Racism Part III

Reader Charles Gramlich made the comment about my article Racism Part II:

Unfortunate how easy even children find reasons to divide themselves.

Tragic, isn't it? When my kids were younger (toddlers/preschoolers), I watched children of all colors play together, completely unaware and unconcerned of the differences between them. So what happens in the two years between preschool and first grade?

It really is an important question that we, as authors, must ask ourselves. It is in understanding people that we can understand the characters of our books and the plots that unfold relating to those characters. So I would like to put forth a few ideas that may have helped to form this young boy's perspectives on the relations between blacks and whites.

It all started with his parents, I believe. Or rather to be more fair, I should say that I suspect. He wasn't allowed to play in our yard for the longest time. The girls were too young to play in the front, so they'd invite him to come play on their jungle gym in the back. Excited, he'd run inside and ask his mom. And then he'd always come out and say no. He wasn't allowed.

Then something happened one day. We were taking our kids for a bike ride around the block and they wanted to ask their friend to come with them. He went to ask his mom. She came out the door, looking like she was ready to start a fight. Until she saw me standing there.

She was shocked.

About as shocked as her husband was when my husband came to help him shovel the snow out of his driveway one winter day. As if he were thinking, why is this white man helping me?

She stopped. Not saying anything. And just stared at me.

"We're going for a bike ride. Could your son come with us?"

"Oh, yes. Yes. Of course. He knows he's allowed to ride his bike."

She turned and went inside. And I realized that she had expected that I would reject her son as a playmate for my children. She wouldn't let him play with our kids because she thought I would disapprove.

After that, there was never a problem with him coming over. She never stopped him again.

But I still wonder, what did she say to him before? Perhaps she said, "No, you can't play with those white kids." Perhaps she said, "Those white people don't want a black boy in their yard." Likely, she wouldn't want her son to face rejection for his color. She didn't want him to be hurt. As she had been hurt. She wanted to protect him. So she taught him to reject before he was rejected first.

Fear. The planting of the seeds of hatred.

Fear of rejection. Fear of things that are different. Fear of losing jobs to immigrants. Fear of not fitting in. Fear of disease. These are the things that build prejudices.

Yes, we all have fears. And it is a tragic thing that we pass them on to our children.

So think a bit about your own writing. How can you apply fear to character development? Because all cultures, all peoples, and all stories contain the element of fear. 

Check out Sir Pierre's blog, containing an excerpt of his writing. Though he has a bit of the talking-heads syndrome, the story is a bit intriguing.

I invite you to post a comment about how you've used racial tension in your own stories.


  1. I remember an experience once. We'd gone camping and I took my son, who was about 4, to a campsite playground with swings and slides. the only other people there was a black mother with two children, one about Josh's age and one a bit younger. Josh ran to play with the other kids without a thought about it, and I went and sat at the far end of the bench where the woman was sitting. it was the only bench available. I said "hello, nice day isn't it," and she didn't respond. I waited a moment or so and then repeated my nice day, at which she turned away from me on the bench and continued to say nothing. I felt incredibly awkward but just tried to focus on Josh having fun. then the mother got up, walked out without a word to me or to Josh and took her kids by the hands and led them off the playground. Josh even asked me why they had to go and I just told him I didn't know. But I did.


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