Hope is currently in a day camp at local animal shelter. She’s been looking forward to this week of camp for months, and really is thriving there. She keeps asking can we adopt some critters. The answer is always no. No. Did I mention the answer is no? The Furry One is the center of the animal universe in Casa d’ABM.
This camp has triggered some difficult conversations about race between Hope and me. Hope is the only brown kid at the camp. #oneofthesekidsisdoingherownthing The ONLY one. We talked about it the first day, how did she feel about being the only one, I wondered. For the record, she brought it up first, no seeds planted here.
Hope really has internalized some unambiguous ideas about how Black folks behave; she wasn’t surprised that she was the only one. I hear a lot of “Black folks don’t do this,” or “Black folks do this” from her. It really is black or white with her. Her declarations about how we act are usually a negative characterization, i.e. “Black folks do all the stealing.” It stings every time I hear it. I hate the sense of self-hate that it implies; because Black folks don’t do certain things, she thinks that some of her opportunities are limited.
She thinks that as an educated Black woman I’m different, not the norm. I might as well be a rare bird. She’s actually told me that I wasn’t really Black because I didn’t act Black enough by any measure. Yes, she actually revoked my Black people membership card.
She rationalized that she ended up at her dream camp because her new mom was White enough to support her going.
Sigh. Damn, damn, damn.
I was taught all the good stuff about being Black and being descendants of African kings and queens, and I was brought up in an environment where Black History Month was all year long. I understood early that when I walked into a space, I brought a community of people with me; I had to represent by putting my best foot forward. I’ve been called Oreo and called out for acting White, and while it hurt from an adolescent social angle, it didn’t matter because I was making sure I carried myself in a way that showed White folks that people who look like me can get ‘er done. Pressure? Yeah, but pressure gladly shouldered—I’m a descendant of kings and queens remember? #KingdomofZamunda #ComingtoAmerica
But Hope’s racial development took a different trajectory. Black history was Tupac and Biggie. She’s been left to sort out her understanding based on what she’s seen Black and White folks do in her 13 years and in her limited environment. The separation and characterizations of racial groups is sharp with her.
It’s a struggle to figure out how to course correct some of this, and sometimes it’s like we’re not even speaking the same language. I want to teach her that we Black folks can do whatever we aspire to do, and we don’t surrender our Blackness to do any of it. There’s a need to learn to code switch in our culture in order to move from surviving to thriving. There’s a need to cultivate an image and narrative about whom and what Black folks are and that we, like any other racial group, span a pretty diverse group of folks and behaviors. Behaviors aren’t racial, they transcend race. Trifling folks will be trifling irrespective of race. Nose to the grindstone folks who are working towards something meaningful go beyond racial and cultural dimensions.
But, uh, supporting positive racial development at 13 is so messy. Some folks would rather embrace a color-blind paradigm. I reject this; I think it’s naive and it’s easy to say sure we don’t see things but the research about racial attribution, discrimination and marginalization is overwhelming in education (as early as toddlers–racism is learned behavior) on through the life-span. I want to teach her to own her color, but not to feel limited by small, biased bit of data she has that shapes what she thinks her cocoa brown skin means for her life.
The dichotomy of race in this camp experience comes up as a part of our daily chatter. This morning she pointed out how some girls thought she was hilarious. Hope is a funny girl, she uses humor excessively, almost like performance therapy, to gain acceptance with peers. She has a hard time. Given our discussions, I probed—I was concerned about inadvertently building the image as the class clown…the Black class clown. I already worried that such an image could be, and is often, aligned with the class troublemaker, instigator and so on (lots of data on this too). I want her to be herself, but I worried about the pressure of being the only one, trying to make friends and be socially acceptable.I worried that if she acted out, would folks remember that the Black girl had a meltdown or if Hope–personalized and personified–had a meltdown.
It may sound like I have little faith in anyone else in the camp—oh I’ll admit to being suspect because I don’t know them. But I also know that Hope is “comfortable” with being Black and she’s comfortable with a paradigm in which being really Black doesn’t have to be about anything more than spitting rhymes on a corner while sipping a forty. She only kind of got my concern.. Somehow, I think we’ll have many future opportunities to wrestle with this topic. We’ve got a big internal Black folk, culture clash going on around these parts. Fun times. #notreally
Apparently, racial development is a rock to kick over in same race adoptions as well. Silly me to assume I had dodged that bullet.
July 16th, 2014 at 11:15 pm
I loved reading this! Thank you for sharing so honestly!!! As a white family raising beautiful brown babies, I want to educate myself as best as possible! I am so happy Hope has such a great mama to help her through life’s journey!!!
July 17th, 2014 at 11:59 am
Thank you. I know a lot of people shy away from racial development issues, but just like any other developmental hill, we should trudge up and over the hill. I wish more people were willing to have these kinds of conversations about race with White kids too. I do diversity work for a living and find that not enough folks talk about the social constructions of race, and it’s unfortunate because ignoring it usually doesn’t end well. Talking about race doesn’t promote division, it just adds context to life. Thanks for the support!
July 17th, 2014 at 1:11 pm
Yes! I think so too!!! 🙂
July 16th, 2014 at 11:37 pm
I love that you are teaching Hope these things, I love everything you’ve said here. And Hope’s previously learned perspective makes me sad. It exists in every race and every culture. I’ve seen it between groups of the same skin color (the country folk who want nothing to do with those high-falutin’ city folk, or a hundred other dynamics). I’ve seen people of the same race and culture be the worst enemy of “their own kind” such as Blacks calling other Blacks “White” just because they are pursuing an education, or the opposite if a White person hangs with a certain crowd. And it all just makes me so sad. What happened to helping each other, striving for the best, supporting our “own kind”? I agree with you – colorblind is ok if we mean that we love and respect everyone, but it’s not enough. We should love who we are, the color of our skin, and what sets us apart from everyone else. We have no problem hanging out in groups of moms, singles, churchgoers, etc, but the second we start hanging out in culture groups we have to fend off accusations of being racist.
But talking about it instead of having it be an elephant in the room is a great place to start, and I love that you’re doing this here and in real life. Keep it up!
July 17th, 2014 at 12:05 pm
Thanks! Yes, yes to everything you’ve said here. There’s a great book called “Why are all the Black kids sitting together in the cafeteria” that talks about racial group behavior. Everyone sits with their own group at some point or another, but we mainly notice with the “other” groups are doing it. It’s normal behavior. And teaching self-love should never be misconstrued or conflated with teaching supremacy–that’s a tail wagging the dog if I ever heard–and I’ve heard it a lot. Thanks for your support.
July 16th, 2014 at 11:44 pm
I so wish the world was color blind. Some of the best people I’ve ever known have many colors other than white. I’ve also known great people with white skin. Yet some of the worst i’ve ever known are white and other colors. You are right…color doesnt make you act a certain way. I live in San Antonio where I am a MINORITY! Yes im pasty white 🙂 discrimination against me was in full force when i taught. It floored me to realize that people have preconceived notions of me based on my skin color. My parents raised us in an environment where skin color didnt matter…obviously carried over into adulthood as I live in a house as the only pasty white creature. They make fun of me hard core 🙂
July 17th, 2014 at 12:14 pm
Thanks Faith. I can imagine life has given you some eye opening experiences. Thank you for sharing them.
I’ve never wished for a color-blind world, though. I want people to see me; I think I want a world that sees, embraces and appreciates color without prioritizing color for the purposes of power and privilege in any space. It’s the power/privilege dynamic that take the average bigot of any shade and makes him/her a true racist who marginalizes and dehumanizes others in ways that transcends name calling, which is bad enough on its own. All that said, I get what you mean about wishing the world were just different. 😦
I’m glad that there are folks like you who see color but also can see past it. 🙂 Thanks.
July 17th, 2014 at 12:01 am
Wow, I feel like this really shines a light why stereotypes in the media and pop culture are harmful, even when they are funny or enjoyable to conscientious people…because not everybody has developed that filter yet (if any of us really are immune) and not everyone has a positive person in their life to clear things up.
Interestingly, the values (and modeling) you are giving to Hope are a lot of the argument for same-race adoption. I come from a mixed-race family and personally do feel that it was really essential for me to have role models and mentors of color, and a lot of them. Just by seeing all these different people in different roles changed how I thought about myself. Up until that moment when I started being exposed to more diversity (change of setting), I would have said I thought I could do/be anything, but I actually I had a lot of internalized stereotypes about other Asian people…which of course, then all I needed was to look in a mirror. For me the change in how I saw myself (and the change in my environment) came in my late teens, and again in college. So, there is totally hope for Hope and obviously, this is the work of a lifetime. I think having you will be huge for her in this regard as in so many others.
July 17th, 2014 at 12:20 pm
Ha! Re the filter comment–I thought about that after I included the membership card and movie reference–sometimes folks miss satire either through lack of filter development or because they can’t handle satire of such a serious subject.
Thanks for bringing up the importance of role models. I’m trying to surround Hope with lots of different kinds of folks doing different kinds of things. She still thinks Obama as president might as well be a mythical creature, which I find fascinating. It speaks to how a man of color can ascend, be an international icon, leader of the free world and still be the exception to the glass ceiling rather than the hammer that breaks it. Mess.
Thanks for your support. Hope and I are sure to have some interesting confabs about this topic for years to come.
July 17th, 2014 at 8:21 am
The post came up!! *smiling* I love your transparency about some of our internal (and external) conflicts. I recall this teen girl telling me she can’t attend college because money was an issue and she didn’t play sports. *Mouth drops* I poured into that girl some KNOWLEDGE. I felt so naive at first. I then realized that your (and my) Holy Homeboy had placed me there for a reason. #wallbreakers
And speaking of the Black Card…mine got taken away years ago ♡ I’m sure this move to China has made it official LOL.
July 17th, 2014 at 12:24 pm
Yes Wall Breakers!
Yeah, girl, I nearly stroked out a few months ago when I wanted to take her to the Frederick Douglass house and she said, “Who is that?” *still faints* Clearly I took for granted that all Black kids would know who Freddy was along with Martin and Malcom and a few others; I was wrong. 😦
Apparently I’m a member of #teamgray now seeing as my membership to Black People.net was revoked.
Glad to see you connected over there! xoxo!
July 17th, 2014 at 4:15 pm
Ugh, the world needs about 10,000 more of you. Can’t you just hop in some replicator and spread more insight, goodness, inspiration, hope, and love to the many, many people who need it???
July 17th, 2014 at 5:00 pm
Oh goodness–not sure I could wish more of me on the world, but thank you for such a sweet compliment! 🙂 Thanks for the read and support!
January 20th, 2015 at 2:36 pm
[…] Mess! Remember that time she revoked my Black Card? Yeah, I totally snatched […]
September 25th, 2018 at 4:35 pm
[…] Yeah, she snatched my black card. […]