Saturday, February 19, 2011

Face to Face with Racism

We live in a community of immigrants.  It is perfect for us, and we enjoy the different nationalities that our kids get to interact with on a daily basis.

Our kids are from a mixed marriage.  At first glance, they don't look "foreign".  If you take a closer look at the dark eyes on my lighter boys, or take a second look at them, you might notice.  Most of the time, they could pass for white, or they could pass for my husband's nationality.  They are well-blended.

In their small Christian school full of kids from all over the world, my kids never even mentioned who they were - if they did, it was just a passing, "Yeah, I'm half ______ and half ______".   They were more interested in counting how many races they had in one place and learning about where people were from than anything else.

It wasn't until my oldest graduated to a high school nearby that he came home a few times with interesting comments.  "That school is all from one place!"  and "Besides the ten ________, I am the darkest person there."  and "There is no one like me.  They are all white."

I found it interesting.  It was the first time my son had identified himself, and he identified as non-white.  I am interested to see how they continue to identify themselves as they grow.

But it was recently, in our family's attempts to get in shape, that my kids came face to face with their first real racism.  I hope they did not notice, but I did.  I was shocked.

We bought a membership to a local community pool.  The kids are taking swimming classes and my husband and I are doing some exercises in the workout room attached.  We enjoy the times to swim as a family, but we've noticed that our kid's eyes burn and the two who have excema were itching horribly after swims.  I went to the pool office to ask why the chlorine was so high.  Thankfully only my two younger ones were with me, and I think they were distracted by all the noise of the pool deck.

The lady kindly explained to me that yes, this pool is a bit highly chlorinated and that it can cause problems with their skin while they are getting used to it, but that they will usually get used to it after a few weeks.  I asked why it was that high.  The lady turned, gestured to the pool, and said, "Well, as you can see, we get a lot of immigrants here at this pool, and well, you know....  We chlorinate it higher, but it is really for your protection since we have so many newcomers. It is to keep you safe."

I just walked away.  I should have said something, but I was just stunned.  My protection against what?  Immigrants?  Hey, I'm married to one!  What are foreigner germs more dirty than white people germs?  Keep me safe?  From what?  Foreign cooties?

I was angry.  Angry that my kids had to hear that... but I said nothing.  I think the two were not listening, thankfully.

We chose to still go.  Not because of the pool's staff, but because of the very immigrants who swim there.  I enjoy sitting in the parent's section and hearing six different languages going on around me.  I smile at the chance to share with those covered in head scarves when they ask about my husband and my faith.

But there is a part of my heart that is sad as I encounter racism in the world my children are growing up in.  They will meet it in a few people.  I only hope that they know that it is those who look down on others who are smaller - not those who are simply from another location in the world.


junglewife said...

Wow, that's interesting. And too bad there are still attitudes like that. Why do people think that people from other countries are "dirty"? Because their skin is darker??? The custom here (well, for Indonesians anyway, I am not sure that it is part of Papuan culture or not...) is to bathe TWO times a day! So "they" are probably more often cleaner than "we" are!

Walking to China said...

Wow! Just wow! I worked with immigrants and refugees for many years but never encountered that level of ignorance and prejudice.

Anonymous said...

Ugh, it's so sickening the things people can say sometimes.

Here in Beirut, Africans, Filipinas, and Sri Lankans are actually NOT ALLOWED in a lot of pools and beaches... it's so ridiculous.