LWB Community Blog

Children and Prejudice

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.

Paul Saltzman and Morgan Freeman

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

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  • Chris K says:

    My son, Thomas, experiences this on an increasing basis. Being Chinese and having Albinism, in addition to being almost 9 when kids start getting really mean about differences – it is hard on him.

    We have taught him that God created him in an amazing way and the other kids just don’t understand. We have also taught him to simply walk away and find someone else to play with or if they follow him and keep taunting, then to go near the teachers.

    Once this year, when I got repeated reports from T about the difficulties, I asked to come in and help educate the students on his Albinism. I was allowed to talk to his grade level. Most problems came from the grade above his. One year at a time.

    Most of his run-ins stem from his albinism – not from his heritage. Education is the key. Prejudice is about ignorance and then not wanting to change when faced with the truth. Sadly, he is learning that at 8 years old.


  • sandersenmoore says:

    Thanks for sharing this story with our families. So well written, and such good insight. We have only had a small taste of this predjudice so far. Both instances involved my eldest daughter who is 10, and adopted from China. Bullying is a part of life these days, and as sad as that is, it is unfortunately something our children must learn how to handle, without losing their cool. The better we can teach our children how to keep their dignity, pride, and confidence intact, while dealing with these kind of comments, the better they will be able to cope with any of the emotional hurt it may cause them.

    For us, we have told our daughter never to just ‘accept’ it when someone says something that is hurtful to them. If they respond calmly, and just say tell the person they should not say things like that, and the comments continue, they need to quietly and calmly tell another adult. Both times that this happened, it was at school. Both times it escalated to the point she told her teacher without the other person knowing it. Both times the school took it seriously and the child was repremanded. Our daughter felt more confident that this type of behavior was wrong, and that saying something was an important step to stopping it. To your point, sometimes, especially with kids, they never thought about what they were saying enough to see the effect their words had in hurting someone’s feelings. We need to pass stories like yours along, to help us all be more responsible in at least reducing the frequency of these kinds of predjudice against others. Thanks.