There has always been discrimination and racism in America, but lately it seems that adults have taken the gloves off even when it comes to children. With the recent outrage over 11-year-old Sebastien De La Cruz singing the national anthem at the NBA Finals and 6- year-old Grace Colbert starring in a Cheerios ad that featured a bi-racial family, I have to wonder what would drive adults to throw such racist and hateful insults at such young children.
Children are not born racist. Racism is a learned behavior. If you observe children playing in the park, they gravitate towards a child who is similar in age, or towards the child who is playing with the same toys. No child decides to only play with the child who looks just like them. How, then, do some people go from this level of innocence as children to such overt racism as adults? When adults hurl racist insults at children, they are robbing them of their innocence. That alone should be a crime. But there is something even deeper happening in these horrible, hateful exchanges. An adult who addresses young Grace Colbert or Sebastien De La Cruz, or any other child like them, in such a bigoted manner is really manipulating these young children to continue the cycle of hate and racism. It seems to be an underlined attempt at drawing children into a racist scheme that they will then carry with them into adulthood.
When such racism is expressed towards a child, the bigot must be secretly hoping that the child will respond with hate and racism, thereby perpetuating this vicious cycle. Racism can be taught and passed directly from parent to child, but it can also be taught in other ways. By expressing racist attitudes to a child, isn’t the adult really hoping to force a racist response from that child? That manipulation is no less wrong than if a parent were to teach his child the “N” word. As adults, we have a responsibility not only to our children, but to all children, to guide them and inspire them. Encouraging and kind words serve to empower the recipient. Harsh, racist words serve to urge a similar response that would seemingly justify the hate.
After the commercial aired, 6-year-old Grace thought all the attention over her Cheerios commercial was because she had “a great smile.” (She has a gorgeous smile!) Faced with being called disgusting words by strangers, Sebastien De La Cruz stated, “They don’t know my life. My father was actually in the Navy for a pretty long time, and I actually salute him today for that, and I just want to thank him… People don’t know. They just assume that I’m just Mexican, but I’m not from Mexico. I’m from San Antonio, born and raised. True San Antonio Spurs fan.” He also said that his parents raised him to “not judge a book by its cover.” Well said, Sebastien! This is a lesson too many of us have not yet learned.
By Being Latino Contributor, Lissette Díaz. Lissette Díaz is a Cuban-American writer and attorney living and practicing law in New Jersey. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.