The first time I encountered racism, I was five. I was in kindergarten and it came from a fellow classmate whose ethnic origins hailed from Spain. We were in the cafeteria eating lunch and there were tensions at the time between China and the United States. She turned to me and said “Go back to your stupid China!”
Stupid is a big, bad word for a five year old. (And for any primary school student up until they learn the other bad words.) It cut deep, this hurt. To be rejected for something completely unrelated to me for something we as five year olds didn’t even understand. And to be honest, I’m not from China.
I was born in the United States, but by simply looking at me, you wouldn’t know this. Yes, I am of Taiwanese descent and I look Asian and that’s the first thing people see when they look at me. People take all sorts of assumptions when they look at someone of color and presume to know if they are American or not. I’m American. I was born in the United States and regardless of the color of my skin, it is how I identify.
The lesson in this, is that there are witnesses to our actions everywhere. This first encounter hasn’t stopped me from loving people who are different from me, and learning to love my enemies and wish them well. But we need to be aware of the behavior we model in our society, in front of the children. They mimic behavior and repeat words that they hear. They see the antagonism at home and they project it out towards others. Family is a big influencer in our thought processes and our values. When we speak ill of others and wish them harm, someone is witness to this, and we perpetuate this cycle of negativity, hatred, and discord. The innocent can be harsh mirrors of our reality.
Think before you speak. Think before you act. Ask yourself, “Is this the kind thing to do?”