Thursday, January 31, 2013

Mr. Brown Eyes

**You will notice I've gone back to using names.  I feel like using initials makes it to difficult to read.  So I have made up names, for the people in my life.  If you don’t like the name I give you…well I don’t care.  Except for the wifey, I'll let her pick a new name if she likes. Everyone’s fake name will start with the same letter as their real name. 

“Not to be racist but…”

Never in the history of the spoken word has this phrase been followed by something that isn't in fact racist.  I hate this phrase.  I usually will cut people off when I hear this.

“Then don’t be.”

Soon Glenn turns four, so it is time to start thinking about how to talk about racism.  Let’s start with the bad news.  Outside of his classmates, Glenn doesn't know anyone of non-Caucasian ethnicity, so it’s good we moved from WI.  Wikipedia tells me today that 83% of WI residents describe themselves as Caucasian, compared to 67% in the rest of the country. J’s godfather is African American, but he lives on the east coast and doesn't see him, well, ever.  He is a good friend of mine and we talk often, but neither of us is in position to be jet setting across the country. 

Whenever Terri and I talk about the potential of adopting a kid, I always hesitate.  Here is why. I’m under the assumption that adopting white kids takes more time than adopting a non-white baby. I don’t know if my assumption is correct or the result of television, etc.

So if we were ever to adopt, the odds are extremely high we would have a child of minority descent.  To be clear: I have NO problem with this.  My concern is how do I, as a white person, authentically and honestly teach them about a culture I don’t belong to? It would be important, for me, to teach our new family member about our family AND his or her heritage. I just have a problem thinking this middle-class white guy is the best person to explain racism to a child who will, sadly, probably experience more of it than I have encountered.  Fortunately, I am not currently tasked with that problem.  But the two white kids in the living room, those are my problem.

Kids are not stupid.  If I was racist to people, then they would already know it and have formed irrational reasons in their head for why it’s okay. I’m also certain that they both wonder why they do not see African Americans come over.  (Please do not use that to make assumptions about my views or me based off of this fact alone.)  Regardless, the time to be avoiding the subject with Glenn is over. 

MLK day offered me the perfect opportunity to bring it up.  Well that’s not true.  It being on CNN afforded Glenn the perfect opportunity to ask about it.  A lot of parents focus on answering their kid’s questions well.  I try to focus on asking good questions and helping them with the answers, especially if you don’t know the answers.

“Glenn do you understand what the news means when they say African American?”


 “Does everyone have the same color skin as you?”


“African American is referring to people who have a different skin color.”

“Like Brown skin?” I can see him putting together the list of people he knows in his head.  I think he chose the color brown because he doesn't see African Americans as being truly ‘black.’ We don’t correct bad grammar, or in this case, etiquette.  We praise good grammar and etiquette.

“Are African Americans different than you?”

“…Yes???” At the first sign of hesitation, I know we have reached our starting point.

“Yes, they are different, but in a superficial way.  Like your eyes.  Do you and your brother have different color eyes?”

“Yes, his eyes are blue and my eyes are brown.  Hey, I’m brown too!!!”

Not quite Glenn. 

It seems to me that as parents we have only two choices.  Avoid the conversation altogether, so as to let them make up their own mind.  Or confront the topic head on and help to shape that opinion.  I am not going to leave him alone to form his own opinions about sex or religion, why would I let him come to his own conclusions about race? Yet, I think that a lot of parents do just that, especially Caucasian parents when it comes to the topic of race.  I suspect, although I do not know, that this conversation comes much sooner for minority parents.

I went on to explain why those kids were being sprayed with hoses, but it seemed to go over his head.  This topic is going to have to be talked about over and over.  After all, you wouldn't tell them to wash their hands just once would you? So I am sure this is not my last post.

But because you talk about it, then they are going to talk about it, and I can already see the awkwardness I will deal with.  It most likely will take place while running errands at the store.

“Look Dad…that lady is brown like me!!”

“Not quite Glenn”

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