GROWING PAINS: Can Russia Turn Your Children Into Bigots?

Bobby's favorite song at the moment is "?°®...® _*L?†," or "They Killed a Negro," which keeps cropping up on the radio and has a very catchy Caribbean beat. It's a favorite, for that matter, among the masses.

Despite - or possibly because of - my efforts to repress his appalling urge to burst into this refrain in every public place we go, he is virtually unstoppable.

"What's wrong?" he demands. "Why shouldn't I sing it?"

Then I find myself thrashing about in the swampy waters of having to explain to a 5-year-old that, while back home in England the "comic" song would be considered highly insulting to the African population, here in Russia no one gives a damn.

That engendered the disturbing thought that, unbeknownst to me, my children might grow up as innately racist as the country. I was gratified therefore when my 11-year-old Sasha told Bobby to put a sock in it because the song is offensive.

"But why?" asked Bobby in amazement.

"Because _*L? is a degrading word for Africans and lots of them were killed when they were slaves in America, so you shouldn't sing a funny song about it."

I couldn't have put it better myself, though I should add that Sasha's rather limited knowledge of American slavery comes from bantering with our nanny, Ira, who, when asked by Sasha to fetch something, retorts that she's not a negr and to go fetch it herself. Ira also says she has nothing against Negroes as such, but added that she would never marry one because one ought to keep the white bloodline pure. Who needs the Ku Klux Klan when you have attitudes like this in Russia?

Against all odds, Sasha is open-minded, which is gratifying. She can't understand the Russian contempt for people with darker complexions at all. While I would like to attribute this solely to my good influence, it might also have to do with the fact that she considers Will Smith, Puff Daddy and TLC to be ultra cool.

But I was horrified yesterday when the song "They Killed a Negro" came on the radio for the millionth time that day and I asked my 8-year-old Anna what she thought "Negro" actually meant.

She looked at me with embarrassment, which I wrongly supposed was a good sign. Then she tapped her head and said, "It means you're dumb. The boys in school call each other that, but I know it's a bad word."

I stomped off to the headmaster who insisted racism was something fostered in families. And then I remembered taking my mother-in-law to New York and cringing when she explained to my American sister-in-law that she didn't want to see any black Americans because, "I just can't stand Negroes, do with me what you will."

Don't tempt me.