My wife and I have a beautiful daughter. She is mixed Chinese and Cree with some random sprinklings of Caucasian in there as well. I am certainly not a religious man and my wife doesn’t practice any particular religion either. I have decided that I do not want to push any particular beliefs on my children…when they are old enough to make an informed decision, I will support their religious or non-religious beliefs. However, I try to answer her questions as honestly as I can while making sure she understands that while some people might believe in something, there are other people who believe in something else and that she will need to decide for herself which system she believes in, if any at all.
One time we were visiting the Tulalip Indian Reservation in Washington State and she asked me about the many orca statues, art and totem poles. I explained to her that the orca are very special animals to some First Nations people and that some tribes believe that when you die you will come back to live another life as an orca. Well, being a 6 year old (at the time) she was thrilled with the idea of being an orca. When she asked me if I believe the legends, I honestly replied that “I don’t know what happens when we die honey, but I would love to be an orca with you.”
I never thought of that weekend in Tulalip again until we went to her grade one parent/teacher conference. Her teacher said that our daughter had told her a very interesting story about what happens to us when we die. She proceeded to tell me the story that I already knew, watching me for some sign of disbelief or shock that my daughter would make up such a fantastic tale. When I confirmed the story she asked me “Well, why a whale? Why not a dog or a turkey?”
As soon as she started telling me this story I knew where she was going, so I had a lot of time to play out the scenario in my head. I looked at her in disbelief and wanted to go all ‘angry Indian’ on her but I thought about my wife and daughter and that maybe I should choose my battle differently. I didn’t want to embarrass my wife and I knew that Kaya wouldn’t understand why I was angry with her teacher, whom she adored. In one of the moments that I most regret in my life I just shrugged and said “Whales are more majestic.” She seemed satisfied with that and moved on.
Now, I don’t think Kaya’s grade one teacher is a racist…but she IS ignorant and that ignorance perpetuates racist beliefs. I know that I should choose my battles wisely but in this case I made the wrong decision. I have heard that all that is needed for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. Well, I did nothing and I regret it. Kaya would have been upset and my wife embarrassed but it would have created an important dialogue. My daughter needs to learn about racism…one day she will encounter it and that was a good learning opportunity for her but I blew it.
Can you imagine if that conversation had been about Christianity? ”Your kid told me that someone died for their sins…well why Jesus Christ? Why not Mickey Mouse or Goofy?” She would never in a million years say that…so why is it ok that she can diminish First Nations beliefs in the same ridiculous way? It isn’t ok…and I should have made that clear.
This particular event happened about a year ago but it bothers me to this day that I didn’t confront the person. I am writing about it now as a form of therapy but also to get other people thinking about how they should react when they encounter racism. My wife had an issue a few nights ago on facebook and she had typed out a reply and decided not to send it. She should have sent the reply…racism is a disgusting thing and the good people in the world need to call it out each and every time they see or hear it.