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It Takes a Village to Raise a Racist

Must-Have Parent

My heart hurts for the families and friends of the victims in Charleston, but it hurts for the family of Dylann Roof, too.

How horrific it must be to be the mother of a monster.

There's no nature-or-nurture argument for hate. We all know where it comes from. Racists are not born -- they're made through years of words and experiences.

My children are young, ages 3, 6 and 10, and they hate things like broccoli, bed time and being told to pick up their toys. They don't hate people.

Children are taught to hate. They're taught it by their parents and the people their parents allow them to be exposed to. At 21 years old, Dylann is only just barely not a child.

It's an especially confounding problem in the military community because, on the one hand, we are very not-racist. Military communities are diverse, much more so than the rest of the country.

We live, work, move and war together. There is no race in combat.

But we're still products of the communities that raised us. We bring with us the good and the bad.

Sometimes -- unforgivably -- racists are made intentionally, by the smallest-minded, ugliest warts on our society. These children are victims. Their parents made a conscious choice to ruin their lives by teaching them to hate. We are shocked by people like this because we would never do that to our children.

Because we are good people, and we know that good people don't teach their children that.

We are the parents who read parenting columns like this one, and we worry about things like screen time and college savings. We are the parents who work extra hours so we can pay for piano lessons and traveling team fees. We reward the As and punish the Cs. We impose time-outs and take away electronics. We force multi-vitamins and homework.

We recognize that being racist, aside from being morally wrong, is bad for our children's futures. For our white children's futures. America does not approve of racism nor does it tolerate racists, and we want to set our children up for success.

But Dylann's relatives say he wasn't raised to hate, either.

In all likelihood, they didn't teach him outward, overt hate. Instead, and maybe without realizing it, they probably did what many of us do.

They dripped racism onto him.

Maybe, like many of us, they introduced him to it the same way we teach our children to like unfamiliar foods -- in small bites. And, just like with new foods, he developed a taste for it.

And why? Because racism feels good. It allows one person to feel superior to another, without having to do any work to earn that feeling.

We drip racism onto our children when they hear us tell an ugly joke, or when they see us laugh at someone else's.

We drip it onto them when we "politely" tolerate a relative's ignorant rant and we don't -- at the very least -- shake our heads and walk away.

We drip it on them when we teach them that "Jesus loves the little children, red and yellow, black and white ..." but the people they see in our neighborhoods, schools and churches -- the people we expose them to -- look just like us.

Maybe, like many of us, Dylann's family simply conditioned him to racism, taught him through repeated, casual exposure that little bites of hate are no big deal -- tasty, even.

Maybe they thought, like most of us, that those little bites wouldn't really hurt him, that he might one day only cause small hurts in his community, hurts that would never make the news.

And that probably is what will happen for most of our children.

But for a few, that little bite of racism? That seed that we let embed in their soil? 

They'll find the fertilizer for it.

They'll meet someone with extreme views, and the timing will be all wrong. They'll be lonely and struggling with life and extremists will offer them community and purpose.

Our child will do a gut check then. He will question what the extremist is saying. He will think about us, his parents, and the morals we hold -- and he'll remember hearing us tell that joke, or not refuting that comment. He'll remember us making excuses for the relative who likes to rant. Hate will begin to seem logical.

And then our baby will do something bad. Probably not Charleston-bad. Probably something that will only get him fired, ostracized or publicly rebuked.

Like Dylann's parents, we will not be able to undo the damage nor spare our child from the consequences.

Like them, we will know that it was our village that raised that racist.

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Rebekah Sanderlin Military Parenting

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Contributor

Rebekah Sanderlin is an Army wife, a mother of three and a professional writer. Her work has been published numerous places, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, National Public Radio, CNN, and in Self and Maxim magazines. She currently serves on the advisory boards of the Military Family Advisory Network and Blue Star Families.

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