If you learned that a whole community of black folks was teaching its youth that they are inferior to everyone else and deserve all the challenges and injustices in their life, would that be outrageous? Absolutely. Practically institutionalized child abuse en masse. But what are the heirs of Western Civilization teaching their own kids? What heritage do you have to pass to your children?
Here’s the recent article that kicked us off:
At breakfast, in the glass-towered city of Vancouver, five-year-old Abigail looks glumly at her half-eaten bowl of cereal.
“What is it, honey?” I brush the bangs back from her face.
She lets out a big sigh. “I wish I wasn’t white.”
I start. Nothing in the parenting manuals has prepared me for that.
“All we’ve ever done is hurt people,” she continues. “I wish my skin was dark and that I had a culture.”
Wow. This girl is kindergarten age in Canada and already inculcated into the view that her inherited skin color makes her inherently evil and she ought to be ashamed of herself. At age 5. Wherever did she learn that? Public school?
We live in a part of the city where immigrant families abound. Our neighbours are homesick, first-generation Mexicans, which means that salsas and pinatas and Aztec legends feature prominently at shared social gatherings. Our family regularly eats in Little India where we gush over the flavours of curry and dhal, and every February, we attend the Chinese New Year parade in the slanting rain. Plus, my husband and I are children of missionaries and harbour an acute guilt for the cultural imperialism of our forebears. To compensate, we’ve raised our children with a deep appreciation of non-Western cultures.
…We thought we were raising the enlightened child of the 21st century. We thought we were doing our part in setting the history record straight. Yet, in doing so, it seems we have robbed our oldest child of something primal to psychological health, something elemental to her well-being as a human being: cultural roots.
Shocked again. This mother takes full credit for her daughter having learned to hate herself. The parents have immersed their family in other cultures, which can be a good thing by itself. Folks travel the world for such experiences. But the parents didn’t merely teach their young daughter that every OTHER culture is wonderful and amazing and special. They also taught her that their own heritage and culture is awful and shameful in comparison. Here it is in the mother’s OWN words:
Abigail’s life to date has been spent absorbing the endless lament of her adults over the injustices of European colonialism. Earlier that summer on a cross-Canada road trip, at what seemed like every historical site, I made a point of highlighting how the colonizing British had brought Indigenous culture to the edge of extinction with their foreign diseases, their land-grabbing policies and their culture-negating residential schools.
This would be like making a German family’s normal vacation be a trip through the Nazi death camps, to remind them of how awful they are. Or Russians to tour Stalin’s gulags. Or Japanese families to consider it a vacation to visit Nanking, China, and relive the awful atrocities committed there. Or an American in the South to make a vacation of touring old slave plantations and making special highlight of all the whips and tools of the very worst of American slavery.
Yes, child, this is who we are and what our ancestors were all about. Yes, you should cry and feel ashamed. Mommy and Daddy can now pat themselves on the back for having righted the historic wrongs by crushing the morale of their own children. And they can virtue signal by posting it on social media so everyone else can see how virtuous mommy and daddy are.
I don’t believe in whitewashing history. History should be taught, good and bad, merely so folks know what actually happened. But I don’t believe in holding myself accountable for what a bunch of folks who look like me may have done a century or more ago. One ancestor of mine in the Wild West of the US literally shot the sheriff and killed him (we have the old newspaper headline as documentation). But that doesn’t mean I’m going to teach my kids to hang their heads and think of themselves as nothing more than the descendants of awful criminals.
Seized by maternal panic I go in search of our oversized National Geographic Atlas and hoist it up onto the breakfast table. Abigail sits up and she leans in. “It was almost 200 years ago that your people came to Canada from this island.”
Abigail’s face brightens at that word: island. I know what she’s thinking. Islands are places of primal innocence and cultural distinctiveness, such as Haida Gwaii or Never Never Land.
But then when I speak the name of her island, Abigail’s full-body slump returns.
“Great Britain?!” she pouts accusingly. “Aren’t they the bad ones?”
But someone taught this father and mother to hate their own heritage. Where did the parents learn it? It was in a quote above. In case you missed it:
…my husband and I are children of missionaries and harbour an acute guilt for the cultural imperialism of our forebears. To compensate, we’ve raised our children with a deep appreciation of non-Western cultures.
Looking at that vacation quote, you didn’t just teach the kids to appreciate other cultures. You taught them to despise and feel ashamed of their own. What’s worse: the parents learned this in a specifically Christian context, as the children of missionaries. And then we wonder why the church is no longer the moral compass for the culture.
What is the little girl’s heritage?
I consider the you-are-Canadian spiel: “part of a new society made up of the vibrancy of many cultures, etc.” Yet, “Canadian” is precisely the problem. What is Canadian? Her best friend is Canadian and Mexican. Her cousin, Canadian and Bengali. Even our Indigenous neighbours have a First Nation before they have Canada. To play the Canadian card will further neuter her culturally when what she’s looking for are deep roots that ground her to a people and place.
What, indeed? As the nations formerly of Western Civilization (USA, UK, Canada, etc.) redefine themselves to be only about multiculturalism and diversity, they no longer even know what makes themselves distinct. At the start of the Obama years, I recall a conservative radio host (Savage? Medved?) having a liberal diversity professor from a local college on the show. The host kept agreeing that sure, differences are great and all, but what do the people have in common – to unite them as a nation? The professor was literally unable to answer the question. Being asked again and again, the only answer was always that what “we” have in common is that we are all different. Good luck holding a nation together with that!
This is also my objection to all the hyphenated-Americans out there. If you have to stick something in front of “American” then it says that American itself is not good enough for you. You have to be something more than American. You want to be better than others, more special than others, by virtue of birth alone. That’s a fairly leftist and un-American mindset.
The mom in the article cleverly digs out an old tea-set and teaches her daughter the tradition of British tea, since the mom’s ancestors mainly come from Britain. Yet the mom also admits that her ancestors who came over to Canada were dirt poor and probably did not practice that tradition nor even own china for tea. Great. She patched up her daughter’s self-esteem a little bit after demolishing it on a family “vacation,” but she patched it up with a lie.
At 4 p.m. sharp, I pour the tea and watch my white-skinned girl sip and nibble as I have instructed.
My husband walks by and rolls his eyes. He is half Ukrainian and half God-knows-what.
Ten years have passed since I introduced Abigail to high tea and all my fears have been put to rest. Now a teenage tour de force, she has not over-identified with British culture. She has become neither snobbish, nor repressive. She has her eye on a boy from Peru with brown skin. Knowing her tribe has given her traction to move into the fusion of Vancouver high-school life with a sense of being one among equals, someone who has something unique to contribute to the whole.
This mom didn’t learn anything. God forbid her daughter “over-identify” with her heritage and go out and subjugate and decimate the vibrant neighborhood or something. Ten years later, the mom still can’t get over skin color. She can’t stop talking about how her daughter is white-skinned (what do you expect with British and Ukrainian heritage?) and boasts of how now her daughter is romantically interested brown-skinned boys. If the mom was worried that she herself is racist, she’s absolutely right, but not in the way she would expect. She doesn’t hate races other than her own, or see herself as superior to other, different folks. Instead, she hates all the races of her own heritage and puts other races on a pedestal of superiority. The sad thing is that when the daughter marries a boy from one of these other cultures who actually celebrate their own heritage, the next generation will be raised in the father’s cultural traditions and the mom writing the article will have successfully put an end to her own line of cultural heritage. And she’d probably say good riddance.
[For the hard of understanding – I have no problem with folks marrying whoever they want. One of my own branches of ancestry came to America when two folks fell in love and married across lines not-to-be-crossed in that day and both ended up disowned by their families. But one story is two adults choosing love over the extreme displeasure of both their families, akin to Romeo and Juliet. The other is parents approving of a child acting out her learned hatred of her own heritage!]
What Does Heritage Look Like?
I was blessed with grandparents with ancestry from around the world, who had lived rich and colorful lives and shared many stories with their descendants. They shared their own stories and the stories of those before them.
For my own children, I can tell them about that ancestor in the wild west who was an outlaw. I also can share the firsthand accounts of what cultural beliefs let Chinese children play soccer in the street with human skulls. During the study of world history, I can personalize it by explaining which revolutions led to their ancestors’ bones all residing at the bottom of Chinese harbors. I can give a few direct quotes of old foreign customs that caused some of the more exotic branches on the family tree. I can tell them about ancestors enslaved and wiped out in genocide within and without America. I can tell them what it was like stepping over bodies in London during the bombing of Britain. I can check out old movies and point out ancestors who got minor roles and tell the story of how they got that role. I can tell tales of British India and how the eyewitness accounts stack up against the writing of Rudyard Kipling. I can take them to the grocery store and tell them which ancestor invented the see-through meat counter they see there. I can tell them tales of the OSS Ladies who predated the CIA and what Julia Child said that shocked and amused the sailors one trip, back before she even knew how to cook. I can because an ancestor was there and a part of that group and passed down the stories. I can explain how a Northern European family ended up with a Chinese last name at Ellis Island, and how a Minnesota farmer went from FDR supporter to hater when government agents showed up to destroy the surplus of his harvest lest it affect interstate prices. I can tell of how sinfulness led one branch to betray another over money, and how the traitorous branch can be seen today on political debates on TV at high levels of government. I can warn them of evils in our own line that they must beware of, in order to permanently end cycles of addiction and abuse. But I can also share the legends of particular branches about how their very surname is derived as the descendants of great Kings of the West who at one time ruled huge swaths of the known world. Yes, child, you have the blood of the Kings of the West in your veins. You have the blood of heroes of the World Wars. It doesn’t make you better than anyone, but try to act with some dignity befitting your descent and honoring your forebears.
All of these rich stories were passed to me, and I will pass them to my descendants so they know the tales not only of their countrymen but also of their own blood kin and direct ancestors. I can pass on the tales my grandparents gave to me, as well as tales of my parents and some of my own. Most are reason to be proud of their descent, but some carry dark warnings. All are important, and all offer details of how we came to be here and now.
What tales can you pass on to your children about who they are and where they come from?
And if you are like most families today in which no tales were handed down to you, start asking the oldest living relatives, because once they are gone you can’t go back and ask for more detail.
And if the older relatives are already gone? Well, a friend I shared this with immediately asked, “What is uniquely American?” The first thing that came to mind was the cowboy era and the frontier. I have appreciation of it, having grown up in Texas. The Wild West was a proving ground of the wisdom of the 2nd Amendment. The Brits recognized that “cowboy attitude” when Americans came to save their hides in WWII. If you have nothing else, take your kids to a rodeo, go all-out on the 4th of July, and celebrate your rights spelled out in the Bill of Rights. These are all opportunities to focus on things American, and celebrate the great things that America did for its people and for the world.