An early May breeze brushes off our faces as we were crossing to the other side while I’m holding both of the little boys’ sweaty palms, making sure neither will drift away from my tight grip. A nine-year-old and his five springs younger brother are debating among themselves what will they buy from the nearby grocery store and if they have enough coins to get whatever they desire.
I’m the mediator between two confining, yet mildly essential, choices of what their sweet-tooth is craving at that instant: Should they get the crispy, dark chocolate wafers? Or take a juvenile risk, and buy the small plastic presells filled with the fruit gummies whose artificial juices squirt under the kids’ delicate teeth? These two were stuck between a rock and hard place. The innocence of it all.
It was half-past-eight at night by the time that us three were nearing the shop. It was then, within the most random circumstances that one may encounter and in this particular case listen to, that the eldest of these brothers said to me the following:
- “Do you know that here in this town, the foreign refugees are not allowed to roam outside after it hits eight o’clock at night, right?”
The second following this nine-year-old’s statement, I couldn’t bring myself to instantaneously respond with a counter argument; instead, my widened eyes did the refutation for me. Yet, I wanted to know more of what he meant by these unexpected words – why does it matter to you, little one, whether they are supposedly allowed to or not? Who prompted these arbitrary laws and what brought you in the familiarity of them?
I delved into the thoughts of who might have preached to and heavily influenced that kid. How could a fifth grader, whose entire life was spent abroad and raised by expatriates in the nearby Gulf region, be even slightly aware of these nuances when he has only been exposed to short summers and seldom visits to a village that his parents call theirs?
I wish to write that that was the end of it all. A spur of a moment from a child that doesn’t know any better, because he simply doesn’t understand what he was saying. A faulty attitude that is shy away from a rational explanation projected from his parents. This wish seized to be far from truth. When I replied with a follow-up question, curious about his assumptions onto why this restriction on the freedom of movement towards these refugees maybe coming from, a fuel to this dormant fire heats it further through a flammable response:
- “…. because they kidnap children and steal from houses that aren’t theirs!”
The confidence that was conveyed through that answer may have been the underscoring shock that was more startling than the response. Does he know that my mother and my maternal grandparents – my family’s other half – are nationals of the same land whose refugees he’s unknowingly antagonizing? The same ones in which he has been evidently taught to patronize? Does he even fathom the contentious underlying of patronization against others? Patronization in and of itself for that matter.
I was speechless and he was determined. He responded with so much ease that I couldn’t help but wonder, could it that form of discrimination is an absolute truth to a nine-year old? And if that were to be the case in point, where would he culminate such prejudice?
I was dumbfounded. This was supposed to be an innocent, evening walk to the grocery shop nearby; instead, it was a revelation spouted from the tiny lips of whom doesn’t know what he was saying. Or was he fully aware of his statements to a point that redundancy has normalized such sidelined speech and made it, according to him, a statement of absolutism. I didn’t know and wish I hadn’t known, but there it was – it was happening.
Walking back home, I’ve contemplated whether I should deliver what happened to their mother. After all, I am the house guest who has been sleeping over at their house for the past two days, and at that point, it seemed relatively convenient to surrender to those confessional tendencies. The mother ought to know, and I’m ought to stop fritting about something that is absolutely none of my concern. Entertaining the thought for a second, it dawned on me that the first and foremost element that will be indirectly argued against is the way she and her husband have raised their children – their own. They would promptly think that any remark made as how their children might have wrongly behaved, or spewed in this case, is cross-take against them as a couple who have tried to do the right thing in the post-marriage phase – and who was I to seize away that bliss?
I can’t risk it, I thought to myself. After all, these were her kids.
Eventually, she may discover how each of them has thought, or maybe she wouldn’t even dwell upon the subject if she ever had the ill-fortune to hear those words said from either of them. Alas, I digressed at that instant and decided not to have that type of conversation. Last thing a mother would like to hear is a constructive critique about the fruits of her loins; ones that she is very profoundly proud of raising over the past few years.
We arrived home and the kids covered their faces with the candy wrappers from what their hands reached earlier. At that moment, that very instant, it was oblivion what webbed the rest of the night. A night of self-discovery to me and a less than mundane one for the younger ones in house. A walk to remember for all.
Later in night, while everyone of us was helping in setting the dinner table, and between the crackling of the fresh goat cheese dishes and extra virgin olive oil tubs to dip our toasted pita bread in, we all sat in the middle of the kitchen, to each their own dipping motion. While everyone helped themselves to the Meze dishes in display and as I was crunching on the bitter arugulas, the more bitter notes occurred to me.
The prevailing thought, the one centered around the “how” of that occurrence, was that that of the timid moment of realization in which these kids have learned what constitutes the different from them and what it looks like in the physicality of things. And then, along with the behavioral momentum of their parents and the unfortunate environment that these youngsters are surrounded in and predominantly exposed to, have all led to the deep, parasitic roots of racism finding its way towards the surface of their host community.
Digging deep into the reason as to why such kids would regurgitate these racial slurs, a recent scientific study at Harvard University has struck into an explanatory level that may help in foreseeing the possible reasons behind this phenomenon. The study that was carried out by Dr. Mahzarin Banaji, a researches on brain studies, an expert on racism, as well as, on matters of projected prejudice in communities. In this particular study, he has identified that kids, as young as the age of three-years-old, can absorb nuances of racism, even the slightest hints of it.
A scientific experiment, estimated at the cost of $64,000, was conducted under Dr. Banaji’s supervision, where it underlined the “over-estimation” of how late can a person be prone to physical prejudice and how it is exercised. In the case of the experiment’s 263 younger children aged between three and fourteen-years-old and all white, numerous pictures depicting multiple facial expressions, such as happy ones and angrier counterparts, that were projected by three main races: white, black, and Asian groups. The results were promptly obvious. The black portion of the pictures, no matter what form of facial expression portrayed, were always perceived as angry, as so were the most part of the Asian portions. Conversely, the white portion of the pictures, were accurately determined onto whether they were showing signs of contempt or annoyance. The latter stage of the experiment was the easiest to all the participants in comparison to the previous two other races. The different races from theirs is what described to be as the “out-group”, while the white race for the “in-group” for them, since they share a physical familiarity – and an evident favorability by the experiment’s children.
The good news according to the study is that there is hope, as all things allow to be. Even if this form of discrimination was carried during one’s young age, it can be altered through the parents’ mutual education and learning processes. They are, after all, the decision makers in these sensitive years and they are ought to have a say in how equality should be practiced among people of diverse backgrounds.
So where does this leave the kids in the story?
It doesn’t, or at least according to Dr. Banaji that it doesn’t where he adds that. “[…] it is not the fault of the children to see the fault of the majority of power and influence concentrated in one single race. It is up to [the adults] to act up in their lives and showcase the imbalances found in such discrimination.”
The parents are the ones who are supposed to dismiss these stereotypes, and underscore that equality is everything among us starting from the basic fact that it is a human right imbedded to all once they are born and until they meet their Maker. Let it be a color, an expression, or any other physical feature – all of these simpleton traits are disregarded when it comes to the pure interaction and the solidified contact that takes place between all of us. Equality is not an earned luxury, it is an absolute truth that carries a relative sum-game consequences to all of us.
 Burnett III, J. H. (2012, June 10). Harvard researcher says children learn racism quickly – The Boston Globe. Retrieved May, 2017, from https://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2012/06/09/harvard-researcher-says-children-learn-racism-quickly/gWuN1ZG3M40WihER2kAfdK/story.html