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Monday, July 11, 2016

Racism?

I don't understand racism.
I mean, I really don't. Now let me clarify, I know the definition of the word, and I have witnessed it, and I have even been a victim of it. But I don't understand why it exists. My brain cannot fathom that degree of prejudice and hate. It does not compute.

Now, let me further clarify:
I am considered Caucasian. I was raised in a highly multicultural neighborhood, and attended a Mandarin elementary school. My family doctor from when I was 3-years-old was dark-skinned and accented. My best friends growing up were descendants of various cultures. Sure I had friends whose homes smelled, sounded, and seemed more like mine did, but there were many that (wonderfully) did not. I have memories of playing with friends at houses that were filled with the scent of cumin, friends whose grandparents made us sit and watch quietly while they knelt and prayed in their Buddhist garden, and I remember going to a birthday party where we all got to learn African dancing. I can honestly say that skin colour was nothing to me.
I do remember hearing references to skin colour growing up, usually from older people. I was often referred to by grandparents as "the little white friend," but I never saw it as a term of degradation. Perhaps they meant it as such, maybe they didn't. But I was what society deemed "white" so I felt it was just a term, nothing more.

As I reached my teen years, I realized my father used a lot of racist terms, despite assuring me he "wasn't racist." As an adult I can now see what bullshit that was. But instead of adopting these terms and this view of people, I grew up choosing not to use the types of words my Dad, some of my friend's parents, and even some of my friend's used. They were universally acknowledged as hateful, racist terms, so why on earth would I use them? I didn't want to be like that.
I remember as a teenager, visiting my grandparents out in Halifax, when I first heard blatant use of racist terms. My jaw hit the ground. I couldn't believe they used such words in their everyday language. As I grew, I learned more about Halifax - Africville, in particular - and discovered just how widespread and deep racism really was (and is, I suppose) there and all over the world.

Becoming an adult, I obviously saw more and more racism that I never understood as a child. I've even been victim to it on several, minor occasions. Asked to go to a Caucasian cashier at the grocery store by a cashier who wanted to only take customers of the same culture as herself. Or being told at a store that there were none left of a certain product, only to find that was untrue and the associate was only giving them to customers of their culture, etc. Nothing violent, but just that differential treatment was confusing, and hurtful enough. And it was NOTHING compared with what some people deal with daily. I have always felt that those who exhibited such behaviors were completely ignorant, and I distanced myself from such people. Anyone who I ever caught using derogatory terms for any culture, were called out. Of course, people defend their choices - "Oh, I'm not racist, I just grew up hearing it," or "I don't mean anything by it," or "oh c'mon, you know what I mean." I've just never understood the need, or fear, or WHATEVER it is that people feel that compels them to LABEL by skin colour. I DON'T UNDERSTAND.

The other day I had a very upsetting conversation with my kids. That was what prompted this post.
As I was surfing through Facebook, my 9-year-old son was periodically walking behind me (and peeking) at my screen as I scrolled. 
"Mom, what is racism?"
He made me jump, as I hadn't even known he was behind me. I then realized that my FB screen was plastered with posts about shootings, and hate crimes, and general awfulness. And my son had caught a good chunk of it.

***Just to also clarify: we don't have cable. My kids do not see the news on tv, or commercials for violent shows, or clips of upcoming breaking news, etc. I feel that there is enough hate and stress and trouble for them once they are adults, that they have no need to see that sort of thing as children. You may disagree, and that is your right, just as it is mine to expose my children to hate (or rather, not to expose them) as I see fit. ***

"Um, you know what buddy, don't worry about it."
At this, he looked at me rather sternly. "No, really, Mom. What is it?" 9-year-olds. Geez.
I thought for a moment. 
"Are you asking me what racism is? The definition?"
"Yeah."
"Well, I don't know if I want to explain this to you. It's not a good word."
"Okay." He was still staring at me.
"Allright. I suppose you should probably learn about it. I'm sure you've learned a little bit at school, but not really known that was what it was."
"Okay?" He looks skeptical.
"So, racism." I feel really, really, REALLY upset at this point. I felt like my son was 5-years-old again and he'd come home with that gift of a toy gun from Uncle Trevor - a toy I'd prevented with great effort for as long as possible.
I didn't want to change how he saw people. I was also so worried I was going to explain it poorly.
"I suppose racism would be... treating someone differently because of the colour of their skin."
He frowned. "But... why?"
"I don't know, buddy. There is no reason, but some people are massive jerks and feel that if they don't have the same skin colour as them, they should be treated differently. Often, it means hurting someone because they have a different colour skin."
He was visibly upset by this point. "Who?"
"Well, there is a lot of problems in the United States right now because a lot of people are being killed for no reason. All because of the colour of their skin.
"That's really stupid."
"Yes it is, buddy. REALLY stupid."
He nods. "Who is Martin Luther King Jr.?"
This took me aback, until I realized that when we began talking I had stopped scrolling on my FB page right on a picture of and quote by Dr. King. I immediately relaxed, thinking that would be easier to explain.
"He was a really important man who did a lot of important things, but was most well-known for fighting for the rights of black people in the United States."
"Black people?"
Okay, that floored me.

***Another moment to clarify: My husband and I are pretty conscious of how we refer to people, as we both feel its just irrelevant to refer to people solely by their skin colour. If we are asking about a friend of the the kids, we ask things like "Who's that? The one with blond hair?" or "is she the one that loves Pokemon?" or another identifying factor. We don't define people by skin tone, and never have with our children.***

Now, I was stunned, because even though I know how my husband and I feel about not defining people by skin tone and how we've raised our children not to, it wasn't until that moment that I realized that we had actually succeeded. My kid did not know the term 'black people.' It blew my mind.
"Well, a black person is someone with dark skin."
"Oh, like _____!" He nodded. (This is his best friend at school.)
"No, not quite. _____'s family is Filipino. He's of Asian descent. Someone that is considered black would be..." (I was running through his classmates in my mind.) I named a classmate he knew well. "A black person like _______ often has African ancestors, or Kenyan, or..."
"No, _______'s family is from Jamaica!"
"Yes! Absolutely."
"So what colour are we?"
I didn't notice, but my 7-year-old daughter had snuck in to listen to us, and she asked that question. 
"Well, sweetie, we are considered Caucasian. Or white."
She snorted. "We aren't white! We're darker than that!" She was putting her arm up to mine. "And we have these!" She pointed to different moles and freckles up our arms. This made me grin, as we are both hopelessly pale.
"I know. But someone decided to call dark-skinned people 'black' and light-skinned people 'white' and I guess it stuck. What's important is that it doesn't matter. Different skin tones mean that people that once lived in different parts of the world, now live all together. Because the sun is brighter in certain parts of the world, some people's skin developed something to protect them from the sun..."
At this point I started to lose them, lol. Their eyes read summer break, Mom. I knew I needed to wrap it up. "Okay." I made both of them look at me. "Does it make any difference what someone looks like on the outside, for the kind of person they are on the inside?"
They both shook their heads.
"That's right. What is INSIDE is what matters. Good people have all different skin tones. Bad people have all different skin tones. Skin colour means NOTHING towards what kind of person someone is. Right?"
"Right."

They ran off to play, but I was a mess. I was broken-hearted at having to talk to them about this, and worried that they would start seeing people different. I jotted down our conversation so I would remember. I just felt it was something I needed to have record of - that there are people raising their children without hate, or prejudice. Because I don't care what anyone says, prejudice/discrimination/racism - it's all taught. No one is born treating people differently. Assholes are made, not born. 

And I don't know what to do to make things better. And it hurts me. My cousin's son is black, and she is white. She posted one sentence several days ago on FB that broke my heart. She wrote: "If you've never had to explain to your child how to avoid being shot by the police, that's white privilege..."
I instantly felt sick. I had never thought about that. Her son is only a couple of years older than mine. It made - and still makes - me want to cry, and barf, and throw punches, and curl up to sleep. Because what can I do to make this world better?

So even if no one else ever reads this post, I have it. And I can read it and know that I am trying. I am spewing 2 more humans out into the world armed with love, 2 more humans that are confident in saying "racism is dumb." Because this hate seems so big, I don't know what else to do. 

So, just stop. Stop breeding this shit, stop enabling it in others. Stop letting it go when you hear it, or see it. 

Fuck. Just... love each other.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

We ♥ Barbie

So for many years, I have had discussions with other Moms about Barbie and her supposed negative
influence. When my daughter was a toddler, she began to enjoy Barbie movies and I felt their messages were clear and positive: Girls are strong and can do anything, friends and loyalty are important.
There's major physical differences
here, right? Right? Hello?
There were always Moms who disagreed, referencing Barbie's impossible figure, and first-world fashion standards. Now, I did (and do) find it silly that every single person in every single Barbie movie has the same height and body shape, but I never felt that was a point of importance to my daughter. All the Mario characters for Nintendo are short and plump. Do parents frown on this because it encourages obesity? As parents, shouldn't we encourage our children to see what is actually meaningful? Pretty sure that if a child wants to watch a Barbie movie because it looks fun and their parent tells them "no" because Barbie is too skinny, it's the parent causing the damage - not Barbie.
Now, Ella's first favorite Barbie movie was Barbie in The Three Musketeers. She wanted to be a musketeer for her preschool Halloween party, and I think we even wrote in her school record book that she wanted to be a musketeer when she grew up. It was the adventure she loved; the fact that Barbie and her friends kicked ass in skirts and sparkly tops, foiling the plan of the accented villain. She got to ride horses and had a sword, and an adorable kitty sidekick. But she also made mistakes she atoned for, made new friends, and overcame sexism. 
As she grew, we encountered many Moms who disapproved of Ella's love for Barbie movies and books. But I stayed resolute in what I felt she was taking from them. She wanted to be a surfer, and a rock star, and a ballerina, and a princess, and a fairy, and a
 teacher, and a scientist. The funny thing is, Ella never played with the dolls. With her love of the movies and books, she was given several, and I passed on mine to her, but she picked them up for a handful of minutes maybe 3 times a year. Dolls have never appealed to her, but Barbie's adventures and messages of friendship and girl power have.
Classic Barbie vs. Realistic Barbie
After a completely surprising comment she made the other day, I am convinced that the negative view on Barbie's figure is actually another symptom of what we raise our children to see, and how. In the years of Barbie thus far with my daughter, we have NEVER, not once discussed Barbie's breast-size, waist-size, height, or skin-colour. We have however, discussed how brave she is, why she made the choices she did in a particular movie or book, why friendship is important, how strong she is, how practice makes someone better at something, why it's important to stand up for your beliefs, and more.
A couple of days ago, my son and I were discussing one of the (many) professions I have had over the years when my daughter burst out in exclamation at my having another "thing" I could do.
"Mom, you're just like Barbie!"
Now, my immediate reaction was to laugh, as I am physically the farthest thing from Barbie you could pretty much imagine. "Oh, am I? Is it my long, blond hair?" I asked her as I flipped my brown/faded pink mop over my shoulder.
At this she squinched up her face and sort of laughed and went back to her drawing. She was confused. I ended up on another task, but her statement stuck with me. It was a little later when I realized what she had meant.
She thinks Barbie can do anything; she is the ultimate renaissance-woman. She has even said so over the years. And she sorted me into that category in her mind.
My kid had paid me the absolute compliment, and she didn't even see it that way. It was me who had immediately thought of Barbie's physical form, not her.
So I proudly disagree with anyone who says that Barbie is a negative influence on young girls.
Everyone has legs like this, right?
Super realistic, right?
Those proportions are totally
spot on!
Yes, I feel she is physically unrealistic, just like virtually every pop culture icon found in Anime and cartoons, not to mention the American film industry. No, I don't feel that she represents a realistic lifestyle for the vast majority of the world - and not just her fantasy movies. But I truly believe that if parents are active with their children in talking to them about what they watch and experience through media in all its forms, Barbie is an excellent role model for girls.

Barbie shows girls that they can do anything.
So, who is telling them otherwise?