When Racism Gets Real

by Dena Douglas Hobbs

It has been a hard year for my thirteen-year-old daughter. She changed middle schools in the 8th grade. She went from a school that was incredibly diverse and accepting to a school that is, in her words, “full of rich, racist, white people.”


And we didn’t even see it coming. Oh, I knew the new school was less diverse ethnically and economically. But the racist part was a surprise. After all, half of these kids knew my daughter in elementary school back when she was the adorable little girl that got adopted from China. Most of the questions she fielded back in the day were about being adopted, not about being non-white.

But middle school and current cultural climates change things.

This year she has been the recipient of several racist comments personally and has overhead plenty more being thrown at other non-white classmates. Comments such as, “Is everything you own made in China?” and “You know you are going to get deported now, right?”

When my daughter first started coming home and telling me about these comments my first instinct was to personally throttle the boys that dared say such hurtful things to my child. Momma Bear does not take kindly to threats to her cub.

But me physically attacking my daughter’s classmates would land me in jail and worse yet would embarrass her forever. The last thing she needs is to be bullied for being non-white and having a psycho mom.

And hate is not the answer to hate.

So, we began to process the events with her. Who said these things? What are these boys like in general? How did you respond? Where in the world was the teacher?

It turns out our daughter has a group of generally loud and obnoxious boys in her classroom and one kid that is just outright racist and has no filter. It also turns out middle school teachers only hear about half of what goes on in their classrooms.

As the comments continued, my daughter’s reaction went from surprise and hurt to dogged resignation. She put up walls. She just shut everyone out, lest anyone hurt her.

We kept asking her more questions: “Are other people around when the boys say these things? How do they react?”

“Remember,” I tell her, “your identity lies in Christ. It doesn’t matter what anyone else says; you are always God’s beloved child.”

Fortunately, the truth is not everyone at my daughter’s school is racist. There are some kids that she is friends with that will tell the boys to be quiet. There are other non-white friends she has made that she can commiserate with.

As time went on we began to ask our friends how to deal with this issue as racism had never been this real of a problem for us before. Our white friends either brushed it off totally under “boys will be boys” or wanted us to call the School Board and demand the teachers take control of the classroom and kick the boys out of class for their comments. Both reactions seemed a little extreme. Our ethnic friends just shook their heads and said, “Just make sure you are not angry when you go talk to anyone at the school. And prepare what you will say beforehand.”

The realization that this kind of behavior had been going on for generations and I had just been blind to it made my heart sink into my stomach.

In the end, we kept coming back to our daughter and asking her what she thinks we should do. I say “we” because I want her to know she is not alone in this struggle. But I also say we because I know “I” can’t just fix this for her. As a teenager, she will be living her life more and more out from under my wing. At some point she will have to learn to deal with racist comments all by herself.

So, we talk and I tell her I’ll be glad to go to her teachers, be glad to go to her principal, but in the end she is the one who knows exactly what happened and will have to tell her truth.   She decides to be more vocal in telling the boys to stop. She promises she will start informing the teacher about what is taking place. She will talk more with her friends about how they can help her.

A couple of days ago my daughter came home and told me how the outright racist boy told one of her fellow Asian classmates he was going to be deported. She told me how she went up to the racist boy and said, “Stop it! You are being mean.”

“How did he respond?” I asked. “He just looked at me like he was really confused,” she said.

Well, it’s a start.

To be honest, I have no idea how to best handle the racist environment my daughter is living in. When we brought her home from China twelve years ago, I never dreamed she would undergo this kind of treatment.

I don’t know if I should be fighting the Board to change the whole culture of the school or letting my kid figure it out for herself, but I tend to fall somewhere in the middle.

My gut is telling me the best way I can help fight this racism is to help my daughter feel so strong and loved and supported that she can stand right in front of the racists boys and look them straight in the eye with strength and calm confidence until they crumble.

But that may take a while. And she won’t be able to do it without family and friends and the strength of God on her side.

How are your kids encountering racism in the world, either as a recipient or as a bystander? How do you process these events with them? What are your best ideas on how to dissolve racism in our schools and world?








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