Monday, August 06, 2007

Anti-Racist Parent Meme

Judy tagged me for the Anti-Racist Parent Meme, which was a bit hard -- but how could I not do it? The questions are great, and she called me one of her homeys, which honors me.

1. I am:
Norwegian, German, Irish, and English.

2. My kid is/kids are:
Little Bun is Norwegian, German, Irish, English, Italian and Welsh.
Miss I is Kembata (ET).

3. I first started thinking more about race, culture, and identity when:
To be honest, it’s probably all too familiar. It was when I was in kindergarten and I wanted a black doll and a family member in an older generation said that was not to be – white mommas had white daddies who had white children. But my parents gave me the doll, and in that place and that moment that was revolutionary. Would that it had not been.

Because I lived in a rural white community as a young child, I had few preconceived notions about anybody but rural white people. This combined with my parents’ 60's idealism was strangely protective -- and too much so perhaps -- against racism but also against awareness of race and culture.

My thoughts on race, culture and identity complexified in college as my world opened up, and it became clear the way they are tied to class and material concerns, but it was still largely academic in the way that whiteness allows.

Little Bun was fortunate to be born into our world of that moment -- a racially, ethnically and linguistically diverse working class neighborhood wherein a little blonde boy was in the minority and his playmates would speak Spanish. But it was the planning for Miss I's arrival a couple years out that made us become practical. I wish now we really claimed our position as "anti-racist parents" when we had just one white child.

4. People think my name is:
African American. In New York, when I first met people, they would say “Oh, I thought you’d be black.” They say the same to dh, as we share his last name. This expectation seems almost inexplicable here, where the name is quite common among black and white people. (Here I share the last name with one of my best friends, who is indeed black).

5. The family tradition I most want to pass on is:
Loving people you don’t have to love. The boundaries of our family have never been defined genetically, or in any other traditional way, and this has led to an unwieldy network of extended relations that I wouldn’t have any other way.

6. The family tradition I least want to pass on is:
Multiple Neuroses, but I suspect that this is what I will pass on most.

7. My child’s first word in English was:
Little Bun: Momma, followed shortly by “ball” and “I do it,” but these all followed his word below.
Miss I: “HiMomma,” on the telephone, from Ethiopia. “No,” to Daddy, in Ethiopia.

8. My child’s first non-English word was:
Little Bun: “Agua.” At two, he would give up this word, along with other Spanish words, insisting that because he did not hear them in our new city, they were “baby talk.”
Miss I: I don’t know. I know she said “Machina” and “Ishi” (it’s okay, which she repeated to herself for reassurance until she was sure it really was). Aye-yuh (either an endearment or “I see you,” “I’ve found you”).

9. The non-English word/phrase most used in my home is:
Ishi, ishi (it’s okay). The AmharEnglish combination with most uses is the following: “Ca ca or keum (stop) the po-po.” It’s now our life’s motto here at Chez Bloom and we like to spread the philosophy.

10. One thing I love about being a parent is:
The surprise. I think of myself as someone who hates surprises (no surprise parties, thank you – please tell me what you’ve gotten me for Christmas so I won’t wonder, no spontaneous trips) but my children are all of these things in the best possible way.

11. One thing I hate about being a parent is:
That I am ultimately not in control, though this is also the most beautiful thing. In my moments of clarity I am aware that I am blessed to watch the unfolding of these extraordinary little lives, which will become big lives that will take journeys I could never have imagined.

12. To me, being an anti-racist parent means:

My daughter likes to play “Matchy Match,” which she also calls the “Compare Game,” identifying things that are the same according to mostly random qualities. This is something that comes out of preschool card matching games and Memory, I’m sure, but it took a turn that should not have seemed unusual yet took me by surprise anyway. She looked at her skin. “I brown. No, I no brown. You no brown, I no brown. You pink, I pink. We ‘matchy match.’” Then she thought for a moment and frowned, “I brown,” she said. Then she flipped her palms up, and gestured for me to do the same. “Matchy Match!” she screamed happily.

I was nonplussed, part of me felt defeated by her strong desire for matchy-match. But being an anti-racist parent means to me striking a balance between matchy-match and difference, surrounding my children with a community full of vibrant difference, and recognizing that the rights of all people are dependent on the protection of those rights for others – in short, teaching my children that all of our interests are intertwined without resorting to a color-blind and a too na├»ve universality.

I tagged Erin, and she accepted the challenge. Check out her thoughtful responses -- and great stories about being the mother of two amazing little boys, at Holding Still.


erin said...

Thought-provoking meme -- I enjoyed reading. That and your time in Manhattan. I'm looking forward to a future trip there sans children myself someday, hopefully not in the too-distant future.

abebech said...

Erin, can I tag you? (Does that count as a tag?)