Can a Racist Grandpa Raise a Biracial Kid?

Race Manners: Logic won't change a bigot's deeply held views, but his love for the little girl just might.

Generic image (Thinkstock)
Generic image (Thinkstock)

( The Root ) —

“My dad has recently become much more conservative. He now says things like, Obama isn’t American, he is a Muslim, he hates whites, he might be the anti-Christ, he is unfit as president, he is a buffoon, etc. Outside of Obama, he complains about how welfare is being taken advantage of by ‘the blacks,’ or goes on about how this is a Christian country. He is raising my mixed-race niece with my mother, and I don’t want this to hurt her self-image. 

“My dad loves my niece. He picked up a second job to help take her to Disney World; he is an all-around great parent-grandparent, but I can’t help but feel that his almost fanatical worldview is going to hurt her self-image. I don’t want her to grow up resenting herself or my dad. My niece is smart, and she picks up on social cues and secrets faster than many adults I know. She is going into first grade and this is not getting better. 

“I have tried numerous times to bring this up to my dad. I’ve asked him not say ‘nigger’ around her, even if she is wearing headphones or in the other room. I also don’t want him saying ‘blacks’ in a derogatory way. But nothing has changed. How do I go about teaching him the logic of this situation? What are the possible effects on my niece?” —Unbiased Uncle

I assume you’re writing because you’ve decided that kidnapping isn’t practical.

Just kidding. But on a very serious note, I can think of few things more heartbreaking than being helpless to rescue a child from a home environment that threatens to seriously damage the child but doesn’t quite justify a call to Child Protective Services.

More bad news: Even the best-intended parents can end up with kids who feel different when their race makes them stand out at home. Concerns about the “void” that can be left by colorblindness in multiracial families cropped up again just this week around the topic of the adoption of African-American kids by families in the Netherlands who declare that “the color of the child’s skin didn’t matter.”

And it gets worse: We’ve recently seen evidence that even young black children raised by black parents are still “favoring” white dolls and, if nothing else, know that negative stereotypes are associated with their racial group, says Jennifer A. Richeson, a professor of social psychology at Northwestern University whose research focuses on prejudice, stereotyping and intergroup relations.

One way these stereotypes cause harm, says Celia B. Fisher, professor of psychology and director of the Center for Ethics Education at Fordham University, is through “micro aggressions.” These are “the everyday racially insulting and demeaning language and actions that white people may not be aware they are inflicting,” and your niece is getting a uniquely large and intimate dose of them. Fisher is worried that this will lead to feelings of anxiety, low self-esteem and a sense of personal inferiority that will affect her in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

You’re right to worry that your niece is old enough and perceptive enough to pay attention. “Just like negative images about any other issues — body size, sexual orientation, etc. — kids pick up on the attitudes and beliefs of the people around them, especially the people they love,” says Richeson.