Thursday, May 28, 2009

raise their children in isolation from people of color

As a follow-up to yesterday's guest post by Chris Diaz, here's a brief article from a blog called momlogic (where readers are promised "Real Stories. Real Advice. Real Moms.").

What are nice, caring, protective white moms really doing to their kids when they limit their contact with non-white people?



"Mommy, Why is Her Face Brown?"

Mom•Logic's Jackie: How my 3 1/2 year old taught me race relations.


When my husband brought my two boys to visit me at work this week, my older boy shocked a room full of Moms when he asked me loud and clearly "Mommy, why is her face brown?" upon meeting one of my co-workers.

I was completely mortified. What was I doing wrong that he would he say something like that? Aren't we all supposed to be colorblind and not notice the differences in people? But as soon as I got over myself, I quickly realized that his asking about her skin was no different from him pointing out I have blue eyes, and not hazel like his or why I have "dots" (aka freckles) on my arms.

I asked my co-worker to field the question because I was interested in hearing how she'd like it answered. She explained to him that people come in all colors and her skin is just darker than his. He waited a beat--thought about what she said--and then asked if we could watch
Toy Story 2 for the ten thousandth time.

What I learned from my preschooler that day is that recognizing differences in each other is not harmful, racist, or prejudice--it's natural. It's when you judge or treat someone differently because of those differences that's hurtful. And that was the furthest thing from his sweet three-year-old mind.


___


This article strikes me as an instant classic in the Chronicles of White Oblivion.

I'm also reminded of Thandeka's penetrating insights into the psychology of white childrearing in her book Learning to Be White, especially this succinct observation:

"The first racial victim of the white community is its own child."




h/t: nepthys_12 @ Blackfolks; the original momlogic article, with comments, is here

39 comments:

  1. So, it was up to her co-worker to tell him that, instead of his mother? Was she too dumb to answer that simple question?

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  2. I don't know if the kid had never seen a person of colour before - if he is only 3 he might only just have become articulate enough to ask or maybe it was the first time the question had occurred to him. 3 is waaaaay young.

    As for passing over the question - I think she probably thought that she was doing the "right" thing. Pretty clueless.

    I once saw something like this on a bus in Liverpool...years ago now. Liverpool has really large community of people of colour. There is no possible way to grow up in Liverpool in an all white community!
    Anyway, this white mother and child get onto the bus and the bus driver was black. As the mother payed the fare, the kid (who couldn't have been more than 2-3) starts asking really loudly "Why is that man's skin brown?"
    The bus driver seemed to think that this was amusing, but the mum certainly did not! She got real flustered and was shushing the child and asking him to be quiet. She pulled him to a seat quite near me. She never answered the kids question.
    I never understood that. Why didn't she just say "Because some people are just a different colour" ? I figured that the kid now reckoned it was an impolite or bad thing to ask. Black people were going to be "othered" in his head from that moment on...

    The mother in the story above might have been pretty clueless and definitely wrong in making the co-worker do her work for her...but it is good to know that parents are at least attempting to answer kids questions on stuff like this instead of making it "taboo"

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  3. the problem is not the innocent child asking a question, it is the clueless parent making someone else answer

    in the momlogic example the mother's behavious has now taught the child that is nonwhite people's responsibility to explain their existence to white people

    in the example JR just gave, the mother taught her child that racial differences are shameful and should not be discussed

    this is how kids grow up to be racist, the kids were just asking obvious questions and the parents turned it into this traumatic experience

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  4. Maybe sheasked her co-worker to answer because she was terrified of saying something that would offend her co-worker and further confuse her child?

    This parent is now going to subject her child to every Tyler Perry movie ever made so she will never hear that question again.

    JK.

    Living a homogenized life bites us in the ass, no matter who we are.

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  5. Yes, abuse, right way to put it, that. and the presumption about the rightness of colorblindness is just . . . .

    And then there's that photoshopping! Putting that kid in that botched job is another instance of abuse.

    smh. . . .

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  6. Here again we see progressives unable to grasp what they have wrought.

    Real progressives understand that the child's question can only be answered by the person to whom it was referred.

    Because progressives are constantly redefining themselves and rejecting labels then it necessitates the understanding that the liberal mother of the child CANNOT provide an answer outside of one that would be imposing and oppressive to the black co-worker.

    Progressives theoretically reject imposition and oppression yet in this instant the progressive commentors are imposing and impressing upon this white mother that which they claim to reject, namely, being defined by another person.

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  7. "What I learned from my preschooler that day is that recognizing differences in each other is not harmful, racist, or prejudice--it's natural. It's when you judge or treat someone differently because of those differences that's hurtful. And that was the furthest thing from his sweet three-year-old mind."

    Man, that woman is clueless. It is so irritating how race concerns are so "tidy" for supposedly egalitarian white people.

    In that last paragraph, she's saying, "We had a little hiccup with a darky, but the darky did as I asked and got it straightened out right away and now I'm a sweet little white woman again."

    She never owns up to any culpability. She never acknowledges the causes of why the child asked the question, privelege, racism, stolen resources, etc...

    It really makes my stomach churn.

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  8. I disagree with Thordaddy. There's a very simple answer that woman could have provided, and it has to do with the amount of melanin in the skin.

    All the socio-political stuff that is tied up in race - that doesn't have to be a part of that conversation.

    But I don't blame her for being flustered. I think white people - or any people - who don't think about race often, are uncomfortable with the idea that they'd ever need to acknowledge that race exists.

    Although it sounds good that it was a learning experience for this mom, I also would hope that she doesn't leave it at that - that she would take this opportunity to educate herself about race and develop a stronger analysis - and not simply feel whew, that was close! and forget it.

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  9. I highly disagree with both the comments made here and on momlogic that it is racist for kids not to see brown (or any other color) faces on a regular basis. Like it or not there are still many predominantly white areas and many white non racists live there. Growing up, we had to travel to Indianapolis (an hour and a half away) before we saw any other races.

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  10. I highly disagree with both the comments made here and on momlogic that it is racist for kids not to see brown (or any other color) faces on a regular basis. Like it or not there are still many predominantly white areas and many white non racists live there.I'm gonna have to call bullshit on that. Have you ever considered why those towns are so white? If you google "sundown towns" and "white flight" you'll see that many towns in this country are white by design. The whole purpose of those towns is to insulate white people from having to interact with people of color.

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  11. The reaction that Macon and a couple of others are having to this anecdote confuses me a little.

    Young children tend to ask questions without editing themselves for social appropriateness. That the kid asked the question at three doesn't mean they've never seen a black person/any people of color before, just that they didn't ask before either because they didn't know how, or because they were focused on something else.

    I'm assuming that they probably live in a super-white area, not because the child asked the question, but because the mom felt deeply uncomfortable with the idea of someone mentioning race. The whole point of the post is to exorcize her fear that this means that her kid is racist for noticing "this lady doesn't look like my mom, because her face is a different color then my mom's" and asking why. By the end of the post she's still not entirely comfortable with the idea that discussing race in any way doesn't explicitly make you racist.

    Punting the question could be a sign of wimpitude or curiosity--questions of why people look different from one another aren't necessarily common in the public discourse, and especially if they live in a very white area (not necessarily a white flight suburb either, but much of the mountain west, or New England, or even a city like Seattle), it might not be a question she's ever heard addressed by a black person.

    I don't know that I've ever heard anyone ask a question in that genre so directly, and know that I haven't ever heard it addressed outside of a) discovery channel-ish specials about race or human evolution or fossils, OR b) by the very white professor in a human evolution and archeology class (which was an interesting couple lectures, which talked a lot about folk wisdom regarding skin color and the roll of migration and conquests both ancient and modern in shaping the more modern world).

    If a little kid asked you that question how would you answer? (as yourself, with whatever background you have, rather then guessing how you would answer as the specific black co-worker of the moms).

    ... also why is this one (small) encounter going to make the child grow up to become racist, awkward, damaged in some way? (as many comments suggest)

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  12. no one here has sad it was wrong for the child to ask a question

    what was wrong was the way the mother reacted

    it is not mere coincidence that people live in all white areas

    if you don't get that then I can't help you

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  13. Great post, giles. And you're right...the child asked "why?", which is a question that has an answer in science. As the mommyblogger told it, the child did not ask "how do I label this person?".

    Although, I'd be curious to know how this woman, who seems a bit skiddish on the issue of race, would have answered that question.

    Were it my kid asking the "how" in this situation, I would've answered with the person's name. If I didn't know the person's name, I would have my child ask the person if they'd mind giving out their name. Assuming we learned hypothetical's name, I would tell my kid: you call this person (insert name).

    Seems pretty simple to me, but I'm a G-D genius ;-)

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  14. It's not so much that it's racist for kids not to see brown faces as it's a product of racism that they don't.

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  15. Diana Barry BlytheMay 31, 2009 at 12:28 AM

    Wow.
    In NOT trying to treat a person differently because of skin color, she treated a person differently because of skin color.

    Making mistakes is fine, but when you seem so very proud of yourself, like this mom does, that's going to grate people the wrong way.

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  16. Spider, my home town was founded in the 1800s (not white flight at all). It's a tiny (3,500) farming community that hasn't seen any development in 50 years. That's why it's "insular"

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  17. Alexis, do you know what Spider's talking about in terms of Sundown Towns? Here's a list--please check to see if yours is on it.

    You seem to be focusing on racism at the individual level, without seeing the broader, intentional, and ongoing racist patterns--in this case, patterns that result in communities that are just, somehow, come to think of it, all or nearly all white. That racial homogeneity is not an accident, nor is it some mere "natural" preference of birds of a feather wanting to stick together. The common white perception of all-white towns in those terms, instead of in terms that recognize their fundamentally racist (and again, ongoing) underpinnings is a symptom of pathological whiteness. And of course, let's remember the indigenous people who very likely occupied the land your town now occupies. Their obliteration and removal is also a racist underpinning to seemingly nice, come-to-think-of-it all-white towns.

    Jules wrote, "... also why is this one (small) encounter going to make the child grow up to become racist, awkward, damaged in some way? (as many comments suggest)"

    What I find significant here is not this one small encounter; it's what this small encounter illustrates about broader and pervasive white insularity, and oblivion. It's one tip of a very white iceberg, most of which, like the submerged part of an iceberg, is invisible to most white people.

    As whatsername so eloquently put it above, "It's not so much that it's racist for kids not to see brown faces as it's a product of racism that they don't."

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  18. Yes Macon, I am familiar with the term and no my hometown is not or was not one. As I said, agriculture was the biggest source of revenue and white people were and still are the largest number of people in this field (immigrant produce pickers non withstanding).

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  19. People go where jobs are....there are a lot of small midwestern towns that are predominantly white simply because minorities are going to be drawn to industry if the town is agriculturally driven, it tends to stay in the family.

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  20. Alexis said, "(immigrant produce pickers non withstanding)."

    LOL!!!

    The only non-white people in your city/town are the people who pick your crops?!?!?! And you see nothing wrong with this!?!?!?!?!?!

    Macon, you can't make this shit up!

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  21. Alexis, your town might have been an exception, but "people go where the jobs are" is not why Blacks are concentrated in certain neighborhoods in certain parts of the country. It's just not. And the proof of that is everywhere to be found, for example, see the "Race: The Power of an Illusion" series, Part III.

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  22. Derek, you evidently haven't spent much time in the midwest (at least the non captiol areas. Towns that are tiny don't offer much in the way of employment and commuting is costly so the people that have been established are the ones that stay.

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  23. Wow, Macon! If I generated this much interesting activity on my blog, I'd find a way to quit my job and just do this. WAY COOL!!

    I agree with the commentators who said that Mom should have answered the question herself, at least partly as a way to connect with the co-worker of color. My suspicion is that Mom hadn't bothered to connect with her co-worker (because of her "race"?) and THAT'S the reason she was made uncomfortable by the question.

    I was put off by her tidy resolution after the fact, as well. She claimed to recognize that treating people "differently" is hurtful and, yet I would imagine that she routinely answers other questions her daughter asks, so, in this case, she herself was dealing out the "different" treatment with no clue that she was doing it. Worse, with no (apparent) clue that there are about a thousand different kinds of little racist cuts people of color have to suffer at the hands of well-meaning White folks such as herself every day without comment. Gak!

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  24. That's a questionable list of sundown towns you've provided, Macon. Here's a typical entry, this one for Bethel, Ohio:

    Confirmed Sundown Town? Possible
    Year of Greatest Interest (left blank)
    Was there an ordinance? Don't Know
    Sign? Don't Know
    Still Sundown? Probably

    A lot of the towns you find on that list don't have an ordinance on record or any eyewitness reports of signs or other forms of harassment. Shedding light on the history and legacy of sundown towns in the United States is very, very important. But unreviewed websites like this aren't helpful, since their purpose, pretty clearly, is to swell the lists and exaggerate. In this way they provide fodder for those who want to discredit the work of more serious historians.

    A side note. I have no idea whether Alexis' tiny midwestern town was also a sundown town, But dismissing her statements about the economic reasons for the racial homogeneity of vast sweeps of the more economically depressed areas of North America is not particularly useful either.

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  25. Anonymous, please come up with a name for any further commenting. Actually, I don't think that site could get any LESS questionable. It's overseen by James Loewen, who literally wrote the book on sundown towns. Yes, some of the towns listed are not yet confirmed as sundown towns; however, another amazing thing about Loewen is the way he invites and receives collaboration with other researchers, including "lay" ones. Putting unconfirmed towns on that site, which has a comment form that goes straight to Loewen himself, is a way of alerting others to them and inviting further evidence-seekers to provide what they find. (And if anyone here knows of a town that they suspect is a sundown town--I encourage you to check out Loewen's site, and if you have evidence of any sort, send it to him.)

    Also, Anonymous, regarding dismissal of Alexis' statements--what do you think about her dismissal of those written in reply to her?

    (Hi Changeseeker!)

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  26. I wouldn't have dismissed them, had they had validity. There have been a few minorities come and go with the local steel mill but when the layoffs happen, they leave....how much more proof is needed that it is indeed economic and not racial?

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  27. Alexis, if you find that points raised in response to your comments have no validity, I heartily welcome you to debunk them, rather than merely dismiss them. The latter is not helpful toward greater mutual understanding; the former is.

    It seems to me that the economic features of your town that you're discussing are VERY racial, beginning with what I wrote to you above.

    Are you claiming that there's nothing racial or racist about the foundation and maintenance of racial homogeneity in your all- or nearly all-white town?

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  28. There have been a few minorities come and go with the local steel mill but when the layoffs happen, they leave....how much more proof is needed that it is indeed economic and not racial?And the fact that this is the only industry that will take them, and then abandons them, doesn't seem racial to you at all?

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  29. I'll point out one more time that my hometown has been at population standstill for as long as I've known (3,500)New people (of any race) rarely move here. Why would they if it doesn't offer much in the way of employment? If a place does not have economic progress what would be the draw, how would anyone even know of the place? There are towns like this all over the place. I don't know how you're not getting that part of it.

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  30. Whatsername: layoffs don't just affect minorities. When there aren't many jobs to be had, who do you think is going to have them? The ones that are already there. You all are really reaching with this. Family also plays a big part in small towns and the ones that choose to stay. If you're isolated (no other family than yourself) and have the added "bonus" of no employment, you're going to go elsewhere.

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  31. You would think so, wouldn't you?

    That's unfortunately not how it's worked out.

    I think you should do a bit more homework on the topic of labor and housing history in the U.S.

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  32. that is the danger of being "colour blind" I agree with what JenniferRuth said about how that young boy is going to be viewd as "others" not normal and white people will be the default human being

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  33. Well shit, Macon, I don't know why anyone here should care if James Loewen or you or the NAACP or whomever hosts the website for that list, if the point anonymous is making is that the towns listed as "sundown towns" turn out on closer inspection to not be confirmed at all. You advised Alexis to check if her town appears on the list, as if to say that if it does, she should concede this point everyone's trying to force out of her. But it turns out the list includes towns that are only rumored to be suntown towns, whether or not anyone can point to evidence. In other words, someone, somewhere decided to submit the name of some of those towns, and apparently that's good enough to make the list. That doesn't bother you? Why does it matter if James Loewen is the one posting the names of unconfirmed sundown towns?

    And excuse me, but did Alexis say that concerns over race definitely have nothing to do with the class violence that has shaped her town? Did I miss something? Or is the point that if she doesn't agree that yes, it's mainly "racism" to blame for the relentless sameness, she's being "dismissive"? She doesn't seem dismissive to me; she sounds like she's making an argument you don't want to hear, one that comes out of direct experience, so now in order to shut her up you're accusing a reasonable person of being rude.

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  34. But it turns out the list includes towns that are only rumored to be suntown towns, whether or not anyone can point to evidence. In other words, someone, somewhere decided to submit the name of some of those towns, and apparently that's good enough to make the list. That doesn't bother you? Why does it matter if James Loewen is the one posting the names of unconfirmed sundown towns?

    No that doesn't bother me, "commenter who refused to come up with a name, despite a written request that he or she do so." That's because I strongly suspect, given that James Loewen is running that site, and based on all that I've gathered about his excellent work over several decades, that he doesn't put towns on that list as "suspected sundown towns" unless he has good reason to suspect they might be. And note also that he doesn't label them sundown towns until that's been confirmed. Finally, as I said above (did you not read it?), listing suspected towns there is a way of taking advantage of the collaborative nature of the Internet--someone might go on to confirm that this or that town is or is not a sundown town. Anyway, why is this point important to you toward impugning that entire list and/or site? What if Alexis had found out that not only is her town listed there, it's also listed as a confirmed sundown town?

    The point I made in response to what I read as her claims that racism just isn't much of a factor in her life or in her entire town, is that it nevertheless surely is. Whether or not it's a confirmed or suspected sundown town, there's still a very strong chance that it's much been less than welcoming to non-white people, and that that's the main reason it's mostly white. There's also a great chance that it sits on land stolen in an overtly racist manner from previous residents, and that white farmers around it received their land in deals that excluded non-white farmers.

    So, do none of these manifestations of ongoing white supremacy bother you? Or are you instead quite all right with them? If so, why?

    And btw, I'm not accusing Alexis of being rude, and I'm not trying to shut her up. No need to add your attempts to guess my motives here.

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  35. Macon, I was going to post on the "delurking post," but instead I want to post here and thank you for linking to that database of sundown towns. I found my old hometown (Folsom, CA) on there, and found out that there used to be a Chinatown there until it was burned down by arsonists in 1886. My mind is thoroughly blown.

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  36. Wow, pretty intense, Elizabeth. You're welcome, I guess. Better to know these things I think then to keep them buried.

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  37. This is all very interesting.

    I am a white woman who grew up in a majority Chinese-American neighbourhood. My friends as a young child were all Chinese kids, and I grew up being very familiar with the sounds of Cantonese, Chinese foods, certain holidays, etc. I registered that there was a difference between their families and mine - I had brown hair, they had black hair, etc - but it just never seemed like a big deal, I guess. I must have asked my parents about it at some point but whatever they said communicated to me that the differences between me and my Asian classmates were no more significant than the difference between my blue eyes and my mother's green eyes.

    When I was 6, my family moved to a majority rich, Anglo-Saxon neighbourhood. The way the white kids in my class looked was absolutely astounding. I have a Mediterranean background and the people in my family are small and dark haired - these kids were so tall, often chubby, and had blonde or red hair and freckles! The idea of freckles was alien and amazing to me, and I couldn't stop asking them questions about it, asking to see more of their skin, etc. Even though we were both white, the white Anglo kids struck me as more "different" in appearance from me than the Asian kids I'd grown up with.

    Exposing children early and regularly to different kinds of people - not just races, but ages, body types, and levels of ability - will help them understand that while physical differences exist, their significance is relative.

    - Briony

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  38. And this is America?

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  39. I understand why the mom took the approach she did. I am guessing since her son asked the question, 'mommy why is her face brown' that neither of them have had a lot of contact or meaningful conversations outside their race.

    The last thing I want to do is to mislead my child when it comes to matters of race. I may think I know something. But, if I don't have a lot of contact with another race then I'm not sure. What if I give my child an incorrect answer?

    If I don't know something, I ask someone and I hope that I am not judged because I do not know.

    Thanks,

    Johann

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