Thursday, February 01, 2007

Thinking Non-White

I am a white woman. Very white. I grew up mostly in the suburbs of middle class America, mostly on the east coast, and had mostly white friends. My parents taught me to be aware of judging others, they taught me not to hate. For that I am grateful. I would never presume to tell anyone I am completely without racial and socio-economic prejudices because I believe it is truly the extraordinary human being who does not have some prejudices no matter how small.

Now I am a white woman still in the suburbs...and I have children of color. I am trying my best to raise them around people of color and it isn't always easy. I believe racism is nurtured not nature. I hope that by exposing my children to people of different beliefs and cultures somehow when they experience "different" they will embrace it and not run scared.

This morning I saw Joe Biden, a senator from Delaware apologize to Barak Obama for comments he made about Barak Obama being the first man of color in the presidential run to be good looking, clean, and articulate.

I know this comment. I know it because my daughters sometimes hear comments like this. They are compliments, but they are steeped in racial prejudice and ignorance. Obviously Barak Obama is not the first African American politician who is or was extremely articulate. Regardless of what your opinions are about people like Jesse Jackson and Carol Mosely Brown, I don't know how you could argue that they aren't or weren't charismatic and articulate.

My daughter sometimes hear from educators that she is "so smart". (Which of course she is.) Then she might hear a small off handed comment about Chinese adoption and that's the way to go if a parent is interested in a smart child. It makes my stomach flip every time.

When we watched the Indianapolis Colts win the AFC Championship almost two weeks ago we watched the coach Tony Dungy field numerous questions and comments about he and Lovey Smith would be the first two African American coaches for face off during a Super Bowl. I was appalled. Both men had just successfully taken their teams to the Super Bowl and all the media could capture was that they were both black.

As I watched the Joe Biden story this morning I decided he would not be getting my vote. I know his comment was probably not spoken in malicious intent. But he showed me he is lazy in his chosen word. He is not in tune with with non-white America.

I don't like to think of myself as the type of parent that is overly sensitive about each and every comment I hear from well intentioned but perhaps not well educated people on the topic of my children. And yet, in some sense maybe it is good not to let every phrase or question slide by while defending the masses justifying with well intentioned ignorance.


Johnny said...

Say it sista!

Anonymous said...

Awesome post. Thank you, for always putting it out there, and for shooting straight.


tshapedgirl said...

I think you are spot on in your description of Biden. I think his comments are very telling in terms of his own attitudes and prejudices. He spoke a few words, but it said VOLUMES.

redmaryjanes said...

I agree with you 100 percent. I was appalled when I heard Biden's comments. I am becoming nervous as I am preparing to parent a Chinese child. I am so afraid of the things that people will say that could cause our daughter to question her place in our family.

Traci said...

I love the post that is meaningful and straight. Thanks, Perrin! Valerie, Kevin and I are looking forward to Thursday.


Lee-Anne said...

I like your opening paragraph. Very true.

Unfortunately, alot is said out of ignorance than mallice, but the sting is the same, regardless of the intent behind the comment.

nina said...

I just discovered your blog. The new appliances look great. The "Chinese are so smart" comments drive me nuts. Mostly, because my dd is smart but not because she is Chinese. I just let it pass. Most of the comments come from older people that will be long gone when my dd grows up. I am hopeful that this stereotype will pass.

My dd (age 3) knows that she has brown skin. She knows this because in my "wisdom" I explained her lactose intolerance in relationship to her skin color. I am waiting for the day she walks up to a black man and says "you can't eat cheese because you are brown." Anyway, I was reading her a very simple MLK book last month, as I read to her about how people with brown skin were discriminated against and made to sit in the back of the bus and eat in different restaurants, I could see the wheels turning and she said "I have brown skin."

I do not assume my daughter will face the discrimination that an African American will face but I am sure she will face some.