Healing the scars
"If you don't have friends of another race, at least choose professionals of differing races." — Lynn Smith (Atlanta Journal and Constitution, August 16).
I recently read Lynn Smith's review of 40 Ways to Raise a Nonracist Child (Harper Collins), by Barbara Mathias and Mary Ann French — a Caucasian and African-American respectively. Mathias and French are journalists for the Washington Post: Mathias' children are all grown, and French has a six-year-old son to raise.
They have interviewed a number of experts and parents. I think they should be commended for their book. Book stores these days seem to be packed with one child guide/rearing book after another, but few of them address the very serious issue of child racism.
While Caucasians represent the greatest number of those who purvey overt and covert racism, they have not cornered the racist market all to themselves. Racism in many ways can be found alive and well in us all. Our stated thoughts and deeds are no less hurtful and racist even when we do not set out to hurt anyone.
I too have been guilty earlier this year. In an essay I used the phrase "bulimic blue-eyed blondes" in my reference to most beer ads regarding their companies' selections of women who routinely represent their products during high profile sports telecasts. In hindsight, I feel some regret for my extremely poor choice of words because while I was writing about how sexist those ads are, it never occurred to me then that my words were as racist as their ads are sexist. I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to all of those slender blue-eyed blondes in this world that my mischosen worlds might have offended.
Above Smith's article are two photographs. One shows an African-American child at a table with several Caucasian children. Looking at that photograph now dredges up painful memories. I remember how mean and violent those children were towards me (every day throughout the day) for no other reason than that I was the only person of colour in that school. It would seem that very little has changed; we ought not to be surprised when Smith wrote of "a 4-year-old white girl [who] comes home and tells her mother there's a 'little maid' in her class"; bigotry is taught and learned early on in a child's life.
According to Smith, "Babies begin noticing racial differences at about 18 months. It is then that white parents should seek racially balanced day care or preschools and minority parents should seek schools where their children are not the lone 'ambassadors of multiculturalism', the authors say." You will get no argument from me on that at all.
I remember those racial insults said to me, and every child's face as they said them, more than 45 years ago as clearly as if it were 45 minutes ago. Words like the n-word, "rughead/coon/monkey/spook/spade" and a host of others thoroughly scarred me then — and continue to scar me, even now.
Those who use such words no matter whether they are four-year-olds (as Smith describes) or, 84-year-olds are misguided children. Even those who are very old can be deeply scarred too, but they do not know it — not yet, at least.
It is my hope that Mathias and French's book will become a huge seller all over the world; and, I hope that people who do not plan to raise children will buy and read it too. For in the same way that the scarred child in me needs and seeks healing, there are millions of adults whose child-like spirit needs healing as well. You do not need a child to raise, to have need for this book.
For those of you with courage, if you want to work extra hard on freeing your children and/or your own scarred child spirit from racism's many socialised prisons, try loving someone of another race. Love renders the heart and soul extremely sensitive. Love provides you with the opportunity to see and feel the person or persons you love in ways you have never seen or felt them — or those like them — before. Loving = healing the scars.
[The writer is a prisoner on death row in the United States. He is happy to answer letters commenting on his columns. He can be written to at: Brandon Astor Jones, EF-122216, G2-51, Jackson State Prison, PO Box 3877, Jackson, GA 30233-7800, USA. Australians Against Executions is raising funds to pay for a lawyer for Brandon's resentencing trial. If you can help, please make cheques payable to the Brandon Astor Jones Defence Account and post to 10 Palara Place, Dee Why NSW 2099. Donations to the Brandon Astor Jones Defence Account may also be made at any Commonwealth Bank, account No. 2127 1003 7638.]