Everyone else is talking about this so I might as well too. It goes without saying that I am disgusted and horrified by the above photo of pop-sensation, Miley Cyrus, openly mocking not only the Asian guy sitting right next to her but Asians everywhere. What is even more disturbing though is that her "camp" has not yet responded to the myriad complaints of racism. It's as if Miley, her parents, her P.R. reps and her fans are all trying to think about it and decide: "Ummmm, is this really racist?" Of course, like everyone else, I want a public apology and major groveling from this spoiled brat but mostly I want to take the opportunity to think about this.
Who is that poor kid sitting next to her? Why did he feel he needed to be a part of this social moment? I hope to God that our kids have the confidence and self-respect to walk away from peers who would treat them this way. I want to raise children who feel comfortable in their own skin and know that they have a right to both personal and racial respect. However, I also want to tell my kids that I understand how hard it is to stand up for something of value.
A couple of years ago I was at a bridal shower. The most civilized of venues, right? Wrong. I was shocked, absolutely shocked, when the girl across the table from me started using offensive and discriminatory language. I immediately spoke up and said, "Excuse me but you are describing some of my closest friends." Well, the amazing thing was that even though I knew most of the people at the table agreed with me several ladies said to me later, "You made a really big deal out of that." or "You embarrassed her." I was made to feel awkward for standing up for basic human decency. To each of them I said, "No, she embarrassed herself and I regret not making a bigger deal out of it." I was 27 years old when that happened, among many close friends and experiencing the comfort of being in the racial majority. I still felt the subterranean push to simply keep my mouth shut. How much more difficult must it be for teenagers, perhaps in a racial minority, who have their social standing on the line?
How to be realistic about the discrimination and racism that kids, teenagers and adults face without assuming an attitude of futility? I don't have the answer for that. I just know that we must speak up and demand better when we encounter the kind of behavior Ms. Cyrus exhibited. I know we have to model anti-racist behavior for our kids so they can feel comfortable asking for anti-racist behavior from those around them. I know we should be talking about race and culture instead of assuming that not talking about it is polite. I know we should be brave even when it's scary.