School Nightmares

For some reason, my husband and I lucked out with our kids in the sleep department.  They’ve always been great sleepers; typically they’ll sleep a good twelve hours no matter what time we put them to bed, and they rarely wake up with bad dreams (although our son had several sleepless nights after seeing Cats; Mr. Mistoffelees was just too much for him to handle…or maybe it was the hackneyed music).  In the past few months though, our daughter has woken up in the middle of the night with school-related nightmares.

A month or two ago, I had a trying day at school.  My kids will likely go to the school where I’m currently teaching, and feeling downtrodden on that particular day, I sarcastically broached a touchy subject over dinner.

“How would you guys feel if we moved?  You could go to a new school!”  The kids gave me a double take, and my husband rolled his eyes.  “Whatever…it was just a thought.”

Later that night, our daughter woke up inconsolably crying, and when my husband went to check on her, she told him through her sobs that she had a nightmare about going to a new school and missing all of her friends.  I’m sure he was really happy with me at that moment, but I can’t know for sure because I had already gone back to sleep.

Last night, she woke up from another nightmare, this one not quite as powerful but enough to produce some saddened moans that stirred me when I went in to turn off her night light.  I rubbed her back, and she slowly opened her eyes.

“Daddy, I had a nightmare.”

“What happened honey?”

“I dreamed that I was at school and every class I went to I was the only black kid.”

This is of course nearly a reality for her living in our mostly white suburban town.  Our daughter just turned eight, and she’s been showing more and more interest in her racial identity, which couldn’t make me prouder while at the same time making me very nervous.  I want to make sure we’re providing a sound foundation for her, and I’m constantly worrying that what we’re doing isn’t enough.

“That’s unfortunately going to be pretty close to what your experience will have to be going to school in this town because there aren’t very many black people who live here.”  Had this been a daytime conversation, I certainly would have given her a little age-appropriate lesson on redlining, but it was late and I was just about to head to bed myself.  “You know that because we live where we do, Daddy and Poppy try hard to make sure you have black people in your life.”  I named a few key individuals, including two friends who had attended her birthday party who are kids of color and also have gay parents.

“But they don’t have skin as dark as me.”  Another teachable moment on the realities of colorism, but again, it was late.

“No, but black people come in all different shades, and they’re still going to be identified as black; they’ll be great friends that you can turn to as you all grow up because you’ll each know what it’s like to be in a different kind of family like ours.”  I could tell she was starting to come around; I decided to remind her of last year’s classroom teacher.  “And you know what?  I’m sure Ms. H. would be happy to talk to you any time.  You know she’s the only black teacher in your school, so she knows kind of what you’re going through.  I’m sure if you just stopped by before school, she’d find time to talk to you.”  She smiled a bit remembering that connection.  “And as you get older, there will be a few more black kids that join you.  When you get to middle school, there will be a few from each of the elementary schools in town that will all go to school together, and then more when you get to high school.  And then for college, you might decide you want to go to an all-black college.”

“They have those?” she asked, her eyes widening.

“Yup, and that’s why learning everything you can in school is important because it will give you options down the road.”

“I want to go to one of those schools.”  I was suddenly reminded of a video I show in professional development courses I teach where a black Boston student attending school in the white suburbs describes her impending shift to a historic black college.  She says that she had felt like an exchange student her whole life, and she was excited about finally getting the chance to relax that aspect of herself in college.

“Well that’s totally up to you.  If at some point before college, you decide that being around other people that look like you is important, then we’ll talk about you going to a different school, but right now, I think you’d rather stay with your friends right?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, but if that ever changes, you let us know.”

I kissed her good night, and as she drifted back to sleep, I did what every great parent does: I questioned every decision we’ve ever made on behalf of our kids and hoped for the thousandth time that it would all turn out alright.

Dancing Bears

As part of today’s marathon day, after teaching a full day at school I’ll head out to facilitate a three-hour workshop on racial identity in teaching.  The workshop meets about every two weeks, and as we wade through the complicated ideology of race and education each session, we always make time for participants to “check in” on things they’ve noticed over the period of time between sessions.

We stress that as educators and as members of this complicated American society, we don’t know what we don’t know until we know it.  That may sound convoluted, but for many of us that grew up in the latter part of the twentieth century, race and its impact on achievement and success was a taboo topic, something that we learned very early not to talk about.  As we take on different perspectives, we tend to see things in ways we never imagined possible.  This is true in these workshops, as well as in life in general; it’s one of the reasons I love teaching great literature because it provides the opportunity to experience the world as something completely unique to our own experiences.

To illustrate these points in class, my co-teachers and I use this great video:

If we don’t know what to look for, we typically won’t see it.  This is the lesson we teach with racial dynamics in America, and it’s something that constantly surprises me.  I’m constantly seeing dancing bears in my world, and I’ve been doing this work for several years.

In today’s session, I’ll be “checking in” on a few things I heard in the two weeks since I last met with this group.  Here are some highlights:

  • This NPR piece about double-eyelid surgery that many people believe is representative of Asian women pursuing a more Western standard of beauty
  • This article exploring the ways in which Kim Kardashian’s recent nude cover photo extravaganza actually is an explicit reference to the objectification and oppression of women of color

  • The story behind one black man’s six-word identity phrasing as part of the Race Card Project: “With kids, I’m dad.  Alone, thug.”
  • The recent lawsuit against Harvard claiming that the school unfairly limits the number of Asian Americans it admits, a lawsuit that is actually a veiled anti-Affirmative Action test case

These stories are everywhere, particularly within my social circles and the media in my world.  Granted, my specific identity and perspective help me gravitate toward friends that post this sort of stuff on Facebook and dictate what type of news I listen to.  Still, it excited me to be living in a time where these conversations can be had so publicly.  Slowly, we are chipping away at the stigma of even talking about race and how it impacts our daily existence in this country.  There are still lots of examples of the pernicious effects of our racist history, but when something like Michael Brown’s shooting in Ferguson happens, I’m thankful that we can engage in a dialogue about how race plays a role, even if there are still lots of people who don’t want to believe that it does.

So I’ll continue to look for dancing bears.  I’ll continue to post them on Facebook.  I’ll continue to use these stories to promote my left-wing gay agenda in my teaching.  And I’ll continue to use them to teach my own children to be safe and happy in this world.

Dear Principal

There is only one African American teacher at our daughter’s school, she teaches first grade, and she has a fabulous reputation as a teacher.  Last year, as our daughter neared the end of Kindergarten, I started beating the drum to secure her a spot in that first grade class.  I met with her then current teacher and the school psychologist, and I wrote a two-page letter citing some of the research on the benefits of children of color being taught by teachers of color.  I thought it might be a one-time thing, but a friend of mine mentioned that she’s done the same thing every year for every one of her five children, and her youngest are now in high school.  I realized then that I’ll be sending a version of last year’s letter to my kids’ principal every year for the next decade regardless of whether or not there are teachers of color in whose classes my children can be placed.  In the absence of qualified racial minority teachers, white teachers must be trained in the effects of race, power, and privilege in our educational system in order to be effective educators for my children.  And only by thoughtfully placing my children–and other children of color–in what the state now deems “culturally proficient” classrooms can my children reach their potential.

And so, here is this year’s letter, slightly edited only to ensure anonymity:

Dear Principal P:

Thank you so much for the invitation to write to you regarding our children’s classroom placement at our school this fall. Ms. H has provided a wonderful first grade experience for our daughter, and Ms. E has done terrific work with our son in Kindergarten.

Last fall, I wrote sent the former principal a similar letter to this one, and I am thankful that our comments were taken into account when placing both of our children this year. As you may remember, our children come from a fairly nontraditional family. In addition to coming from a home with two fathers, both of them were adopted through the Massachusetts Foster Care system. We are also a racially diverse family: our daughter is African American, our son is Latino, my husband is white, and I am Asian. We hope that you will take into account all of these aspects of our children’s identities when placing them into appropriate classes this fall. While we understand the need for declining to hear any parent’s requests for specific teachers, in the past, members of your staff have endorsed such requests in light of our children’s unique identities.

Last year, Ms. M and Ms. L supported the placement of our daughter in Ms. H’s first grade class, and I have spoken with Ms. E about a similar placement for our son. Although he is not African American, as a dark-skinned Latino boy with Afro-textured hair living and two fathers who do not share these traits, he needs Ms. H as a role model for his positive racial identity development. As we wrote last year regarding our daughter’s placement, we wholeheartedly understand that one does not need to be a person of color to be a successful teacher for students of color—Ms. M and Ms. E are living proof of this—but research shows that students of color who have effective teachers that look like them end up being more successful in school overall, especially when this happens at an early age. Specifically, Han, West-Olatunji, and Thomas’s findings published in their article “Use of Racial Identity Development Theory to Explore Cultural Competence among Early Childhood Educators” concluded that “African-American students performed better at school when taught by African-American teachers.” I’m sure you are aware of all of the evidence supporting these ideas, and we hope you will take this into account when placing our son for first grade this fall. For similar reasons, we feel strongly that you consider placing our daughter in Ms. W’s class for second grade since this is currently her last opportunity in elementary school to be instructed by a teacher of color, something we have discussed with Ms. H as well.

Further, we would like to echo some of the additional sentiments we’ve expressed each year regarding our children’s placement. We feel strongly that both of our children should always be placed with educators who have completed training in culturally responsive teaching practices and who recognize the importance of racial and cultural identity on academic achievement and engagement. As Willis D. Hawley and Sonia Nieto note in their article, “Another Inconvenient Truth: Race and Ethnicity Matter,” “most measures of good teaching do not deal explicitly with culturally relevant pedagogy, in spite of the fact that research has documented that this approach to teaching can be effective with all students,” and Pedro A. Noguera suggests in his article “How Racial Identity Affects Performance,” “teachers for whom race was never a salient piece of their identity development may fail to recognize the significance of race in their students’ lives.” We are so proud that our district attempts to alleviate these issues by actively encouraging teachers to continue to educate themselves on culturally proficient teaching practices. Since new hires to the district may not have had time to complete this important coursework however, we ask for your consideration in placing both of our children this year and in the future with educators who have.

Finally, we would appreciate your attention in placing our children with cohorts of other traditionally marginalized children, both those who are adopted and other children of color. The latter is even more important given that our school will likely have no new Boston students in attendance with the district’s plans for placing all new METCO students at another elementary school.

We appreciate you reaching out to families to share our concerns and ideas, and we look forward to more successful years for our children in our school system!

Equity Isn’t Always Fair

Last week, my husband and I took the kids to Cape Cod for a few days to start our Spring Break. In our haste to leave, I was betrayed by the mild temperatures and the shining sun and I forgot the kids’ jackets. We could get away with no jackets since I’d packed a sweatshirt for my son, but I’d neglected to pack one for my daughter. On our first trip into town, we planned on buying one for her, and my husband asked, “Is this going to be okay, buying one for her and not for him?” I responded in my typical pragmatic fashion, refusing to acknowledge that the mind of a five-year-old boy often has little to do with reason and rationality: “He doesn’t need one. He’ll have to be fine with it.”

We stopped at the store and my daughter gleefully picked out a new sweatshirt, and the wheels of jealousy began to turn in my son’s mind. His typical smile turned into a pout, and by the time I was signing the credit card slip he was in tears on the pavement outside. We did our best to explain to him that the only reason his sister was getting a new sweatshirt was because it was cold and she didn’t have one; she needed one and he didn’t. “It’s not fair!” he wailed, and I explained that fair doesn’t necessarily mean everyone gets the same thing; it means everyone gets what they need. I tried to link the conversation to my husband buying him a new tire for his bike the previous week because he needed one and his sister didn’t, but the new tire wasn’t nearly as exciting as a new sweatshirt. He was too far gone, and my husband had to sit with him on a park bench while he screamed and thrashed, eventually calming him down and heading back to the house for a nap.

These rare tantrums from our son are definitely triggered by his sense of fairness, a totally age-appropriate fixation and one that is endlessly futile. We simply keep beating the drum that fair doesn’t mean the same, and some day he might fall in line. I recently taught a professional development course for teachers on self-efficacy, the beliefs students have in how successful they will be at a given task, and my co-facilitator showed this terrific poster she found on Pinterest.

Equality vs. Equity

The image of the kids trying to see the baseball game is one that really resonates for me, and it really captures the issues that my son is grappling with at the moment. I keep coming back to that image and the concept of equality versus equity as I think about the world in which my children are growing up. This week, the Supreme Court decided to allow the dominant majority to eliminate Affirmative Action for the marginalized minority. What it really comes down to is parents thinking that some short black kid is stealing their kid’s box at the baseball game, a box that they worked hard to buy for their child and a box that those black parents are too lazy to earn on their own.

Affirmative Action is one of those extremely touchy political topics, almost as divisive as abortion in some communities, and in a society where college acceptance—and acceptance into a few specific elite institutions—is seen as the primary indicator of future success, giving your tall kid a box he doesn’t need to see over that fence is just one way to better ensure that he will be forever happy.

Perhaps though, the boxes at the baseball game aren’t really an apt-enough metaphor for the nuances of college admissions. If the front line, those standing at the fence, is the Ivy Leagues, there are only so many spaces. Every kid who wants to stand at the fence can’t, regardless of how many boxes we give out. Some kids are going to have sit a few yards back in the front row of seats, and a few others will have to sit in the bleachers. Still others might have to watch the game on television. The point is that everyone gets to watch the game. Any kid who is legitimately up for a slot in the next freshman class at Harvard is certainly not going to be denied admission to a slew of really terrific schools out there, regardless of whether Harvard takes him in. He will get to watch the game and he will be successful and he will be happy, provided we can shift our rhetoric around what is fair so that he broadens his view of what those things really are.

These are lessons I’m trying to teach my children using the language of sweatshirts and bicycle tires and boxes at baseball games, while at the same time emphasizing that getting what they need will only benefit them in tandem with hard work and perseverance. No one is going to give them a box at the baseball game unless they’re sure that they both need it and deserve it.

To Our Daughter on Her Seventh Birthday

Happy Birthday

Happy Birthday

Seven years ago today, your future dads had just returned from the final vacation of their childless life.  We were patiently waiting for a child to be placed in our pre-adoptive foster home, mistakenly believing we had months to wait.  When you were born, we didn’t know that you had come into the world yet; we didn’t know that you had been transferred to the NICU while your little five-pound body valiantly fought the cocaine in your system, your muscles permanently tightening up, something that makes it impossible for you to do a cartwheel today.  We didn’t know yet that shortly after you left her body your birthmom went in search of the only thing she thought could quiet the sickness that was her addiction, leaving you behind and beginning the process of you coming into our life.  When you were alone in the hospital, fighting your way out of the NICU and bravely weaning yourself off the drugs without medical aid, we didn’t know that your first week of life was our last week alone.

At six days old, you didn’t know that our social worker called us to say you were waiting.  You didn’t know how we struggled to decide if this was the right decision.  You didn’t know that we took what little information we had about your birth and spoke with a pediatrician about the long-term effects on your health and well-being.  When you were one week old, you didn’t know that we were just around the corner, meeting with a doctor who said you were “eating like a champ,” something that is one of your most endearing qualities now as a seven year old.  You didn’t know that the nurses wanted so badly to bring us to you the minute we stepped off the elevator, but that we resisted because even before we met you we knew that one look at your face would bond the three of us forever.  While you were just a few dozen feet away, we sat and quietly weighed our options with one another.  The health risks, the legal risks, the emotional risks of calling ourselves your fathers without knowing whether you would be permanently a part of our family.

The day we met.

The day we met.

You didn’t know that with tears in our eyes we took each other’s hand, small smiles of assent on our faces as we walked down the hall to meet you.

You don’t remember the joy that immediately filled our hearts when we first set eyes on you, but now at seven years old you frequently ask about it, looking at the photographs we have of that day.  You see the enormous grins on our faces as we held you for the first time, so small but already such a huge anchor in our lives.  You look at those memories and then quickly jump up to measure your tremendous height against our bodies, smiling in proud disbelief at the way you’ve grown.

Seven years after you were born, we see glimpses of the young woman you will soon be, and you continue to bring us great happiness.  With every day that goes by, we are thankful for the decision that we made in the quiet hospital room.  As difficult as it is to celebrate the difficult circumstances that allowed you to come into our lives, we feel incredibly blessed to parent you.  Seven years ago we made a commitment to give you the best possible life no matter how long you were with us, and now that we are a forever family as permanent and important as any biological counterpart, we will continue that promise as long as we are able.  As you grow, you will certainly struggle with the way you came you into our lives, and we will always give you the support you need and the space you require.  Thank you for being our daughter and for giving us this tremendously amazing opportunity to be your fathers.

Stealing an Identity

It fell off a truck!

My son has had a little problem lately with stealing.  It started out with small things; he’d sneak into his sister’s room and take the Lego toys he gave her for Christmas.  In his mind, he gave them to her (ie: when I told him to pick something out at the store for his sister he pointed at them) and therefore they belonged to him as much as her.  We figured gift giving was just a developmental challenge he wasn’t totally equipped for yet.

A few weeks later, he came home with a new pair of mittens.  They were the cheap kind that cost probably a dollar or two, so when he said that someone in class had a birthday party and this was the favor for everyone, I believed him.  The following week, he came home with a brand new pair of electric blue Nikes in his backpack claiming that his best friend had given them to him.  A phone call later, it turned out this wasn’t true, and the shoes had somehow found their way into my son’s bag at the end of the day while his unwitting friend put on his snow boots.  An email to the teacher that night revealed that he had stolen the shoes and the mittens story wasn’t true either.  Knowing that he’s only five, we didn’t sound the alarm bells just yet, and his teacher came up with a plan that if a friend actually gave him anything at school he was to ask the teachers if it was okay and she would send a note home; otherwise, his backpack should have no new items in it at the end of the day.

A few days later, he came home from the after school daycare center he attends twice a week with a little Lego figure.  Again he had a very cogent argument for how he ended up with it: his friend simply gave it to him.  My husband walked him back to the daycare to return the item since our son hadn’t followed protocol asking the teacher if he could keep it.  Later that night, the teacher called to say that our son had offered to put the Lego man away in his friend’s backpack, and slipped it into his own instead.

At this point, we just kept telling him we loved him and reinforcing that stealing made us and his friends sad.  We told him that just because he wanted something didn’t make it right to take it, and we asked him how he would feel if someone did that to him.  Standard stuff.  I mean, it’s not like he doesn’t have lots of toys at home.  This is clearly about something else, especially with the lying that accompanies the initial transgression.

Lock up your Lego watches

Then the other day at pick up, his teacher asked me to have a seat on the bench outside the school.  The three of us sat down and his teacher asked him to tell me what happened at the end of the day.  With a sheepishly innocent look on his face, he told her he didn’t know what she was talking about.  She then reminded him that one of his really good friends in class was very upset at the end of the day because his new Lego watch was missing from his cubby.  The teacher asked everyone to check their bags, and our son refused.  When she “helped” him, she found the watch in his bag.

Since a pattern is clearly emerging, I spoke with the school social worker the following day who agrees that this isn’t a simple case of “I want that thing and my parents won’t get it for me so I’m going to take it.”  She thinks he’s working out some other need, and obviously we don’t know what that is–and neither probably does our son know what that is.  We have some working theories of course, and the social worker thinks we’re on the right track.  There’s the normal younger sibling stuff of watching his older sister get privileges that he’s simply too young for, and she received some toys at the holidays that are geared for an older age bracket.  That’s all normal jealousy stuff.  Then in addition to that, our daughter got a Christmas gift from her birth-grandmother, something that was difficult for our son in the absence of any word from his birth-family.  The social worker also brought up the fact that he didn’t join our family until after he turned one; she mentioned he might be working out some issues over the confusion about those broken attachments that he developed during that first year.  We’re looking into some therapists, and in the mean time, we’re going to try to reinforce his identity with positive reinforcement and extra attention.

After talking to friends and doing some quick Google searches, we know this is all somewhat normal developmental behavior for a kid dealing with some significant issues that he’s not old enough to cope with alone.  At the same time, I can’t help but being worried about how his actions will be interpreted in this homogenous suburban environment.  Because of his impulsive inclinations and inability to stay still for more than thirty seconds at a time, I’ve already had a candid conversation with his teacher about him being thought of as just another brown boy with behavior issues.  What might be seen as cheekiness and exuberance in other little boys can easily be seen as annoying and distracting in my son simply because of the color of his skin and the kinkiness of his hair.  And now that he’s stealing, I worry about the adults and older kids in his school who think he is merely fulfilling another Latino stereotype.

As I’ve written about before, racial issues are really about how others interpret us–just like that saying that homophobia is really only a problem for the straight people who suffer from it–and I wonder how long it will be until my kids really start to realize that no matter how they behave they will always face the stereotypes, judgments, and misunderstandings that people have of the way they look.  Without the negative interactions that occur because of the way that others interpret those who occupy the space outside the dominant racial group, people of color could stay forever in what William Cross calls the pre-encounter stage of racial identity development, a stage where an individual is virtually unaware of his/her own race and may even identify more closely with the dominant group.  My kids have mostly moved beyond this level even at their young ages, both because of some racially charged incidents in preschool and also because my husband and I have tried to stay ahead of the curve by speaking about how others may be unkind to our family simply because of the ways we are different.  For the past two years, I’ve taken our daughter to an African American History show in Boston where they dramatize all aspects of black history, including lynchings, slavery, and segregation.  Last month, her first grade teacher even led the class through a modified version of Jane Eliot’s “Blue Eyes” activity in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday.  My kids are consistently exposed to activities, conversations, and media that shows them the good and the difficult aspects of their racial history and identity, but that’s only because of careful, thoughtful, and deliberate choices by me, my husband, and my kids’ teachers.  Even with all of this exposure, neither of my kids is old enough to really understand the truly evil side of racism in this country’s history and its present condition, but they do have an awareness of it, and they have the vocabulary and tools to begin to really internalize it when they’re old enough, hopefully in a healthy way.

But for now we can’t really draw the clear connections without confusing them and stunting their positive identity development.  We can’t tell our son that if he continues to steal that he will simply reinforce the negative stereotypes that people have of his race and doors of opportunity will close to him even though he’s so young.  We can’t tell our daughter that one of the reasons she needs to work so hard on her spelling is to combat the stereotype that she is less intelligent than her peers because of the color of her skin.  And so we continue to walk the tightrope of educating our children in an age-appropriate way about the realities of growing up as a person of color in this country, forever wondering if there is a safety net below us for that inevitable moment when we will misstep and fall.

Camp Gasyia

My addiction

I’m super addicted to chai lattes.  A few years ago, I realized I could save a bundle of money by skipping my daily Starbucks trip and making my own lattes at home.  The natural food grocery up the street from our house carries the same brand that the baristas at Starbucks use, so I buy about a half dozen at a time every few weeks.  The store is about a block away from the studio where my kids take dance, and being the king of efficiency that I am, I always combine the trips so that I can run over while the kids are in class.

On Thursdays, our son takes a boys’ dance class, and a friend of mine who has kids the same age and genders as ours brings her son too.  While I typically get to leave my daughter at home with my husband, she has to bring her daughter along to sit in the lobby while her brother dances away; this is typically a recipe for first grade boredom, but this week I had to bring my daughter along because my husband wasn’t home yet.  This worked out well because the two girls just giggled away most of the hour.  Of course this week I also had to make my chai pilgrimage, so I offered to take both girls with me on the short walk.  They came along gladly, smiling and laughing all the way.

We got the to grocer, and I remembered that earlier that day my daughter had asked me to make sure her lunch was nut free so she could sit with some of her friends at the allergy table.  The natural grocery store has a slew of peanut butter alternatives, and I was overwhelmed by the options.  The girls scampered off to look at something or other, and I asked the friendly-looking female clerk for some nut-free spread advice.  She steered me toward some pumpkin seed spread, and I collected both the girls and my boxes of chai before heading back to the same woman to check out.

“Do you run a camp?” she asked, as she ran my goods over the scanner.

“What?” I asked.

“A camp?  Is that what you’re doing with those kids?”

I looked over at the girls, one white and one black, and realized she must have been confused by this pseudo-Asian walking in with two different colored girls.

“Oh, no,” I told her, mildly irritated, “just going to the store with my daughter and her friend.”

“Oh…” she mumbled.  “I…just…uh…you look so young is all.  I figured there was no way those kids were yours.”

“Well, only one of them is, and thank you.”

This sort of thing happens often.  People are genuinely confused by our family, especially when only one of the dads in our family is present.  Things don’t match up visually, and most people want to know why.  What’s difficult about these situations though is that people quickly assume that we can’t possibly all be from the same family.  I wondered why the clerk didn’t ask, “Are those your daughters?” or “Is one of those girls your daughter?”  Is there something inappropriate about asking if two differently colored people are related?  If she simply wanted to open the door to a polite conversation, why not ask, “Do the girls have nut allergies?” which would have been totally appropriate given the circumstances of our interaction.

Who’s worried?

A colleague once told me how she was waiting for a table at a restaurant in Boston.  She and her boyfriend were waiting at the bar, idly making chit chat with two strangers until their names were called.  One of the strangers started talking about her son, and my colleague asked if she could see a picture.  The woman, who was white, pulled out her phone and called up a recent photo.  The photo showed two little boys, one white and one black.  “Don’t worry,” laughed the woman, “my son is the white one!”  After the fact, my colleague wondered why the woman presumed someone might be “worried” that her son was black.

I believe this all speaks to the idea that our society believes darker skin is lesser, certainly less desirable.  This is clearly evident in the white dominated society of America, but it is also documented within minority communities; what happened at the grocery store though is something a little different, or at least it was a result of that societal norm.  Either consciously or not, this clerk opted to ask if I was some sort of hired caregiver for my daughter because to ask if she was related to me was either too preposterous or offensive to even bring up.  I’m hopeful that my short time with her will help her see that my family is nothing to be ashamed of.