As the parent of three children under the age of 13, I certainly don’t look forward to having “the talk.”
In fact, I outright dread it. And I don’t scare easy. I can handle talking to my kids about sex, finances, God, death.
But there is still one topic that gives me pause: racism. And that includes all the related topics that spring from there — ethnocentrism, xenophobia, nativism. If you dive into all of that with your kids, and get it wrong, you can do a lot of damage.
I consider my kids (ages 7, 10 and 12) to be the products of a mixed marriage — with a father who is a Mexican-American born in Central California, and a mother who is a Mexican born in Guadalajara. They’re being raised comfortably, 10 minutes from the ocean, in an affluent suburb of San Diego that seems light years away from the places their parents grew up. They have cushions, advantages, support systems and safety nets.
I expect that my kids think of themselves as full-blooded Americans. But, when filling out census forms and job applications, they’ll probably check the box marked “Latino.”
And the big question is whether that designation will be a disadvantage or an asset?
My parents probably wondered the same thing about 40 years ago, when I was the age that my kids are now. While they were both born in the United States, they came up the hard way as the children of migrant workers. In the 1950s, 60s and 70s, my parents experienced overt discrimination in education and employment.
Of course, they didn’t want that for my brother, sister and me. Like all parents, they wanted to protect us from all that was ugly and unfair. But, as they would later explain, while they wanted to be honest with us about the road ahead, they also didn’t want to make us oversensitive to perceived slights or paranoid about being mistreated or discriminated against. As Mexican-Americans, they didn’t want our ethnic background to be held against us. But nor did they want us to use it as a crutch or an excuse when things didn’t go our way.
That makes sense. But it wasn’t until I became a parent myself that I fully understood how difficult this is to pull off. It’s quite a balancing act. And it doesn’t help that my kids are marinating in the same juices that all Americans stew in, where we alternate between obsessing over race and ethnicity, and trying to ignore it.
At a recent conference in Seattle that was well-populated by liberals and Democrats, I heard a woman whose politics seemed to be left-of-center say that she wasn’t surprised that Donald Trump was elected because, well, she and her husband have a place in Louisiana, and so they’d seen firsthand that there are a lot of “racist people” out there.
So everyone who voted for Trump is a racist? All 62,984,825 people? They’re all racist?
And don’t forget: This figure for Trump voters includes, we now know, a good number of folks who — four and eight years earlier — voted for the country’s first African-American president. That’s a sudden onset of racism, isn’t it?
Just don’t waste your time trying to argue these points with my wife and some of my friends. They insist that the major force driving the 2016 presidential election was anti-Latino racism. Pure and simple. And they’re frustrated that I don’t see it that way. They cite the fact that Trump went after Latinos from day one and that he repeatedly made the case that — in essence — America was a fine place until all these brown-skinned immigrants showed up. And, they point out, voters heartily embraced that message, some of them even responding to Trump’s victory by committing hate crimes against Latinos.
True enough. But this is a big and complex country. And Americans are a complicated bunch whose voting patterns are not easily discerned. There were many reasons for people to vote for Trump, and not all of them were nefarious. I may disagree with how someone voted, but that doesn’t mean I feel compelled to insult his character and impugn his motives.
After all, what is racism but a more malignant version of prejudice where people who don’t know you freely jump to conclusions and judge you in the most negative light possible.
Gee. That’s horrible. We should take a stand against that sort of thing, right? By doing what? By jumping to conclusions and judging another group of people we don’t know in the most negative light possible? Good plan.
Looks like this is another “talk” we should be having with our kids.
Ruben Navarrette is a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group, a member of the USA Today Board of Contributors, a columnist for the Daily Beast, and author of “A Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano” (Bantam).