My 5 year old boy came home recently and asked me why a bigger kid kept calling him Chinese Boy. My son, confused, told the boy, “I’m a New Jersey Boy.” He laughed it off, but my eyes welled up. 50 years ago my parents immigrated here from South Korea, but we cannot shake shadow of foreignness.
I was sad because my son shared what was likely his first ever experience of discrimination. For me it wasn’t first time I heard bias about him. People told me “he has cute slanty Chinese eyes,” or “it’s great we teach him English as primary language,” as if our default is foreigner.
When someone joked about whether he was born knowing Kung Fu, it reminded me of the Jackie Chan taunts I got that started “innocent” but then turned dangerous as I got older and found myself attacked by drunk men seeking to prove their strength by beating up “Jackie Chan.”
WHAT DO I SAY?
I was sad because I know this won’t be his last time facing racism. Other times will likely be worse and potentially violent. As a Congressman, I sadly know there is no law I can pass that will protect him fully. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know what to tell him.
I was recently asked asked if my parents ever gave me “the talk” and if I would do that with my kids. The racism AAPIs face is different from black community, so conversations would be different from “the talk” specifically, but I started to think about how I should talk to my kids.
Opinion: Andy Kim and the ‘politics of humility’ in the midst of anti-Asian hate –Jonathan Capehart, The Washington Post
I would want them to hear some of the hurtful words that they may hear from me and their mom first, hoping that might take out some of the bite. I would want to tell them some of the struggles that I faced so they know it happens to others. But what else should I say?
I responded to the question by saying my parents never talked to me when I was a child about discrimination I might face. I called my mom yesterday to seek her thoughts. She told me she wished she had the words then to prepare me. I asked my mom what she would want to tell me as a kid.
My mom said she would tell me about racism I may face and then follow up with “You are very special. Keep being yourself. You are never alone. Whatever problems come, let us know and we will go through together.” The opposite of feeling foreign is to be loved in a community.
I reassured my mom that she raised me well and with strength to face down discrimination. She and I then talked about what we think the boys are taking away from growing up during this moment of immense chaos in our nation where racism is so out in the open?
We both agreed that when I talk to my boys about racism they might face that I should also raise the racism/hate that others face. I would tell them that we stand against discrimination in all forms. Want them to know both their vulnerabilities and their privileges.
KNOW THE STRUGGLE OF OTHERS
I read this powerful article that says our kids “need to know the world we are in. And your children do, too, no matter what color their skin.” Tough conversations are not just for certain communities, but for everyone.
In black families like mine, the race talk comes early and it’s painful. And it’s not optional. –Khama Ennis, The Washington Post
STAND FOR ALL
I will teach them names of George Floyd along Hyun Jung Grant (Korean American mom killed in ATL). The type of racism/discrimination that AAPIs face is different than others communities of color. We have different types of “talks.” But we stand up for all.
I’m going to get ready to have that talk with my son. I’m a bit nervous. He’s such a sweet boy and I don’t know how he will take it. He’s 5 so I won’t go into everything but I think it’s good to get conversation started as they grow up fast. I’ll let you know how it goes.