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What do you say to a four-year-old white supremacist?

Discussion in 'Culture & Lifestyle' started by Lord Princess, May 17, 2018.

  1. Lord Princess

    Lord Princess Well-Known Member
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    What do you say to a four-year-old white supremacist?
    Lamees El-sadek

    Thu 17 May 2018 06.00 EDT

    A child’s uncensored racist commentary is a harsh reminder that while society has moved forward, the book on discrimination isn’t closed yet

    [​IMG]
    ‘The issue is that the same four-year-old boy who does not think brown or black skin is marriageable will likely hold other oppressive prejudices.’ Photograph: Rob Dobi
    I try to be sympathetic, although not accommodating, to the fact that entire generations of Americans were explicitly taught white skin is superior. But it’s difficult to be sympathetic when those beliefs are expressed by a four-year-old.

    It was Friday night, 22 February 2015. My friend Nuha (a Sudanese American) and I (an Egyptian American) walked into a restaurant in Jackson, Mississippi. Both of us are different shades of non-white. The scene could have taken place anywhere in America.

    The waitress seated us at the corner of the hibachi table, next to a white man who appeared to be in his mid-30s and his two young sons. As I reached to pull my chair away from the table, the youngest boy, the one sitting adjacent to my seat, looked at me and said: “White skin don’t marry brown skin, but it’s OK, you can sit here anyway.”

    I stood frozen, hand still on the chair. I looked at Nuha. “Did we just return to the 1960s?” Nuha echoed: “I think we did.” The father, too, sat frozen: fork mid-air, eyes bulging. No one else was at the table other than the five of us.

    We didn’t know what to do. No one teaches you this type of dinner table conversation when they teach you to pass the salt with the pepper. We stood agape, until we processed that we hadn’t hallucinated those words. Then, we did what we came to do: we sat down.

    •••

    Just 12 days earlier, 12 miles away from where my own sister lived at that time, I had received a late night phone call. Three Muslim Americans had been murdered inside their own apartment. Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha: they were my friend’s brother, his bride of less than six weeks and the bride’s sister.

    Later we would find out they were murdered execution-style, through the head. They additionally had multiple bullets inside their bodies. Their murderer hated religion, and the women visibly wore their religion through their headscarves. Chapel Hill could have been anywhere in America.

    Out of despair, like so many fellow Muslims during that period, I wanted to retreat from human interaction for a long while. Thinking too much about the capacity of the human potential to do evil can depress anyone. Still, not wanting to give in to the power of hate-inspired ideology a group of us in Mississippi co-organized an interfaith peace vigil for the three murdered.

    It was on the eve of this vigil that the four-year-old boy uttered those words to me.

    I asked the child how old he was, and the little boy raised four fingers to illustrate. The boy looked up at his hand with pride; he had lifted the right number of fingers.

    Nuha asked the boy: “Who taught you that brown skin and white skin don’t marry?” The little boy looked confused, as though we had asked an unnecessary question. He then timidly looked to his right and slowly lifted his finger, pointing at his father.

    “You did, Dad!”

    He stuttered. “N-no, no I didn’t. I never taught you that. Maybe it was your mom, but I didn’t teach you that.”


    You cannot not speak up when someone who’s only been in this world for four years thinks he’s more valuable than you

    And so it was: instead of addressing his son’s uncensored racist commentary, the best this father could do in the moment was pass the blame on to his wife.

    We then asked the kid: “What’s wrong with brown skin?” Half talking to us, half talking to his son, the father stared down at his child and emphatically interjected: “There’s nothing wrong with brown skin. Absolutely nothing wrong with brown skin.”

    As he talked, the father never glanced up to look at us. In fact, the father finished his entire dinner and never once did his eyes look into ours.

    I still wonder on the nuanced conversations that must have happened with this boy, for him to (attempt to) differentiate between brown and black skin. I wonder what he would have said if we had told him both our families are from Africa.

    Nuha and I continued to dialogue with the boy, telling him that black, brown and white are simply “outside colors”. We both felt uncomfortable lecturing someone else’s child, especially when the father was sitting at the same table. But you cannot not speak up when someone who’s only been in this world for four years thinks he’s more valuable than you. And so we talked. We had an hour-long conversation with a four-year-old boy, while his dad sat in silence.

    Whatever we attempted to accomplish in that hour was merely mitigation and exposure on our part. At the end of the night, we were aware that the boys would return to a home that believed they innately deserved different things from our families.

    For a few days, I was angry. That night reminded me that legislation, workplace policies and institutional diversity and inclusion offices may force incremental social justice advancement, but they can’t force change of hearts and maybe not even change of minds. The belief that one group of people is superior to another – the literal meaning of white supremacy – doesn’t actually disappear.

    The most powerful and regenerating sources of hate are the ones that people of color cannot touch, let alone fight

    That night reminded me that the most powerful and regenerating sources of hate are the ones that people of color cannot touch, let alone fight. They’re in the conversations that you’ll never hear, because the people who have them are smart enough to not discuss them in public, or at least not fully.

    The Monday after that conversation, I went to work andanalyzed, wrote and submitted four scientific abstracts linking race to adverse health outcomes in Mississippi. As an epidemiologist, I thought that was the most powerful thing I could do, through the power of my vocation, to speak to that Friday night. That was my translation of anger.

    All four of the abstracts were accepted to our country’s largest national public health conference. There, I talked to dozens of academics and practitioners about the mechanisms by which race and racism manifest themselves in health outcomes. I never mentioned that four-year old boy to anyone at that conference, even though he was the person who put me in that room. Actually, he was more important than the data.

    While anger took me to the conference, I left it feeling hopeless. I had realized that data could take us only so far. I could write 100 research papers linking racism to poor health and short lifespans, and I would still not be speaking to the power of that family and their social circle. Boys like the one I had met don’t roam in public health conferences. I don’t have unfiltered access into their living rooms. In fact, I don’t even know which living rooms in which they grow.

    This fight was not my fight.

    •••

    There are no certain prescriptions or blueprints for how white allies should operate in the movement to protect the dignity of minority groups. But for starters, as part of the social contract in which we live, you have an obligation to at least participate.

    You can legislate society toward justice and make great systemic change in the distribution of resources, but you cant legislate hearts, minds and opinions. That work lives on the ground, in the streets and in homes, among everyday white Americans.

    The issue is not so much whether that four-year-old boy would be interested in marrying my future children of color. The issue is that the same four-year-old boy who does not think brown or black skin is marriageable will likely hold other oppressive prejudices against my children that will make their lives unjustly difficult. So, yes, affirmative action has propelled society forward, but affirmative action is not what will close the book on racial discrimination.

    Sacrifice the comfort of your silence to speak up in the moments where we are absent. Sacrifice your comfort, even when we are present, but still not presented.

    The work that will fundamentally change America’s race relations is the work that white people must commit themselves to doing among themselves. It’s not work that Nuha and I can do. Remember, I tried. It wasn’t the right living room, and I’ll never be the right person.

    The four and eight-year-old boys who sat with us at the hibachi table, three years ago, are now seven and 11 years old. I wonder what else they’ve learned in these three years.

    If you’re white, you likely know more than me.
     

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