Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Pride and Joy: "I'm African American!"

Other people seem more cognizant of racial differences than I care about. When asked, "are your kids mixed?" I always say, "no more so than anyone else, a little from their mom, a little from their dad." But I know what they mean and am aware that the distinction of being "mixed" is important for many (in both positive and negative contexts).

I always joke that we're both Catholic and both conservative, so we have all that matters in common! Still, we're not ignorant of societal influences and have both read numerous books and studies on related topics. Of those, we have both (individually) seen videos about the negative effects of subtle racism on very young children. Specifically, we recall sad and shocking video footage of children in a clinical setting being given a choice of dolls. Both White and Black children immediately and vehemently expressed a preference for the dolls with White features, associating them not only with preference but with qualities of "good" and "bad." With intervention, the Black children are shown at the end of one video with a different reaction, chanting, "Black is beautiful." (This is different from the video link below.)

The studies and videos are apt fodder for rich discussion, beneficial for the adult classroom, but hardly an ideal environment that any parent wishes upon their own children. After all, the intervention that we saw in training videos occurred in a deficit - recognizing a problem, a remedy is applied, arguably one that perpetuates the original problem (exclusivity of racial preference). In the context this is clearly better than the alternative, but still imperfect.

As parents, we hope for a better outcome for our own children, but are aware of our own fallibility. Who doesn't stumble as a parent; yet who wants to stumble in an area that so directly relates to both identity and self-esteem?

Yesterday, K and I were talking about Winter Holidays, in preparation for our monthly "Country Day" presentation/celebration. The book referenced "African Americans" and I said, in a matter-of-fact way, "that is what people whose ancestors come from Africa are called. People with brown skin, like Daddy." K looked at me with an expression of joyful discovery and said, "I'm African American!"

If I've ever done anything right, I reaped my rewards in her reaction to my affirmation, which was expressed in a tone of pride, joy, and soft, happy enthusiasm. She then added, holding up her arm, "look, my skin is dark too... well, kind of dark and kind of light, too, but like Daddy's!"

She then added, "but I am an American, because this is where I am from." Right again, brilliant and lovely daughter!

A smile, a hug... a delighted discovery of identity. Maybe we occasionally do some things right... (or so we continue to hope and pray!)

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