents to allow a Chinese father and Caucasian mother to raise their child in America.
My daughter then was thrown into Chinese family gatherings on my side and the more traditional white American gatherings on my wife’s side. But I chickened out. I made to attempt to differentiate between the two families. So this Thanksgiving we’re spending the afternoon with the white family and the evening with the Chinese family. All my daughter knows is she’s having dinner with her mother’s family and then her dad’s. In other words, two turkey dinners.
Here’s where things get tricky. My daughter soon makes friends with the girl who lives next door. The family next door just moved to our neighborhood from Peru. Every day after school, my daughter asks, “Can I go next door and play?” I say yes, but then I remain silent. As she walks in, I think “They’re different from you.” When it gets dark, I walk next door and catch my daughter and her friend dressed as Disney Princesses.
Then the fateful day, new neighbors move into the house of our Peruvian friends. They have three daughters, all white and the oldest quickly becomes my daughter’s best friend. Out comes the My Little Ponies toys for hours of amusement. Then the endless hours, watching Inside Out and Despicable Me. Now they’re coordinating their Halloween costumes for yet another Frozen Halloween. In the back of my mind, I keep thinking should I tell her about the Caucasian atrocities from long ago. Can she really trust these people?
What about school? Every day I drop her off and most of the students there are white. Sure there are a lot of Asian, Hispanic, African, and Persian-American kids, but it’s mostly white. Every day, I wonder if I should warn her. Will she understand that “mostly white” is the foreshadowing of something more sinister as she grows older? Should I continue to let her believe that her friends are simply individuals with names and that the difference in skin color is no different than hair color? How much longer do I keep the secret from her?
What if I die before I tell her the truth about race in America? If I died tomorrow, my daughter would naively walk the streets of America believing she is just as good and has the same value of her white, Hispanic, Persian, Asian and African-American friends.
What if one day, my adult daughter confronts her aging father and demands to know what her dad kept the race secret from her?
“Dad, why didn’t you tell me I couldn’t reach my full potential in life because of institutional racism,” she says as she drops me off at the old age home.
“Why didn’t you tell me I’m earning 20% less than my male co-workers and for the same kind of work,” she screams at me just before she pulls the plug on my life support.
For now, I will remain the coward and keep the race thing a secret. For now, I will let her believe she can be whatever she wants to be, even though she’s not white or male.
As with all lies though, you can’t hide the truth forever. So, when do I teach my kid to be racist?