When my son was small, he used to ask random stuff. “Why do you have a mum?” He once asked. I pondered wondering what to say. His neutral stare suggested that he was not joking plus he at the time did not understand the concept of jokes. “Because she gave birth to me?” I responded. He nodded and picked his bottle of milk. Except for these random questions and not smiling much and insisting on drinking his milk from the bottle at five instead of a glass, he was mostly an easy baby.
Once, I took him for an ice cream and bumped into an old acquitance. “Mummy, are there Nazis in Dortmund?” he asked.
“I suppose,” I responded absently.
My acquitance looked on in horror. “Are you talking to your kids about racism?” she asked unable to hide her dismay.
“You are doing them a great disservice!”
I looked at her half amused. A black woman condemning me for teaching my kids about racism.
I watch documentaries, historical documentaries dealing with Nazis, slavery, colonialism, and all kinds of stuff I can lay my hands on. And not just that, I read and explain to the kids everything that I know in detail and respond to their questions. Many years later, I think I now have a better understanding of the woman’s misguided opinions. And so I would like to share what I believe are the most important things that I have learnt about racism.
My 10 most important lessons about racism
- Many people do not like to talk about racism. For the victims, it is too traumatizing. For the racists, I suppose it is too humiliating to face or acknowledge the monster that lives within them.
- If you talk to a white person about racism and they listen or maybe only fidget a bit but do not try to convince you that racism is not a thing or downright smack you in the face, then consider them a friend for life.
- Don’t trust any campagins against racism. It is a show meant to hoodwink and soothe. Remember George Floyd and the messages of solidarity? What became of them?
- Educate yourself about racism and demystify it. It is much easier to deal with a monster that you truly understand than one that you refuse to acknowledge.
- Toni Morrison. Find her work. She really understood racism and racists.
- Many people are OK with you being racially abused and discrminated against. What they are not OK with, is you standing up for yourself and making them uncomfortable in the process.
- Being at the receiving end of racism and discrimination is painful but what is doubly painful is the silence that accompanies it. Get used to the silence. It is not about you.
- Racism is exhausting. Always acknowledge your feelings. Do not pretend that it doesn’t hurt. You only move on when you give yourself permission to feel your feelings.
- Self care is important. Get away or simply do not engage. Choose your battles.
- And finally, document it. Racists want to erase their terrible deeds and the hurt they cause. They don’t want it acknowledged or remembered. Don’t let them. Document it for posterity, document it for your mental health. By doing this, you return the burden of racism where it truly belongs, with the racists.