Wednesday, November 16, 2011

An interesting conversation, and baby talk answers.

Last week J brought a book home from school that led to a very interesting conversation around our dinner table. The book was about Ronald McNair, one of the astronauts who died in the Challenger tragedy. McNair was African-American, and I became acquainted with his name when I was an undergraduate taking part in a science and math program that was started in his honor. The book J brought home was about McNair as a little boy in the early 1960s, and it recounted a true incident involving his not being allowed to have a library card because of his race.

J could not understand why little Ron was not allowed to have a library card. As we tried to explain the historical context in a way he could grasp, it dawned on us that J doesn't really understand racism because he doesn't really have a concept of race. Which was MIND BLOWING. It's hard to explain. TH and I don't feel like our lives are defined by race, but we certainly consider it a huge part of our identity. We have both experienced first hand both blatant and insidious racism. I'm not sure when I became aware of my race. Meaning, I've understood that I am a black person literally as long as I can remember. I don't remember my parents ever sitting me down and explaining it, or making a huge deal out of it, or focusing on it so much that it became a burden. But I've always identified that way.

J, however, knows that his skin is light brown. He knows that other people have skin that is "pink" or that have "yellow" hair. He has told me that there some of his friends speak Spanish. He has mentioned that his hair is "harder" than his friends. But TH and I realized last week that he's never categorized himself as being a part of a larger group. I'm not even sure if he's noticed that everyone in our family is the same race. Honestly, it brings up mixed emotions for me.

I think our children are going to be the first truly "post-racial" generation. They are the first group of kids exposed to people of all races in the media, in positions of power, and on the playground. They won't think anything of interracial families. They'll have proof in their own memories that the president isn't always a white male. They're post-Obama in a way that we will never be. It's fantastic.

But it also gives me pause. I don't want my children to be defined by their race. But I do want them to identify with it in some ways. I want them to have some knowledge and understanding of what the struggle was before them. When I tried to frame the idea of "minority" for J, I told him how I was the only black person in my entire vet school class. For that matter, I was one of only 2 black people (out of about 500) in my entire vet school for the four years that I went there. I want him to grasp that, in some small way. The fact that doors are wide open for him and his brother that were just ajar a little bit for our generation. I don't want to burden him with it, but I don't want him to ignore it, either. I cringe when I hear people trying to sound post-racial say, "I don't even see skin color." I find that so ridiculous. I want you to see my skin color. It's beautiful. It has a history. It's not better than anyone else's, and don't judge me because of it...but definitely see it.

So I'm glad J read this book. I'm glad that he thought about the story and proclaimed that it was unfair, and that anyone should be able to get a library card so they can read.

I'm glad that he looked at my hand next to his and said, "Your skin is the same color as mine."

* * *

Baby Talk answers (Maria, you're good!)

1. "Nonnie" = Manny. (How he refers to himself.)

2. "Coodie" = Car. I cannot explain this one.

3. "Pin-pin" = Cushion. We play a game J calls "Cushions" where we pull the cushions off the couch and the boys jump on them. After much crying one day we finally figured out why he was pointing at the couch asking to play pin-pin.

4. "Fuffins" = muffins.

5. "Kennies" = candy. Thanks, Halloween.

6. "Teen tine" = screen time. This refers to computer time only, TV is just...TV."

7. "Note neal" = oatmeal.

8. "Spa-doh"= spider. Again, thanks to Halloween decorations and his evil older brother for introducing him to that concept.


Lindsay said...

So interesting, Desi! JTC hasn't really made any comments about race either. I think about the difference between what my parents and I grew up with. It makes sense that another huge jump would be made between us and our kids!

LauraC said...

You should really really read Nurtureshock if you get a chance. It talks about how race doesn't seem to make a difference until kids are slightly older.... good food for thought.

I am the same way about being a female in a technical field and working outside the home. I want the boys to understand I CHOOSE to work because women get that choice in this generation but I assume it will just be a non issue to them. I'm the one who has issues!

claudia said...

I really have way to much to say regarding this post and although I have been trying to edit it down for the past hour so I will just say that I am glad things are still good in North Eastern Colorado in terms of racial mixing. My baby cakes seems particularly interested in color and has been since she was two. I always thought that they were three before they noticed it. Children in the playgrounds come up to her and her cousins asking why their colors are different from each other and from their grandmother. I should start posting in my own blog rather than hijacking others.

Joanna said...

I agree with what you are saying. It is so different for our kids today. When I was in grade school, one of the white teachers married a black man and the whole community was shocked and whispered their disapproval behind her back. Now, many of the children in Michael's class are second generation mixed race. It's simply normal in our community. Which is how it should be. (The US census is having a hard time with this because they just can't cover all the different combinations.)

Unfortunately, I suspect there is still enough of the ignorance of the older generations going around that your kids will still encounter some racism. I wish that wasn't the case. But, I'm glad that we are moving in the right direction.