Once upon a time….
Ah, fairy tales. I was once a sucker for fairy tales. Growing up, you could always catch me head down and enveloped in a book. Before “Lord of the Rings,” there was Sleeping Beauty, Goldie Locks and the Three Bears and Snow White. Like my daughter, I wasn’t going to bed until I begged for Just. One. More. Story.
I noticed it pretty early in my childhood that none of these stories had anyone that looked remotely like me. Remember, this is the early ’80s and we still only had “Fat Albert” and that solitary one black character on every Saturday morning cartoon who seemed to get about 2 minutes worth of screen time. Unlike today where I can find every ethnicity and hue of skin Barbie Doll at the toy store, I was lucky if there was one Barbie or Cabbage Patch Doll at my local toy store that my parents didn’t have to drive to several stores to find (also pre-Internet and Amazon). As a black child who went to a predominately white suburban elementary, I was lucky there were a few teachers and students of color to help me feel less “other.” And where books hadn’t quite caught up to the fact that our school and world was diversifying, I thanked God for “The Cosby Show”, “A Different World”, and eventually, “Living Single.”
This also makes me think of growing up and all the ways I’ve heard people talk about race, or rather didn’t. There’s a lot of storytelling going on, and frankly, none of it is good or apparently working for any of us.
See if any of these phrases have ever passed your lips or been heard in recent discussion:
“There is but one race — the human race.”
Where does one begin with this?
From a biological understanding, without question, race is a construct. Less than .01 percent of your DNA is responsible for the phenotype that reflect your outer appearance and what “racial demographic” you most closely resemble (hair, skin color, body and facial type).
This is a great quote to use when I’m talking to a bigot via social media who thinks I’m inferior because of my race; but when I’m talking about the ills of institutionalized racism (you know, that place where race intersects with inequality) it doesn’t render me silent or end the conversation, which I often think it’s meant to do. If nothing else, it makes me say “great, good starting place…now, let’s talk about the world, country, society we actually live with today.”
“Race is a social construct.”
You will rarely ever hear a person of color refer to race as “just a social construct.”
Yeah, we get it: Race is a made up concept for the historical oppression and control of groups of people, but to simply wish away any thing related to race or racism just mocks the truth of our experience. As I like to say, it sure would be great to say “just a social construct” when I’m followed in stores where I make more money than the security guards, or when old, White ladies grab their purses (not, Coach, like mine) thinking I’m going to steal from them. Certainly not just a construct when we are harassed or killed by police, denied housing, face inequality of healthcare, etc.. It’s a phrase, like above, that means to end a conversation but in fact, it just begs for more.
“Talking about race/racism breeds more racism. “
If talking about something often would mean it would help proliferate more of it, why has this not been the case for speaking about love or honesty or more peace? Given how often I speak about Game of Thrones, I should be married to Jon Snow and have a dire-wolf named Ghost, based on this [very] illogical thinking.
Truly, the problem is we DON’T talk about race or racism enough. Think about it: Other than MLK Jr.’s birthday, a few days in February, or some national racial incident, the collective “we”, meaning people of color and White Americans rarely have conversations about race together, in a way that is constructive, healing, and educational. We don’t know how, and we’re frankly too scared to do it.
“I don’t see your color.”/”I’m color-blind”/”I don’t see race”
A few years ago, a work friend brought his adorable young children in to visit the office. One of them, adorably came over to my desk and introduced herself to me. She drew a picture of herself, her siblings, and a big, brown head stick figure representing me. She proceeded to tell her father and I, “See, you are the brown one?” I nodded, pleased and happy to have been included in her painting, while I saw her father/my friend look a little red from what seemed like embarrassment.
I remember telling my friend, “Don’t tell her different. She has eyes and her vision. If she sees me as brown or chocolate, she’s not wrong.” I then proceeded to tell him that I think we raise more conscious children when we don’t negate truths. People with brown skin exist. People who are shorter, or fatter than you exist — it’s how you value that difference that matters.
Do you make fun of, do you point, glare, or say disparaging things about people who look a certain way? Check yourself: Are you showing rather than “telling” your children that differences are to be feared, mocked, or thought of as “less-than?” This is what bothers me when someone uses the word “colorblind”: You’re on the right path of seeing people as individuals, but saying “I don’t see your race”sounds more like I see you as an individual “despite of your race,” as if my race, ethnicity or culture aren’t just irrelevant, they are negatives. By ignoring race completely, you deny me a part of my story, part of the DNA that makes me who I am, part of my “truth”and experience, both culturally and historically. And see how I said “part” not entirety of what makes me, “me?”
Recently my bi-racial daughter has taken to saying my husband’s blue eyes are “blueberry” color and mine and hers are “chocolate.” She likes chocolate and blueberries, equally.I couldn’t think of a better combination and a great way to explain difference.
Anybody else suddenly thinking of pancakes?