July 19, 2013

Using All The Crayons

I asked Arun to draw a picture of his dream vacation.  Apparently, Disney World can suck it because my kid wants to go to India with his daddy to catch cobras and pit vipers.

I have not said much regarding the Trayvon Martin case yet because frankly, I was too damned busy listening (per Kelly Wickham's request).  I've also been pondering Te-Nehisi Coates' observations.  I have been following Slate's coverage (and felt my heart sink when the uncomfortable prediction was offered that we would see an acquittal of Zimmerman.)  And then, I click on more links. Which lead me to yet MORE links.

And then I listen some more.

You would think that my being married to a person of color grants me some Special Pass, a unique revocation of my White Privilege, but it does not quite work that way.  Oh sure, I gain some perspective when I hear folks compliment his English.  I gain insight when I hear him take calls with patients and the patients question his use of the name "George" as if it was his lame attempt to Anglicize himself.   Things certainly begin to click for me when I hear folks ask his location and express disbelief that he is truly in Kansas and instead, would rather believe he is huddled in a stifling cubicle deep in the heart of Bangalore.

Nope.  There are no Special Passes.

When I first heard of this notion called White Privilege, it rankled me.  Seriously, What. The. Hell.  White Privilege? Meaning the results of all of my hard work was actually based upon the color of my skin?   After all, I did not feel very privileged growing up in crummy, small Kansas towns with a father still deep in the throes of PTSD from his stint in Vietnam (not to mention my parents' incessant fighting and eventual divorce). Oh, and I can definitely report that my pasty, pale skin did not feel privileged working through college and later, still paying off student loans (certainly, there were no Moaning Myrtle scholarships to be had.)  Furthermore, the machine that graded my CPA exam probably did not care that I am white. Indeed.

And yet.

I have never had reason to be scared of a cop.  I freely wear hoodies.  I have never been followed by security in a department store.  I have a HUGE temper, but no one has ever referred to me as an Angry White Woman (complete with predefined character attributions). In fact, I can only remember one time I have felt discriminated based upon color (let's leave misogyny out of this for now-- that is for another time entirely).  Manoj and I were out for dinner in Maine about 11 years ago and the waitress was extremely rude and curt with us. Manoj and I tend to give long leashes for our waitstaff because we respect how hard they work.  So, we simply thought we had gotten a server who was having a bad day.  Until I noticed her 2 tables over laughing, small-talking and offering up some really good customer service.  And then, I watched her come to OUR table and her demeanor did a 180.

However, honestly? The experience wasn't horrifying for me.  Because it was isolated.   It gave me some acumen, to be sure, but I did not leave the restaurant scarred for life.  And besides, the waitress was being crappy to me only because I was with a person of color.  I walked out of that restaurant still WHITE.  My husband was still BROWN.

Oh, and here is the real kicker -- because of my WHITE skin, my kids are now so ethnically ambiguous that I may never have to worry about them wearing hoodies on a rainy night as they dash to the store to buy Skittles.

Now that I have reconsidered this White Privilege gig I have going on, what am I going to do about it?  What can any of us do about it?  Yes, we need to listen, but then we need to talk about it.  And we need to quit pretending that kids do not see color.  Ever since my kids have grasped a crayon in their grubby paws, they have always been conscientious of coloring their family members the correct, corresponding shade (and as I have written before, we are very frank about color with our kids.)

Quit chirping brightly "my kids are colorblind!"  Your kids are not colorblind, they just don't care! Do what you can to keep it that way.  Encourage questions!  The other day, my son's friend was asking who Arun's mama was and who Anjali's daddy simply because he was confused by all the shades we have going on in our family.  And this kid is African-American!  At one point, he thought he shouldn't be asking the questions, but I encouraged him to finish his question.  And then, I gently explained to him what happens with mixed-race kids.

I can't change any laws, but I can keep a careful eye on who I vote for.

I can't change others' racist views but I can discourage the conversation or call out racist views.

I am in charge of two small humans who have the potential to positively influence others.  And when their friends come to visit and are in my home, I have those moments as well to reflect a positive attitude.

In the meantime, I need to get back to listening.


Mocha said...

I love you a whole lot.

Cara said...

"They just don't care." Yes, exactly.

I also think,though, that there's a socioeconomic factor here that's being largely ignored. Until recently, I worked with teens in fostercare. Kids of every ethnicity who wore baggy pants, hoodies and a street attitude on their sleeves. Zimmerman would have followed one of my kids had he or she walked through his neighborhood. (Perhaps to their newest foster home?). Any one of my kids would have turned and confronted him - and probably gotten shot. And let's be real. Trayvon was not a choirboy. He was a whole lot like my kids.

I don't know what Zimmerman would have done if a young black professional had been walking home that night. I do know that the experiences of people of color suggest there's a good chance it would still have happened, though they might have had the skills to defuse the situation. And yes, I notice that would be about their ability to protect the self in a hostile world, not about the world being friendlier. I am NOT ignoring the reasons race is such a focus of this conversation. That conversation is real and important. I'm glad it's happening.

But, I think we need to be real that if we ignore a segment of kids and leave them to raise themselves on the streets and then respond to them with fear we are going to have awful confrontations like this. The fact that young black males are disproportionately represented in that group makes it an issue that I believe goes hand in hand with that of race. So far, the presidents about the only person I've heard suggest anything like that.

That and why the heck is no one here talking about gun control? (I live 20 minutes from Sandord. From what I hear, it's part of the national conversation. Here I hear almost nothing.) I always worried that one of my kids would mouth off to the wrong person and get beat up. I never worried that they'd be shot for it. If noone had had a gun that night, it would have been an ugly incident surely, but I seriously doubt it would have been a deadly one.

Ahem. Sorry to hijack your comments. Perhaps it's time to dust off my own blog.

maya said...

Thank you for this…

It's an important (if uncomfortable) conversation that most people ignore. Even good, kind, progressive people. Have you seen the documentary _Traces of the Trade_? It's a wonderful look at the ways in which whiteness (or presumed whiteness) is built on a long history of oppression.