I don’t remember the first time I consciously realized my parents are racist. In all reality there probably wasn’t a specific moment, but rather a slow, creeping realization that settled in over my adolescence. I remember a conversation in my early youth where my mother admitted she would prefer if I only dated Caucasian boys. And the time my father shouted “dirty wetback” at the television screen as we watched our beloved US Men’s National Soccer Team play their Mexican neighbors in the Gold Cup. And while I intuitively understood that what they were saying was inherently wrong, it wasn’t until my later high school years that I understood, or was able to admit to myself, that my parents are racist.
I love my parents, but their racist views are wrong.
It’s something I’ve struggled with the entirety of my adult life. You see, my family is very close. I’m the only child of two people who devoted themselves entirely to parenthood. They came to every soccer game, every dance recital, looked over every paper and helped me with my calculus homework. They worked tirelessly to ensure that I made it through college with no student loans weighing me down and helped my husband and I cover the downpayment on a house just one block over from their own. They are the most devoted parents on the planet, and I love them.
But the fact of the matter is, they’re racist. And it’s wrong.
I could easily make excuses for them. My dad has a grand mal seizure-inducing illness that effects him neurologically and turned a once freedom-loving hippie into a a man who shouts racial slurs at the TV. My mom was raised in rural North Carolina before the days of de-segregation. But the truth is, none of the excuses really matter. Because regardless of the cause, the reality I face as a parent is the fear of their prejudices rubbing off on my children.
How I’m protecting my children from their grandparents’ toxic beliefs
It’s a terrifying notion. We’re in and out of their house nearly every day. My mom is hands down my oldest son’s favorite person on the planet, and my Dad thinks the sun rises and sets on his grandsons. But unfortunately that doesn’t protect them from the toxicity of my parents’ racist beliefs – beliefs that, I’ve recently realized, extend beyond “mere” racism.
It was only a few weeks ago that my father and I had our first major show-down over these notions. During a discussion about my sons’ future significant other, I turned to my one year old and said “Make sure you bring home a girl Mommy likes – or boy, Mommy’s not picky.” It was an offhanded remark that rolled off my tongue without a second thought. It certainly never occurred to me that it might lead to a huge argument and four days of silence between us; silence only broken when my husband finally intervened.
How does one deal with something like this? There’s no “What to Expect When Your Kids’ Grandparents are Racist and Homophobic” literature out there to guide me in the day to day minefield of my parents’ prejudices. My husband and I work hard to raise children that are accepting of others, see everyone as equal, and understand that skin color doesn’t make us different and love is love. But will my children struggle with these concepts when two of the guiding forces in their lives don’t see things the same way?
Intentional conversations are starting now
I don’t know yet how we’ll deal with these sensitive issues as our children get older. Will we need to turn to a family counselor, someone who can help give us the tools we need to navigate these dark waters? I don’t know. But what I do know is this – it will take a lot of discussion and open communication. And these conversations will probably start very, very young.
I’m afraid for the day I have to talk to my babies about their beloved grandparents’ beliefs. To tell them that the people they love, who come to their pre-school graduations and kiss their hurts, also believe such hateful things. I know it’s a matter of when, not if, and it makes my heart very heavy knowing that day will likely come far too soon.
What’s more, I fear for the day one of my sons brings a black girlfriend to Sunday brunch or a new boyfriend to Thanksgiving dinner. Will they be asked to leave? Will it cause irreparable damage to their tight-knit relationship? Will my parents’ darkest beliefs trump their love for their grandchildren?
I pray that they mellow with time, though the current news cycles don’t give me much faith in the world’s ability to change. But if they don’t, I will do everything in my power to make sure my children know what’s right and what’s wrong. That they’ll be able to stand up to prejudice, even if it comes from people they love most. And that they know that Mommy and Daddy will love and accept them no matter their life choices. Always.