Growing Up Racist

My father is a racist man. Like many things, that was my normal when I was growing up. It took awhile for me to understand that the things he said were wrong.

Y**k. B**nga. C**n. N***er. A**o. M***ey. C**ng. C**el. W*g.

I grew up listening to that language and thinking it was normal.┬áNow I just feel sick thinking about it. I’m ashamed. Embarrassed. Guilty.

Mostly I’m sorry. I’m sorry I thought those words were normal. I’m sorry I spoke them aloud. I’m sorry it took so long for me to realize how vile and cruel and disgusting those words are. I’m sorry those words hurt people.

As a child, even though those words were normal to me, there was this little nagging feeling that they were bad words. I couldn’t tell you why I thought they were bad words. They just felt naughty. I can only remember saying those words a couple of times (around home) – each time I felt like I’d sworn although I was never reprimanded for using them.

It took until I was 6- or 7-years-old to understand just how hurtful and bad those words were. I remember a boy in my Year 2 class at school calling my friend Alex one of those words on that list above. My first thought was a realization that I wasn’t the only one to know that word. My second thought was, “Is it actually a bad word?”

The answer came pretty quickly – Alex burst into tears and our teacher punished the other boy quite severely. (Being made to pick up rubbish during lunch and recess for three days straight plus writing a letter of apology to Alex.) It was my confirmation that those words were bad words. It still didn’t explain why Dad used them though.

Dad’s racism and sense of superiority (simply because of his skin colour) bothered me though (and still does). I questioned him about it when I was 10 or 11 – why did he use those words? He just smirked and said, “What else should I call them? Golliwogs?” I’m embarrassed to say I let the matter go. Disagreements or defiance against him usually resulted in being beaten with a leather belt.

These days, whenever he says a racist comment, he’s met with the full force of my sister and I – both of us hate racism. We challenge his beliefs. We try to make him understand that skin colour doesn’t make a person a bad driver, or stupid, or a terrorist. I doubt we’ll ever change him, but we will not sit by and let him sprout hateful comments.

Growing up with a racist father surprisingly didn’t affect who I made friends with as a child and teenager. I think back now and wonder why it didn’t. Why didn’t I become more like him? Did my non-racist mother have more of an influence than I give her credit for? Or maybe it’s because I just didn’t really care what colour skin people have? Perhaps it’s a combination of both? Somewhere along the way, I have learnt to not think like my father. Whatever the reason, I’m grateful for it. I don’t want to be like him.

I don’t judge people based on the shape of their eyes, how dark or light their skin is or what country they were born in. The choices and decisions people make in life are what defines them as people. Race has nothing to do with it.