Wednesday, September 12, 2007

And now for something more serious

Shannon just wrote in response to a reader's question about how to raise a child with an awareness of diversity in a totally non-diverse environment (the question was more complicated than that, but you can go read it yourself). I started to comment but it was getting so long I decided to write my own (rambly) post.

I happen to live in a very diverse neighborhood in a very diverse city, so my half-Korean, half-white daughter sees and interacts with many black and Latino adults and children on a daily basis, in addition to the white and Asian adults who are the center of her baby universe. But when she is ready to start school, I know that the "better" schools in our city tend to be more heavily white, and even in this diverse city, it is incredibly easy to be lazy and fall into only interacting with people of your own race. Having grown up as an Asian American daughter of immigrants in a Midwestern, nearly all-white environment (in my high school of 1,200 students, 10 of us were not white. TEN. Nine Asian kids, and one black kid), with all the self-loathing and baggage that goes along with that, I am most concerned about Bat Girl having lots of interactions with other Asians, so that she can know in her bones what it took me a lifetime to learn: that her Asian features are beautiful; that her heritage is something to be proud of, not ashamed of; that anyone who talks down to her or makes fun of her because of her race is a damn fool not worth the dirt on her shoes. I want her to wear her identity comfortably, feeling it as part of the fiber of her being, not as something she wishes she could peel off (which I am ashamed to say I felt growing up).

But I don't want her to live in a white/Asian cocoon, either. I want her to grow up with friends of all races, as my husband and I were unable to do. I want her to be able to travel and experience different cultures. And I want her to love and appreciate human differences. It makes me a little uncomfortable when people brag that their kid "doesn't even realize that the little black girl in their class is another color"--there's a naivete to that kind of aggressive color blindness (in an adult, not in a child) that bothers me. We are not all the same and I would far rather my child recognize that someone has a different skin color, ask about it, and accept that as one piece of what makes the person who they are. After all, I am Asian--I am not white and I do not consider it a compliment if someone says they don't even think of me as Asian. Race is important. It shouldn't be ignored.

One thing that has been worrying me lately: If something were to happen to both me and my husband, we've mostly agreed (we haven't made our wills yet, gulp) that our daughter should go to his sister, who is at this point the family member best equipped to raise her. (My parents are too old, my brother is still in school, my husband's mother is terminally ill and his father is crazy. We don't feel comfortable asking any of our friends to take her.) But she lives in a tiny rural white white white town, with her (sick) mother who is a lovely caring woman but who says things like "you know, black people are afraid of dogs" and refers to Asians as "Oriental." And the thought of my beautiful girl growing up in an environment like that, where she will not know a single other Asian person, where her only contact with her mother's culture may be a half-hearted attempt by her aunt to take her to a Chinese restaurant once in a gives me a pit in my stomach. I know my sister-in-law would give up her life for my baby and would take good care of her. I've already told her that she has to keep my parents and brother in Bat Girl's life. I know that if Bat Girl loses both her parents, she will have much bigger issues than not knowing other Asian people. But it still bothers me. Which is maybe a sign that we need to rethink the whole guardian issue.

I don't know what I'm trying to say. I guess just that this race stuff is really, really hard. But we're trying.


Blogger Amy said...

Thanks for posting your take on this!

12:29 PM  
Blogger LilySea said...

Thanks for widening this conversation. I'm already raring to post an update, but have to wait for the kids to both get to sleep (at the same time, ugh!).

12:42 PM  
Blogger MoMo said...

OMG..this hits home for me!!! We have the same issues as you. S and I just had a conversation this weekend about this--which then upsets me. I want B to grow up in a diverse environment..I want him to realize what it means to be half filipino half white...unfortunately we live in a very "white" neighborhood. Diversity is pretty much non-exixtent and what makes it worst is that everyone around us very wealthy.
We want B to embrace who he is, to know his culture and be proud of it. I don't want B to experience the racism that I experience-which I can write an entire post about! It just breaks my heart thinking about it, it's okay if it happens to me, but not to my child. We want him to be exposed to different people and different cultures but I am struggling to figure how to accomplish this.
The sad thing is before I moved to the midwest I was Miss PC about ethnicity and PC that I almost doubled majored in Asian American Studies in college. When I moved to Chicago I was shocked to see how different it was from California-they were still referring to Asians as Orientals!! One time I was shopping at a Futon Store and the salesman kept referring to Asian people as "Orientals"--after a few minutes, I had it and went up to him and said "excuse me, please refer to us as Asians or Asian Americans, oriental is only used to refer to objects, like a rug, and the last time I checked I wasn't a rug". But somewhere down to road, I softened and I lost that person in that store that was so outspoken--I got used to the situation and I got used to what people were saying to me.

Sorry this is so long(I probaby shoud have just written my own post)...but I have so much to say and I can keep going...

ps..and I agree about people saying that "I don't even think of you as Asian" that suppose to be a compliment???

1:53 PM  
Blogger MsPrufrock said...

Ok, much as I like to sell myself as a happy little liberal who is balanced when it comes to racial issues, I have said that I want P to grow up in a diverse culture and not notice that certain people aren't of a different colour. I had never thought of it from the perspective you mentioned. Now that you say that it seems so glaringly obvious to me.

I think the difficulty arises in making it not about "I never want P to notice that Child X is Asian!" nor that patronising, overcompensating need to ask about said child's culture.

I hope that makes at least a shred of sense. I've had a long day. You know, not noticing that non-white people are non-white. Heh.

3:54 PM  
Blogger Miss W said...

Apparently I have an opinion on this that I can't word concisely, and I don't want to totaly hijack your blog, so within the next few days, I might actually put a real post up on my own blog!

You have made me rethink perhaps not my view on diversity and how to teach my son about it, but maybe the wording that I will use to do so.

4:53 PM  
Blogger Thalia said...

Thanks for this post, very thought-provoking.

Re your family, is there a away to write a joint custody agreement with your brother? Say that you expect BG to spend one weekend a month with him (and/or your parents) and at least 3 periods of one week or more a year. I dunno, something like that. From all I've seen, it's very hard to be comfortable with looking different from all your peers without some other kind of reference.

3:52 AM  
Anonymous Meg said...

Electriclady - Thanks for this post. It's something I think a lot about.

We're white, but I worry about Jasper growing up in an area of the city that just doesn't have the cultural diversity I'd like him to be a part of (though I LOVE where we live, in the middle of a rainforest)

I grew up in a place similar to the one you describe, and I really didn't even know that people could have such a diversity of human experiences. I had that naivety you write about I think. It wasn't informed by racism, just a lack of exposure to a variety types of people.

On all levels, too, not just race. Such as the fact that I didn't know there was such thing as single parent families. Or families where the mother worked. Or that there were people who were artists, or gay, or.....

(Yes, I'm actually serious. I didn't know)

I want Jasper to be aware and inclusive of all different types of people.

But I'm not sure how to resolve that.

8:22 AM  
Anonymous Meg said...

Oh, I could keep writing and writing on this topic....

8:23 AM  
Blogger Rachel Inbar said...

Very interesting post. Thanks :-)

3:34 PM  
Blogger TeamWinks said...

I all of a sudden feel justified in my endless pursuit of figuring out what race my son is. It's up for debate whether he is half black or half Hispanic. From what we've gathered thus far, we're leaning towards Hispanic.

While many people shy away from this topic, we feel it's ok to celebrate our differences.

My fear is that we won't get the answers, and this will confuse the hell out of him. After all, he will want to identify with one of these races. So, on I search for the answers for him...

12:23 PM  

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