Childrearing

I Taught My Daughter Some Slurs Last Weekend

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teaching-kids-about-racismThe first time I had an opportunity to talk to my daughter about race, I screwed it up so monumentally that it’s a source of embarrassment.

She was three and we were in a grocery store, and she shied away from the friendly greeter, an elderly black man.

“That man is a dark man,” she said. So I snapped, “don’t say that kind of thing!” Being three, she pulled out her favorite vocabulary word, “why?” to which I sputtered something like, “that hurts his feelings!”

Later, I relayed the entire thing to a friend of mine, who informed me that I was an idiot.

“So, you basically just taught her that being black hurts people’s feelings,” she said. I had to admit that I hadn’t thought of it that way, and vowed not to fuck it up so bad the next time, which is how I ended up teaching her some slurs this weekend.

This may come as a shock to you, but Texas suburbs aren’t exactly bastions of diversity and acceptance, which means that my kid is having an entirely different experience with race than I did, hence her initial discomfort with the “dark man”. In reality, I didn’t get a whole lot of “teachable moments” thrown my way after that, until I was cruising Google images for a sweet My Little Pony GIF with my daughter on my lap and came across the word “cunt” on a Pinkie Pie meme.

“What’s that mean?” she asked, and I initially told her not to worry about it, it was just a bad word.

She called me out, because I routinely tell her that there aren’t bad words, only strong words, and that we should not use those strong words, like “shit”, or “fuck” in anger and direct them at another person. Especially at school. Dear god, not at school please.

“There are words people use to hurt other people,” I told her, “they aren’t like strong words. They are called slurs and they are only used to make someone feel bad for being who they are.”

“Like what?”

I was sweating pretty profusely at this point, and not just because I am a naturally sweaty person. I told her that she was too little to understand them, and she shouldn’t worry. Little kids shouldn’t have to worry.

“People don’t say them to little kids?”

And here is where I stopped. When I was my daughter’s age, I was on a soccer team. That friend that I called earlier in this story? She was on it, too. She was good, and one weekend she scored a really epic goal and the opposing goalie called her the n-word. Screamed it at her. So no, I explained, sometimes the world is a monstrously horrible place and someone calls your friend the n-word.

So I taught her three slurs. The n-word, the c-word, the f-word. I explained that there are people who use them to hurt a person because of their skin color, their sex, who they love. She was horrified, and I was horrified, and I started to feel like I had made a terrible mistake because maybe she really was too young to understand.

When she spoke again, she told me that the words sounded ugly, like a slap. “They can feel like a slap, too,” I said. She nodded.

It’s a crap thing, to form your lips around those words, and to speak them to someone so innocent. But I can not and will not ignore it to make myself more comfortable and then raise a kid so oblivious to her own privileges that she doesn’t understand what the big deal is, because they’re “only words”.

I lose patience with people who pretend that it’s over sensitivity to words like these that perpetuate the prejudices people face. People who say “you’re giving those words power by being offended”.

They weren’t “only words” to my friend when she was my daughter’s age, stunned on the soccer field. They are heavy and ugly and important. Ignoring race in the name of colorblindness is a mistake, because not everyone has that luxury. So yeah, I taught my seven-year-old daughter slurs. Hopefully now she won’t have to learn them the way that my seven-year-old-friend did.

(Image: ruigsantos/Shutterstock)