Wherein My Son Tells Me He Wants To Be A Racist

Last night my 12 year old son asked me if I would rather be a racist or if I would rather be someone who suppresses religion. He was sitting on the couch in his black hoodie, looking at me with his big blue eyes — his young, blue eyes — and asked me this question with all the earnestness that a 12 year old can muster.

Which isn’t much — but the fact that he was asking such a serious question instead of sitting there with his arms crossed, glaring into space, made it seem like an earnest question indeed.

“I would rather die then be either.” I said.

He looked puzzled.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because hating someone based on the color of their skin — based on what they look like — is vile. And telling an individual or a group of people that they cannot worship or believe in the god or religion of their choice takes away one of our most fundamental rights as human beings.”

Then I asked him.

“Which would you rather be?”

“A racist.” he said.

A racist. My son would rather be a racist.

I looked at him as I would look at one of my patients coding at work. And I thought — this has got to be fixed, STAT.

So as a nurse rushes to get a crash cart — I rushed to grab my laptop. And with the world of education via google images at my finger tips I showed him the horror of racism, prejudice and religious suppression. From the lynchings of black people in the early 20th century, to Rosa Parks, to the march on Washington. From the horrors of Auschwitz with piles of dead bodies to photos of cherubic babies and children prior to their fate of being thrown into ovens. And a photo of a young jewish girl rescued from a concentration camp — all skin and bones with a vacant look in her eyes.

It was some hardcore education. An education that he hasn’t been getting in school because the pictures are considered too disturbing.

He put his head on my shoulder and said:

“I can’t believe I asked that question. I can’t believe I said that.”

And I considered my job done for the moment. Because teaching kids tolerance and empathy is continuous. It’s a job that I thought I had been doing, but had not really and truly succeeded at until last night. A job that perhaps I’ve taken for granted as we live in a very culturally and racially diverse area. I’d assumed my son accepted everyone equally — and maybe he does. Maybe he just didn’t have a full grasp of what racism means — but now he has a much better idea — and it’s a topic my husband and I will discuss with him more frequently.

But then.

As I was pitter-pattering around the house this morning, I decided to go through my second grader’s school papers.

And I came across this.


It says: Obama is the best symbol because he lets black people vote. Because he is black. 

In addition to some spelling practice, I think we are in need of another history lesson tonight.



  1. shrinkingknitter1951

    When my older child, who is now in her mid 40s, was just a toddler and learning her colors, she asked what color everything was – including Sarah, the check-out girl at the local dime store. Sarah was black, but I asked my youngster, “What color IS Sarah?” And she said, “Flesh.” I don’t think I’d consciously been teaching my three-year-old to be color-blind, but obviously something was working. I don’t know which generation of parents had/has the harder time of teaching tolerance. In the current political climate, I’m guessing it’s yours. Good luck.

  2. Jess DC

    I put my dad through some doozies like that when I was a kid. And, like you, he sat me down and explained things to me in a way I could understand. The fact that your son came to you and talked about this is awesome, even though he didn’t fully realize what he was asking. There are people out there who would have ignored the question as something weird their kid said or yelled at them for it. I think the path you chose is the best one, really the only one that will help your children learn and become truly tolerant and open-minded. Rock on.

    • sonjaessen

      Hey Jess — Yeah, I guess I was taken aback by his comment because we live in such a diverse area — but he obviously did not understand the gravity of his statement. As parents we need to swoop in and educate with compassion and understanding and try not to make the child feel bad for asking questions — because that’s how they learn!

  3. Jerimi

    Oh, lord. Gotta love kids. What a lucky kiddo to have you for a parent. I love seeing parenting like this. Keep it up! Education is the key to *everything*.

    • sonjaessen

      Aww, thanks. Sometimes it’s hard to tell how far to go with the education — especially when there are disturbing pictures involved — but I think he was old enough to handle it. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. simplecareerlife

    About a month ago I was reading the Rosa Parks story with my 7 year old daughter. At the end of the story she says, “Mommy, what are white people?”. I was shocked and fascinated. Until then I hadn’t realizing that she doesn’t see the difference between races yet.

    How blissful it is to be blind to race. We can only hope to teach them well so they treat everyone with respect once they do see differences.

    Sonja, thanks for your visit to http://www.simplecareerlife.com. Great to see you!

    Great post!

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