January 22, 2009

A Letter to My Children

cross posted from To Loosen The Mind

To my children:

I didn't write to you on the day that Barack Obama became the Democratic candidate. I was afraid to believe there might be a chance.

I didn't write to you on the night he became the President-Elect.

Fears of what could happen between then and 1.20.09 consumed my joy as words echoed from national news; and actions by local people burning Black churches dampened my hope.

picture-1But, here, now, one full day after he has become our President, I feel that hope has come. Hope is no longer a feeling, it's a reality.

While our ancestors -- both on my side and your dad's side -- were not brought here against their will, nor were they forced away from their families, and weren't beaten beyond recognition, we shared a similar discrimination. We shared similar treatment of being "not American" or "not normal." Your father and I, years after slavery and the civil rights movement, in our short years, have been treated like foreigners, treated as if we were lazy, assumed to not speak English nor to be educated. Because of the color of our skin, people have assumed we were day laborers, thieves, or exotic figures. Because of the color of our skin, people were surprised when we didn't speak with accents other than that of New York City and Boston.

We were rarely considered American, despite our birth certificates, 14 years of U.S. education, college degrees. When we were dating and married, people rarely assumed that we were dating or married to one another. How could it be - an Asian and a Hispanic?

Times were different for our parents -- your grandparents -- and times are now different for you.

For, no longer is "American" only white. The leader of our country, his wife, his children, his family, his relatives, his in-laws -- they are the America that has always been there, but that has been ignored. Othered. Foreigned.

The President you will come to study in your schooling will be the America that you know. The America that your classmates will know. The America that will be written into your textbooks -- information that I had to read about on my own when my teachers only taught that white folks were inventors, black folks were slaves, red folks were savages, and yellow folks were ... well.. yellow folks.

Because of our new President, your books will include a history of American people that is more than white. it will include stories of families who have crossed the seas -- both willingly and unwillingly -- and who are the fabric of our nation. Those stories have always been there. It isn't a new truth; it is a truth that has always been there. Now, it will be told.

The story of our nation is changing. The story you will come to know will be different from the one I learned. It will be different from the one I experienced.

I am hopeful that your story is the American story that will now be embraced. Your multicultural, multilingual, multiracial, multireligious, and multiethnic family looks like the family of our President.

I see your future in his children; I see my future in you

January 14, 2009

Is it worse to call someone a racist or to be one?

A brilliant post by the editor over at Anti-Racist Parent. Chime in!

Please, please, please surf over there and read it!

January 7, 2009

The Right Way?

cross posted from To Loosen the Mind

wrongway1My husband and I have been trying to make more connections with families in our area - a task somewhat difficult given that so many of our family members live within a 1 hour radius from our house. Weekends are usually spent hanging out with the same brothers and/or sisters along with their kids. But, we realize that we and our children need to also get to know more people outside of that small circle -- no easy task for introverts like my husband and me.

Recently, we met up with a friend of mine and her husband who have children in the same age bracket as our kids. They are both white, though the mom grew up and was educated outside of the U.S., and have biological white children. We joined them for brunch at their house which gave the kids time to play and the grown ups time to talk.

It was our first real get-together, so we kept the conversation pretty light. We talked about work, where we lived prior to our current location, things we did over the holiday, etc. At one point, though, the discussion touched race, diversity, and our children. Both sets of children go to racially diverse schools. The mom talked about how she doesn't encourage her children to use racial descriptors when referring to people. On the flipside, she doesn't discourage it either. She said she pretty much waits and sees how her child will talk about a particular person. My husband then said, "For us, we always bring up color and encourage our kids to do so. When our kids describe others in their classes, one of the things they talk about first is whether the child has 'brown skin' or 'peach skin'. There are two boys named Tyler in the school, and when we ask for clarification, we ask if it's the Tyler-with-the-brown-skin or Tyler-with-the-peach-skin."

For my husband, who is Puerto Rican and who, too, has worked in predominantly white environments, he has always expressed frustration in the practice of using every single other descriptor about a person other than race, especially when race is the only thing separating someone from all others. So, it's the "see that guy over there... kind of athletic build .. with the brown hair... with the book bag... standing up straight... with the nice smile...." rather than, "The Puerto Rican guy in that group."

The mom responded with, "We don't bring up race because we're afraid of doing it wrong."

It got me thinking -- I definitely didn't get the "colorblind" vibe from her. Not at all, in fact. She has lived in enough places and knows enough not to live in a whitewashed world. I got the sense that it was a true issue of "I don't want to mess it up".

But I was wondering, how many other diversity saavy parents out there have chosen not to talk obviously about race? Is there a right way? More specificially, is there a right way for white parents? Is there a right way for parents of color? And, is there a right way for parents of transracial adoptive children?

Most parents of color I know always talk about race with their children. I remember when my daughter had just turned 2 years old, and we were walking on a city street. We walked by a tall Black man, and she said, "Mommy, he has brown skin."

"Yes," I responded. "He does."

That was all. No big deal. I didn't "shush" her. I didn't falsly patronize a stranger by saying how beautiful his skin was, how smart the man must be, etc. My daughter's statement about brown skin was just an observation. She noticed his brown skin in the same way she noticed the car that we walked by was red; color was just a part of her vocabulary.

A few weeks ago, one of my colleagues came to me asking for advice. She said that she picked up her 6-year old son from school and asked about his day, his friends, etc. Her son mentioned a few of names of some kids, and then said, "There is also David. But, we don't like David because we don't like Black people." My friend said she nearly drove off the road in shock. "What do you mean we don't like Black people? Where did you hear that? Who told you that??" she screamed, later admitting that she probably shouldn't have reacted so strongly at that moment. "Oh, never mind. Sorry, Mom, I mean, yes, we like Black people. We like Black people, right, Mom??"

My colleague -- again, another person who I consider diversity saavy -- realized her reaction had just simply scared him into not talking about it anymore rather than engaging her son in the conversation. Now, when she tries to revisit the conversation -- even weeks later -- her 6-year old son clams up and says, "I don't want to talk about it, Mom. I'm so sorry. I like Black people. I really like Black people." She's struggling to re-engage him into the conversation. She says she tries to bring up race and the color of skin in very nonchalant ways, but her son immediately flies into apology mode and wants to end the discussion. I encouraged her to buy some children's books that have kids of color in it, etc. Her son likes to hear a bedtime story each night, and so I suggested this might be a good way to introduce the discussion back again without obviously talking about the comments in the car.

My colleague asked questions that many of us hear often: "Where did he learn that? Why did he say 'we' don't like Black people? Am I doing something that is sending him messages about Black people? Is it school? Kids at school? Television that we watch?"

"Probably a little bit of all of the above," I replied.

Was this the "we-don't-want-to-do-it-wrong" example that my brunch friend was talking about? Did my colleague do something wrong by reacting as strongly as she did with her son? Or, was she just sending a clear message that the sentiment of "we don't like Black people" is unacceptable?

So, back to my question -- is there a right way to bring up race? Is there a wrong way?