Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Beyond FACES: USA TODAY “Changing Faces” Article

At a recent birthday lunch with nine chatty sixth-grade girls I pretended not to overhear the following conversation:

“My brother does the funniest Asian accent.”

“Asian accent? Tell me what an Asian accent is.”


“Really, what’s an Asian accent? I want to know.”

Funny thing was, both these girls were of Asian descent, though most people would say only one “looked” Asian with straight dark hair, olive skin, and dark eyes. She was the one who asked her blue-eyed, light-haired friend what an “Asian” accent was supposed to sound like. Everyone involved seemed relieved when the subject was abruptly dropped.

In another recent instance involving two other sixth-graders a tall, fair-skinned, dark-haired girl (my youngest, whose paternal grandfather was black) confronted a petite white friend who’d called someone’s comical attempt at a “country accent” a “black accent.”

“Really?” my daughter challenged with a smile. “You’re going there with the white racial girl? Really?”

While some may find such conversations awkward and unnecessary, I’m glad to hear kids this age openly challenging each other about stereotypes and the need to realize some can be hurtful…and not everyone is willing to let them slip by without comment.

According to the January 17 USA Weekend article “Changing Faces,” Americans of heritages commonly pegged in the U.S. as “minorities” are becoming increasingly more numerous. “A major transformation” is taking place in American demographics, one expert states, with the U.S. percentage of “non-whites” jumping from 31% to 37% since 2000 and even faster changes in store in the near future. “Among kids,” the article reads, the “white-only” percentage will drop to less than 50% of their U.S. population within the next six years.

I think many of our kids already understand that whether a person “looks” as though he or she comes from a certain heritage matters very little, and anyone you meet might come from a diverse family or have close friends of another race or culture. Remarks that could be considered insulting to members of a certain group could upset just about anyone, then, and are best left unsaid.

As our country’s demographics continue to undergo its current “major transformation,” I hope more Americans follow our kids’ lead and learn to not only mind what they say but to challenge those who sometimes fall back on old, potentially hurtful ways. Luckily in both these recent instances no one was hurt, and all the girls involved (and those around them, most of whom (like me) pretended not to hear what was going on but took it all in…and probably learned a thing or two) kept things calm and moved on. Let’s hope they head into their diverse futures with such important skills intact, for everyone’s sake…including those of us they inspire on a regular basis.