Raising a Rebel or a Bigot?
This is a tough article for me to write because it's about me and my son. As a parent, I've had so many fears about raising children, but the thought that one of my kids might become a racial bigot was not one of them. At this point in time, I'm not really sure that's what I'm dealing with, but I am sure that's what I'm afraid I'm dealing with.
The first inkling I had that something was really amiss was sometime this summer, when it was just my oldest son and I in the car. I don't remember what we were discussing, but I do remember the exact words that came out of his mouth at one point: "I'm not like you. I don't think all races are the same." I was speechless. I had no idea what to say. Then we went off on some rant about how rap music was the worst kind of music around and how much he hated white kids who tried to "act black". Now, he's into heavy metal: mainly Metallica and Ozzy Osbourne. I grew up during the heydays of both Metallica and Ozzy. And they were rebels: Ozzy especially was going for shock value. He seemed to thrive on the controversy his latest antics caused in the media. And my son isn't much different: he too enjoys the "shock value". He's not Goth, but he dresses all in black, his pants sag, his hair is down past his shoulders now, he's got 4 GA earrings in both ears, he's getting his eyebrow pierced for his 17th birthday, he wears a huge chain on his wallet and he's planning on dying his hair dark blue-black. He's a self-declared atheist who, while saying he doesn't care what others think of him, won't wear anything other than what he usually wears so that other people don't think he's a dork. And he's very much a follower rather than a leader (although, truth be told, none of his closest friends have any piercings and none of them dress the same way he does nor do they wear their hair as long as his.)
My second inkling something was amiss was again while driving in the car and this time, his comments were aimed at Mexicans. He claimed they were taking all of our good jobs. Well, it didn't take me long to respond to that one asking him what white person he knew who would spend 10 or more hours a day in the fields picking crops and getting paid based on the number of bushels they picked— and not getting paid a whole lot either. Illegal Mexican immigrants are not taking any high paying jobs from American citizens of any race. In fact without the illegal Mexican immigrants, American citizens would be paying a lot more for their food because a.) less food would make it to the market (labor laws would prohibit paying US citizens the same wages one can pay illegal immigrants who won't call the labor department with complaints) and b.) the wages paid to the workers would have to be higher and so they'd charge more in the market for the foods.
But tonight, just a few hours ago, was strike three. I'd gone to Wal-Mart to get my finger sized for a new wedding band (my wife and I are going to Canada to get married at the end of the month) and I'd seen a brochure for class rings. My son is a junior this year and that's when you usually get them. He's not getting his school name or colors on the ring, but he wanted to put two "activity" engravings on the ring: a devil and the Confederate flag. I have no problem with the devil (my wife does even though it looks more like a genie from a bottle), but I will not allow him to put the confederate flag on his class ring. At least not if he wants me to pay for it. The Confederate flag is a symbol of racism. I don't care how many say that it's a part of our history: so was the Salem witch burnings, but we don't go around putting flags with burning witches on them. The Confederacy had one purpose: to create a separate nation where slavery would be legal. Not using the Confederate flag is not denying a part of our history, it's simply not honoring it. The Confederate flag is used by many white supremacist groups as a symbol of what they stand for: racial superiority of whites. And I will in no way support such a hateful notion by paying anyone money to display a symbol of bigotry. Nor will I allow such a symbol in my home.
I was in tears earlier tonight trying to figure out if my son is just a normal teen going through a rebellious stage or if I had to seriously consider the possibility that he is becoming a white supremacist. All teens rebel and my son has many reasons to rebel even more than the average teen. My divorce from his father was totally unexpected from his point of view: we'd never fought in front of the boys so as far as they knew, nothing was wrong. That was the first time his world shattered. Then I came out as a bisexual woman and within a year of my divorce, was in a relationship with a woman. His father had already told them, before he had even filed for divorce, that he was getting married again. They had no time to adjust to being kids of divorced parents before they were dealing with step-siblings. Then his father took his new wife's side against him and for almost two years now, he has not going over to his father's for visitations. He sees me fighting his father for child support while at the same time his father imports a motorcycle from France for himself and he begins to wonder where he stands in his father's priorities. There's a lot of unacknowledged anger that used to come out in violent bursts of his temper: he once broke his hand punching a wall when I told him he wasn't allowed to do something he wanted to do. (These outbursts have all but disappeared since he once stared down at me in anger soon after he passed me up height-wise (he stands about 6'-2" now— four inches taller than me) and I let him know I was still in control and that if he ever did that again my first action would be to call the police since I refused to be frightened in my own home.) Then came Columbine and that seemed to affect him far more than I thought— it shattered his world for the second time. He no longer felt safe even going to school. Then 9/11 and once again, his world shattered— it was no longer safe to live in this country— terrorists could attack anywhere.
I'm still unsure of what I'm dealing with. I can make a good case for rebellion: I'm very spiritual— he's an atheist. I'm most comfortable in jeans and a T-shirt of all kinds of colors: he wears all black and only this summer wore black jean skater shorts for the first time. Before that, he never wore any kind of denim material. I'm very tolerant and accepting of all races, faiths, orientations— we are all one. In his world, there are very distinct differentiations between various groups. But I can make just as strong a case for the bigot. My problem? I don't know what to do now. Who to turn to to find out what I'm dealing with. My son, the follower, is at the age where recruitment by a white supremacist group would be very easy: he's already rebelling. What's one more issue to rebel against? I've taught my children to be tolerant. I've taught them to be respectful of everyone else, not just those they like or agree with. And yet I sit here thinking, "What else could I have done to prevent this?" If it's rebellion, there's nothing I could or want to do. This is a natural part of a child's development and gives them wonderful opportunities to learn what "real life" is about. It also is their wayof testing their wings before taking off and flying solo. But what if it's not just rebellion? What more, if anything, could I have done? What can I do now? How do I identify the source of his bigoted points of view, because he's not learning it at home? How can I stop it? Or maybe the better question to ask is can I stop it or change it? I don't have the answers and it scares me. I'm scared for him— not only because of the physical dangers he may face from his attitudes but for the karma he's going to be building if it is indeed a belief he holds. If anyone can offer suggestions or advice, feel free to drop me a line. I'm open to suggestions.
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