The title of the post is the question I got from 7 1/2 year old A this weekend. The explanation was a LOT harder. Here's the story.
This weekend we were super duper busy. We were on the go most of the weekend doing various things. One of those things included heading to a local festival. It was just me and the kids since Chuck was having his "Dad alone time". Side story, he spent time with the kids so I could go back to school clothing shopping, to the grocery AND took a nap. I wasn't going to force my crowd disliking husband to go to a festival after all that.
Okay, so we were with some friends hanging out at the festival. At the end we began walking back to where we parked. During that walk 2 older teenage boys (maybe early 20's) were walking very close to us. They were also speaking very loudly and paying zero attention to the fact that small children were near them. Their conversation were speckled with the f-bomb and other forms of colorful language. Then it happened. They dropped not one, but two racial slurs. I stopped mid-step. I could not believe that such language would just be tossed out like it was no big deal. The worst part? A heard it. She picks up on every word she's not heard before. That's when I got the question "Mommy, what does _____ mean?". Oh dear.
I quietly told her that I would explain it when we got home and Chuck was present as well. You see, Chuck and I have made a very concious effort to shield our children from any type of language like that. From any type of discrimination. From any stereotypes. Now, we aren't oblivious. Far from it. We actually know that at some point our children will be faced with someone who has all types of prejudice. What we are hoping is that by teaching them that everyone is equal and differences aren't scary, make them less or better, or worth judging someone over.
When we arrived home from the festival, we sat down with A to have a conversation. We told her that sometimes people use words to describe others that aren't nice. We told her that those were two of them and speaking that kind of language in our home is very, very unacceptable. We ask her to put herself in the position of the person being called that name and ask how she would feel. This is where I'm thankful for a daughter who has a tender soul. She cried. She said she wished people wouldn't say mean things to others.
We did this without making it a racial thing. You see, in our home no one is ever referred to by the shade of their skin. No one is ever discussed by the country they may come from. In conversations we've had with the kids that involve differences we've heard them described as "you know Mommy, my friend with the really curly hair" or "my friend who can speak a different language". Most of the time, they are just referred to as "my friend (insert name here)". This is the way we want our children to know their friends. By what type of person they are, not their ethnicity.
However, sometimes there are differences and we have always encouraged our kids to ask questions. I have a very dear friend who is a native of India. All 3 of my kids have ask her questions about growing up in a different country. What types of foods she likes to eat (because she is an awesome cook and they love her food) and why she sometimes wears a sari. Are those offensive? According to my friend the answer is a No! She welcomes questions and likes teaching the kids about her culture.
A has a friend in a wheelchair as well. I remember well the first time she met her. It was at a park. A had been looking at her and I finally ask her what she was looking at. Her answer was "Mommy, she has the coolest hair I've ever seen". I was floored. While most people would have been looking at her chair and wondering what happened, my daughter wanted to know how she got her hair fixed that way. I encouraged A to go and ask and a friendship formed. A friendship based on hair ribbons.
I guess we are doing something right.
I hope, pray and wish those young men who were throwing around slurs find the error of their speech. I know they may not, but you never know. I believe there is good in each person and that everyone knows right from wrong. It's up to them to choose the right way and change.
The bottom line is, we live in an ever increasing global society. I want my children to be able to ask about differences. I want them to learn about different cultures. I want them to be okay with asking about things. I want them to be educated.