Home > City mama, motherhood, Politics > Thinking about racism, parenting, and 2008

Thinking about racism, parenting, and 2008

A friend of mine is a poet and some time ago she took up a challange that some poetic type had made to write a poem expressly about race. She wrote an interesting piece about aliens. But the challange made me think.

And thinking, I realized that I’ve never really spent a lot of time thinking about race.

I am white. Really white. Get-a-sunburn-in-December white. My husband is actually whiter. Our daughter looks like a German or Swedish doll — blonde, blue eyes, fair fair skin. I grew up in a town where the main color issue had to do with whether you flew an Irish or Italian flag. My mother is from the deep South and has some prejudices that run so deep she can’t even see them. (She honestly and sincerely believe that when she condemns inter-racial marriages that her dissapproval is really “all about the children.”)

Probably I’m wrong, but I like to imagine that I’m largely free of racial prejudices. Certainly I’m more likely to judge you on your attitude, language, tone, demenor, and manners than on the color of your skin. A punk kid swinging a 40-ounce bottle of beer and talking trash is going to invoke disdain, regardless of his race, while a quiet person who smiles at me is going to get a smile back.

Around my neighborhood, the punk is more likely to be white, anyway. Almost all the people of color around here are nattily dressed young professionals. 

I’ve been told, however, that disliking the do-rag, baggy pants, wrist-cocked, bottle-swinging swagger is racist — that those things are a part of black culture, even if the guy doing it is white, and I should respect that. I don’t know. That might be the case. But I figure that if they are swearing and being deliberatly disruptive, I don’t have to like it.

And, frankly, the baggy-pants thing doesn’t strike me as inherently bad. If they are polite and friendly, I don’t mind. I don’t like the clothes, but I don’t like most peoples’ clothes, so it’s all equal.

But, on Tuesday night, I wondered if I should wake up The Child to see this historic election. And I decided not to. For two reasons. First, I was frigging exhausted and went to be before any real returns came in. But secondly, I didn’t want to make a big deal about a black man becoming president.

We’ve made a point to live in a (somewhat) diverse neighborhood. The Child sees people of all shades and cultures every day. She might hear five or ten languages on any given day, sees adults and children of different skin tones mixing freely. And she sees her mommy and her daddy and her friends and neighbors treat them all the same. 

I don’t want to make a big deal about treating people of color as people because I don’t want that difference to lodge in her head. In the same way, i don’t like stories about girls succeeding against a patriarchial culture, because I don’t want that to be an issue. I know it will be eventually — we live inCambridge, no La-La Land. But right now, while her fundemental view of the universe is being established, I want skin color to means as little to her as hair color.

And I think I’m doing an okay job. If I have any prejudices, she doesn’t seem to have picked up on them. (Of course, since I can’t even see my own bigotry, there’s no chance I’d see it reflected in her behavior. I think about this too much sometimes.) The other day, she waved at someone and when I turned around to see who she had waved at, I was faced with a line of women that included several black women, a Hispanic woman, two Asian women, and a white woman. When I asked who had waved, she said, “The nice lady in the red scarf.” She see scarves and not skin color. That’s good. Right?

Still, I worry. I read Feministing and they often have posts about issues that concern women of color and have no clue what they are talking about. On NPR yesterday, there was a piece called “What’s the New What?” and someone said that a Beat Battle was the new MC Battle. I don’t even know what an MC Battle is, much less what’s replaced it. I don’t know if that makes me white and out of touch or just 35 years old and out of touch.

Or both. 

All that said, I’m hoping that her whole generation will have some grace from the fact that the first president she’ll ever be aware of is a black man. What’s really funny is that I kept forgetting the race thing with Obama — his name and those idiotic Muslim rumours were in the forefront of my mind, but I’d forget he was black. But all the hoopla since he’s won has made me think about race enough to post my thoughts, here.

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Categories: City mama, motherhood, Politics
  1. aguane
    November 8, 2008 at 3:25 am

    It’s hard to explain to a fish what water is. Racism, White privilege, and all that is contained therein is just like water to those of us that are White.

    By not “making a big deal out of treating people of color as people” you lose out on an opportunity to talk to your child about the racial overtones our country was built on and how those racist ideals still permeate our culture in ways that it’s difficult to see. You lose out on the an opportunity to talk about how we don’t all start off from equal spots and have equal opportunities even though that’s what the dominant culture would prefer we all believe and think. You also lose out on an opportunity to educate your child to see the water for what it is and not just take it for granted.

    It’s even more difficult to talk about these issues if you try and take a color blind perspective because as you pointed out, people come in all shades and speak all sorts of languages and view our world in all sorts of different ways. The problem with being blind to color is that the urge is to focus only on what makes others similar to us, rather than also including what makes others different from us and how we can all work together and bring different perspectives.

    I’m hoping this all makes sense. I spent 8 hours today at a counseling transgendered students conference and my brain is a bit fried.

  2. Juliet Bravo
    November 9, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    I agree that it is too soon for us to pretend to be colorblind. Like most white people, I don’t think of myself as racist, but I acknowledge that growing up in the deep South probably left its mark. Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away, so we need to talk about it. The real questions are when and how? My son (2 years old) is too little to discuss race. When he’s a little older, we can talk about nationality, where people’s families came from before they moved to America. We can talk about how people bring their culture with them when they move to a new country, and how all those different cultures make America a really great place to live. But talking about how someone is African or Haitian is a lot easier than talking about what makes someone black. I think he needs to be a lot older before we get into that territory.

  3. aguane
    November 10, 2008 at 4:24 am

    I really like to talk to my son in oblique ways. I talk about how everyone looks at the world from a different point of view, I talk about how we need to be aware of those around us, I talk about differences in colors, differences in accents, and similarities that we all have. I don’t necessarily come out and talk specifically about race unless it comes up. A friend pointed out the other day that this is more along the lines of social empathy than it is about teaching about race, but I think we all have to start at the social empathy level and work our way forward. It’s a lot easier to talk about the more difficult territory once you’ve laid the foundation to do so.

    My son is 5 now, the other day we were watching Caillou on tv and Caillou has these two twin friends who are African American and my son said “I don’t like Jason and Jeffery (the two cartoon kids)” so I of course asked why not. His response floored me, even though it was the innocent response of a child. He said “Their skin is the color of poop, so I don’t like them.” Because we’d already laid the groundwork, I was able to talk to him about how it was wrong to judge based on the color of skin and link it to real world friends he has that he would never judge on that basis. Kids see color, the rest of us see color. There is not a point where we can get to being colorblind because that color will always exist. But, as a White parent, it’s hard to know how and when to weave in discussions about race and so the best answer is to do it all the time, the same way we weave in teaching the alphabet, or numbers, or colors – we simply find ways to tie it in to the discussion that is being had, in a way that isn’t overwhelming to our children.

  4. November 10, 2008 at 8:35 pm

    for all that so many media pundits are making this election about race, they’re wrong. IT’S THE ECONOMY. no ifs and or buts.
    as for race…
    one of my [caucasian] clients asked a neighbor [african-american/hispanic] how he felt about a black man being elected. the neighbor countered with: how do YOU feel about a half white guy from hawaii being elected? must be tough for a former chicagoan. then again, he’s a lawyer and chicagoans are used to dealing with lawyers-usually from behind bars, but still…
    as for me? my kids and i think it’s pretty great that someone could so captivate this nation that he could rise from nowhere to the oval office in 2 years.

  5. elcynae
    November 11, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    Actually, I haven’t heard the pundits saying it was about race, I’ve just heard random people online say that. What I’ve heard, and agree with, is that the election was not about race, and that is _important_. It is a glorious thing that it was possible for this election, involving a guy with dark skin (regardless of exactly what ancestry it came from) to not be about race. Erm, that was a terrible sentence.

    Of course, it isn’t all because the country has grown more accepting, it’s also because he’s just that good. But no matter how good a candidate was, it couldn’t have happened this way (x) years ago.

    On the parenting front, I’m a little lost. 🙂 I don’t do much planning you see, I tend to just tell my kid whatever pops into my head in whatever circumstance we’re in. But in anything involving prejudice, advantage/disadvantage, social inequality… I don’t trust myself to have adequate instincts about what to say. I mentioned this discussion (ongoing, in many different groups of moms) to my mother, in terms of talking about race, vs not talking about race. She said the correct answer is ‘both.’ I’m probably the only one who would actually find this to be useful advice. 😉

    So I’m still thinking… and thinking once again that my child is almost old enough that I think I could deal with her and a soup kitchen at the same time. Because that’s the best introduction to unfair inequality that I can think of.

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