Monday, April 09, 2007

Black, White and Red All Over (LONG)

I don't necessarily live every day thinking about my skin color. It comes to mind for all sorts of reasons, whether I want it to or not. But generally, it is what it is - a part of my life but not necessarily something I obsess or worry over. Many people are simply foolish and I choose to roll my eyes and keep going. Most of the time my mantra is, "Life is too short..."

But I had to think about it over the past few days. First on Saturday morning when a friend of a friend who is working on her PhD came over to interview Daughter. She needed to talk to kids between the ages of 3 and 5 to see how their view on race is evolving. We don't talk race to Daughter right now. She says, "I'm beautiful!" And we just agree with her. That's about as far as it goes. So it was going to be interesting to see how she did when she was interviewed. The woman gave me a questionnaire as well, so I saw and heard them from a distance but I wasn't sitting there watching. I suspect that was intentional.

You've seen the test or heard of it. She showed Daughter 2 sets of dolls - 1 black, 1 white - to see which she thought looked nice, which she liked, which looked like her, etc. She pointed to the black doll when asked which looked like her. Considering that doll was darker than she is, that was interesting all by itself but then again, I took an inventory of her dolls beforehand (out of curiosity) and 9 out of 10 - and she may only have about 10 - are brown-skinned black dolls that are darker than she is.

When asked which doll she liked, she pointed to the black one again. But when asked which looked nice, she pointed to the white one. Now, I didn't study the white dolls - there were 2 different sets - but my first thought upon seeing one was, "Gee, she looks more Hispanic in color than white." And I can't recall now if it was blond or not. I don't know. Maybe it was just my own thinking that it didn't matter that kept me from zoning in on that. I choose black dolls for her automatically but I don't cringe when someone give her a white one.

Daughter was also shown illustrations. She picked the male over the female when asked who washed dishes. Not your typical answer but maybe she equated it with cooking and Mr. T certainly does more of that in our home than I do. She also picked the black woman over the white woman when asked who looked like she wouldn't say, "You go away. You can't play with me." (I forget the exact phrasing of this.) But she picked the black man as the one most likely to take money out of his kid's piggybank. And the white man as the one who looked nice or safe or something like that. Overall, she fell in line with most of the kids interviewed so far, picking whites over blacks in one category and going about 50/50 in the other two.

It was interesting. I intentionally set out to do things differently from other people and I teach my kids the same. Still, we're all just so much alike. The Interviewer and I agreed that for her age group, there aren't many cartoons to point to as far as where kids can gain a little cultural perspective so it's hard to blame TV per se. Even in her preschool, it's mainly black and Hispanic children in her class; few whites, though one of her teachers is white. And again, I don't talk race with her though I do with Son because he asks and because sometimes we simply must go there. After all, he is one of 2 black kids in his classroom and when you are truly the minority, no matter how used to it you are (and I am very used to it) defenses go up automatically. Or in this case, defense of my kid.

When her study is done, it shall be an interesting read to see what the Interviewer does with the info. In the meanwhile, Daughter doesn't seem to care and yet she is clearly being shaped by something other than us. Not sure yet what I want to do with that. Or if it's even necessary.

Then again, something is necessary.

The Don Imus incident can make this point. If you live in this area, you know what I'm talking about. If you don't, you've probably heard about it anyway. Basically he was talking about the Rutgers women's basketball team and the clip I heard had him saying something to the tune of, "..they've got tattoos. Those are some rough nappy-headed hoes!"

Now the quote is not exact. The last 3 words are exact. Well, Imus has everyone up in arms and honestly, I'm still deciding what to think about it. On the one hand, he has apologized more than once from what I've heard and that clip DID sound like someone who spoke without thought. It did not sound intentionally malicious to me. It sounded like sheer ignorance. However, do we dismiss it? Is an apology enough? Many in the black community scream no.

One minister I heard on the radio likened it to the time that he was caught speeding. He apologized but the cop still gave him a ticket. (Please don't harp on the fact that a minister was speeding. They are human too, after all.) But is he right to equate the two? After all, they are calling for Imus to be fired. This man has been at the center of one controversy or another for about as long as I've lived here and known of him. I think that whatever is in a man's heart will eventually come to light and this slip - no matter how accidental it may be - is clearly an indication of what is in his heart. He may not realize it or intend it or even think of it that way, but some stereotypes are lingering there. But guess what? They are lingering in everyone. Some of us just don't have the format available where it might slip out like that.

A point was made that lots of black rappers, singers and such artists tend to use derogatory statements about our own people and this may give some the impression that it's alright for anyone to speak this way about our people. It's not. It's also not OK for us to do it either. But is firing him the answer? I just don't know.

I suppose part of the reason I am not screaming at the top of my lungs right now is because I'm just sitting here shaking my head at yet another example of how far we haven't come. So many people are calling for Imus to get fired and getting email protests going. I say, fine. If this is where the line will finally be drawn and if this will rally us to do more than complain, then maybe this can result in something good happening. Imus wouldn't think so, I know, but a fractured people finally coming together for the good of everyone is a good thing.

But what would happen if we took that same energy to elect Obama? We do rally around the negative things that hurt us as a people, which we should. It would be great if we pooled those same resources to make changes in the other direction - putting people of color into positions of power, financially boycotting the companies that exploit us, NOT buying into the things that feed the stereotypes about us. Demanding more out of our own. Supporting each other instead of denigrating each other. George Fraser pushes this agenda and this I can wholeheartedly support. But this is the harder job, I think - blazing a trail instead of jumping on a bandwagon. It would be the most wonderful thing to see us become one mind in THAT initiative. This is what will tell people how to treat us and they will think twice before dismissing us.

Here's the thing. When there is a wall between two people, the person who recognizes the wall and does something about it is the one who effects the change. It's one of the keys to creating positive relationships. You may be right. The other person may be right. Or you may both be wrong. But it only takes one of you to choose to bridge that gap. Yeah, that other person is stubborn, but you be the bigger one and walk away from the ignorance. That is what we need to do as a people.

Change starts from within. I'm not yelling at white peope right now because I'm sick of US degrading ourselves, belittling each other, perpetrating the crabs in a barrel mentality that is too often associated with us. What one of us does DOES reflect on us all so let's accept it and hold each other accountable.

Our children are angry and confused and hurt and we keep pointing the finger out - not that some of it isn't justified - but let's look at ourselves too. Let's finally fix it.
Let's not laugh at the brother who chooses to study or the sista who speaks proper English.
Let's stop calling each other the N word.
Let's stop acting like we are the center of the universe and go outside our neighborhoods to experience the world.
Let's stop being surprised a young woman has no children.
And while we're at it, we hate it when people say we're all alike. So let's stop expecting each other to be all alike!

Once upon a time, it was not acceptable to air your "family" business in the street. Now we let the whole world see how separated we are. We kill each other, we hurt each other. We are outraged when others treat us as we treat ourselves and each other and we blame them. They blame us. Where is this getting us? We need to regroup and try this again.

No, we should not let other people disrespect us as a people, as a culture. Email campaigns are great. But talk is cheap. Money is power and collectively, we've got it, ya'll. Oh, YES WE DO. We aren't using it right, that's for sure. Let's try putting down the weapons and putting our money where our mouth is and maybe we really can change the world.


Theresa said...

Amazing post Monica. 3 years ago I dated a black professional man. He had issues about me being white. He was uncomfortable. We had many discussions on race and the bottom line is that most white people don't see color as much as actions. I had an interacial family and don't even realize color.

P.S. Now that you mention it, is Obama really black? I haven't been paying attention to the election stuff yet.

Monica said...

Yeah. I dated a white guy once and he couldn't understand how it was difficult for me and I didn't grow up in a household where interracial dating was frowned upon. Shoot. My parents once told me they EXPECTED me to marry a white guy! Don't know what that means, exactly. :-)

He was sweet,great to talk to, there when I needed him, but in the end, the majority of us black folk don't have the luxury - and it really is that - to forget color. It always comes up at some point, even when you want to pretend it doesn't matter, i.e. with children.

And yes, Barak Obama - in short - is black. He is a true African-American in the strictest sense of the word since his father was (or maybe is, not sure) African. He's got the experience of both continents, which is a blessing for him since so many of us deep down long for that connection as well but we're so far gone it's difficult to go back to the unfamiliar.

It's going to be a tough, tough call for black women everywhere. We can't push aside what this election could mean for these two sides of who we are and so for once, it may actually all come down to - gasp! - the issues!