On the last leg of my trip home from China, I asked the man sitting next to me what he did for a living, and he told me he was a documentary film maker. He mentioned the name of his most recent film, Prom Night in Mississippi, and I was happy to respond that it was one of the best documentaries I had seen. In fact, after I had watched it the first time, I had my kids watch it with me as well, so that we could talk about the important issue of racism. He went on to tell me that he had founded the nonprofit Moving Beyond Prejudice, which works with students and community groups across the world to empower change. That began a three hour conversation between the two of us on a variety of life issues.
As the mom of two transracially adopted children, I couldn’t pass up the chance to ask Paul Saltzman for advice, since he has held discussion groups for thousands of teen and college students across the country on the topic of prejudice. I shared with him that my middle school aged daughter was experiencing continual comments and jokes at school about her being Chinese – immature incidents such as boys pulling their eyes back with their fingers, telling others that her middle name is probably “Ching Chong Chang”, or being asked, “What’s up, flat face?” Juvenile events, but ones that still hurt and make her churn inside. And so I asked him for his advice on what one should say when told, “You smell like fried rice.” And I wanted to share it here today since so many of our supporters are transracial adoptive parents as well.
He told me that it is almost impossible to reason with someone who is truly racist, and so you have to judge each situation for the best way to respond. But he said that many times the person doesn’t even realize that what they said was wrong. He told me to tell my daughter to calmly reply, “That wasn’t funny.” And he said almost always the person will reply with one of two comments. They will either say, “Don’t be so sensitive!” or they will say, “Gosh, it was only a joke.” And he said my daughter should then just calmly say once again, “Well, it wasn’t funny” and often leave it at that. He said that hopefully what that will do to a kid or teen who isn’t necessarily a racist but instead just making a stupid remark is to make them stop and realize that their words were hurtful… and maybe plant the seed that they shouldn’t say something insensitive like that again.
For me the flight ended much too soon, but I bet he was glad when we touched down in Oklahoma. : ) It is always wonderful to meet someone who has experienced an interesting life such as his, and I agree with his thoughts completely that overcoming inequality begins with first addressing the prejudices and beliefs that we hold inside our own hearts.
How much prejudice do your children currently experience at school? What advice have you passed on to them in handling the incidents?
~Amy Eldridge, Executive Director