Great Books for African American Children: My Brother Charlie, by Holly Robinson Peete


Last month I made a pact with myself to keep a regular stream of books with good African American models for Annika. We’ve always read books with black children as much as possible, but with February being Black History Month, it was, frankly, a lot easier to pick up several at our local library with them being prominently displayed on the end shelves in the kids’ section. Now that Black History Month is over, I’m sure I will have to do my due diligence to find a good selection coming in, but I’m determined to ensure that Annika has a regular view of black children in literature, even though she doesn’t always get that in real life. Hey, it’s something.

One of her favorite books we picked up was, My Brother Charlie, by Holly Robinson Peete and Ryan Elizabeth Peete. The book wasn’t about black history. It was nice to have some books that had nothing to do with history mixed in with all the Civil Rights books we read during February.

My Brother Charlie is a story about twins, a girl and boy, Callie and Charlie. They are always together. They love the same things. But Charlie is different than Callie. Charlie has autism.

The book was written by Holly Robinson Peete and her daughter, Ryan. Ryan’s twin brother, Holly’s son, also has autism.

Annika enjoyed the book immensely because they were two kids who look like her. It was also a great book to read because, coincidentally, we have recently hung out with some friends who have two children with autism. They are friends we knew when Annika was a baby, but haven’t seen them much lately. I was able to explain to her that Charlie was similar to our friends.

This book has beautiful art and a real sense of love and belonging. It is clearly written from the perspective of a family who loves someone with Autism and they happen to have brown skin.

I liked this book for a variety of reasons, but one was because it was a kids’ book with brown-skinned children that wasn’t talking about negative aspects of our history or making a big deal about their skin color.

I highly recommend this book. It is a touching, sweet story with beautiful artwork and any child will enjoy it.

If you like this book review, check out another one for more great books to read with African American children as the main characters.

Does Rashad Owens Deserve Leniency?

I often have difficulty pinpointing when a racist act begins. Lately, I have been giving some thought about the day-to-day effects of racism and how they might affect someone under duress.

The case of Rashad Owens gave me a lot of pause when I began reading about it in the news. In case you haven’t read about the (now) three deaths caused by this man, here is a short synopsis.

Rashad Owens Killed 3 During SXSW 

rashad-owensLast week during South By Southwest (SXSW) a man drunkenly plowed down the wrong way of a one-way street in downtown Austin while being pursued by a policeman for a traffic stop. Owens was reportedly driving without his headlights on. (Other outlets are now reporting that he was being stopped in a sobriety checkpoint. But the original reports stated he was stopped for driving without his headlights. I think it is an important distinction that there are two reasons reported as to why he was being stopped.)

During this incident, two people were killed on the spot and as of this posting, another woman has died from her injuries. There were also 22 others injured. That man was Rashad Owens, a 21-year-old rapper from Killeen, Texas. His BAC was .114.

He was pulled over at a gas station near Interstate 35 and downtown. This is normally a congested area, so given that it was SXSW, the traffic must have been crawling. The officer initially thought Owens was stopping, but then Owens pulled through an alley and proceeded the wrong way down a one-way street where the street was blocked off and many SXSW partiers were standing in the streets.

One might wonder exactly what was it that made him choose this course of action, rather than just submitting to the police in pursuit. If it were me, I’d probably stop and take my licks. But you can bet I’d be pretty damn scared. But I’m a white woman without a sketchy past.

Upon hearing this news of the incident, I was mortified and saddened for the victims. But I have to admit, I was bothered by Police Chief Art Acevdeo’s pronunciation — even before the suspect’s name was released– that this act was “intentional.”

Rashad Owens never had a chance. It was clear from the start that the police were going to vilify Owens.  And even though I am in no way absolving him of his actions, I do think that racism was involved in his behavior. And it will affect how he is viewed in the media, in the trial and in his sentencing.

Owens is already being tried in the court of social media and has been pronounced a scumbag with no regard for human life.

Some of the very first comments I saw attached to articles on this incident said things like, “Let’s string him up” and another called him a “beast.” These comments are reminiscent of stereotypes associated with slavery and Jim Crow laws.

Given that this is an internationally high profile festival and one of the people killed was from the Netherlands, making it news on the other side of the world, Owens likely to be given a pretty harsh sentence once he’s convicted, which I’m certain he will be. He faces two charges of capital murder and 23 counts of aggravated assault. (These numbers may change given that a third person has died.)

Rashad Owens clearly made some bad choices that night. I’m not disputing that. And let me be clear, I’m sickened by the results of his poor choices.

However, I want to look at this from an unbiased view about what I think of his actions that led to three deaths and 22 terribly injured people. Let’s look at this through the lens of a racist society.

The facts: Rashad Charjuan Owens is a 21-year-old black man from Killeen, Texas. He reportedly has six children. He has two more prior incidents in Alaska, a minor in possession (MIP) charge and criminal mischief charge. In one incident the charge was dismissed and the second case remains open, which he skipped out on. He also has been charged with kidnapping his own child during a custody dispute.

None of this looks good on paper. A lot of people will write him off immediately after hearing these things. But what I’m more curious about is how a person can get to be only 21 years old and already have that kind of laundry list of bad life choices.

At this point, I can only speculate about his motives on that night. But it’s not hard to speculate that this dude was running scared. He knows the facts of his life and when he saw those police lights behind him, I’m guessing he stopped thinking about anything else other than getting the hell out of there.

And you know why.

He knew without an unequivocal doubt that he was going to go to jail for a long ass time if he was caught. He knows this because he’s a black man in the United States and he’s already made several poor life choices. But does that make him a scumbag with no regard for human life? Or does it just make him a human being who is trying to survive?

Would he have been better off if he’d just stopped? Probably not. And here’s why.

Now, who knows if Rashad Charjuan Owens knows these exact statistics I’m about to share with you, but I’m guessing he knows that his odds are not good.

Approximately 12-13 percent of the U.S. population is African American. However, 40 percent of the prison population are black males.

In 2010, black males were six times more likely to be incarcerated than white males. And here’s something for those of you who think that the Civil Rights Movement eradicated racism. This statistic is actually UP from 1960 when black men were only five times more likely to be in prison than whites. These numbers are actually down from the 1990s, when they rose even higher than 1960s numbers.

If I were a person with those kinds of statistics and that background, I think that my incentive for running from cops would be raised significantly. As a white person, I mostly am not afraid of cops. Even when I’m in the wrong, I can count on my race and my gender to significantly decrease my chances of being punished too harshly. Rashad Owens can not. And he knew that when he was running for his life.

Let me again, say that I am not trying to absolve him of his actions. Only trying to understand them.

Rashad Owens’ Punishment Will Be More Severe Because He is Black

Now, given all these facts, you may still likely believe that Rashad Owens deserves a long jail sentence. After all, he did some pretty horrible things and whether or not he’s black, he is clearly a criminal who deserves no leniency. I might have agreed with that statement 10 or more years ago.

I do not, though, today. Not if you look at other similar cases.

Two cases to examine.

Ethan Couch and Gabrielle Nestande.

Ethan Couch is a white boy from Ft. Worth, who killed four people during a drunken driving spree in June 2013. He was 16 at the time. His BAC was .24 and he also tested positive for Valium. May I point out that he was not running away from anyone at the time. He was simply out for a joyride with seven of his friends in his truck, none of whom were wearing seat belts. They were wasted, he lost control of his truck and killed four people, a woman with car trouble and three good Samaritans who had stopped to help her.  One of Ethan’s friends, Sergio Molina, was riding in the back and is now crippled and must be cared for around the clock by his family. Ethan Couch was given 10 years of probation and time in a cushy rehabilitation facility that would cost his parents approximately $500,000 per year. The victims’ families are pretty pissed. And yes, there has been outcry. But nonetheless, Ethan Couch isn’t doing any real time.

Oh, but you say, Couch didn’t have a string of priors!

But actually, he did. Just earlier that year, in February 2013 he had been cited for minor in possession and was sentenced to probation and community service.

If you’re white, like me, that sounds pretty reasonable for kid. But Rashad Owens’ criminal background were also rooted in MIPs. He was also charged with criminal mischief (criminal mischief is typically destroying someone else’s property) along with being a minor in possession.

Now, let’s look at Gabrielle Nestande. Nestande was a 24-year-old white Capitol staffer who drunkenly ran over a pedestrian, then went home, leaving the woman to die in the street. The next day, Nestande got up and went to work as if nothing had happened. Nestande received a sentence of six months in jail and 10 years of probation.

Ethan Couch comes from a family whose annual income is reportedly around $15 million. Gabrielle Nestande comes from a political family. Her father is Bruce Nestande, a powerful member of the GOP, who served as special assistant to Ronald Reagan. He also has a DUI/hit and run on his record for which he, too, served only six months in jail, along with probation.

Clearly, these issues are not just about race, but also about class. The same judge who gave Couch his cushy sentence has been criticized for giving harsher sentences for similar crimes and similarly aged young men, both white and black.

If you ask me, of all these three young adults, the one who sounds like he had good reason to run the most is Rashad Owens. He was literally running for his life.

If People Are All Really Equal, Then Rashad Owens Deserves Leniency Too

After looking at all of this, I think Rashad Owens deserves some leniency for his actions. I’m saddened over the deaths and injuries, but from this perspective, it seems to me that perhaps if we didn’t live in a racist country, then maybe those 25 people would still be alive/unhurt today. Perhaps Rashad Owens would have not been so worried for his life. Perhaps he would have stopped and gotten his slap on the wrist just like any white person would have gotten in his situation.

What do you say about this? Many will say no! He killed innocents! He ruined our beloved festival. He stained our upstanding community. Yes, he did. But we have to start somewhere.

 

 

 

Guest Post: Awkward Silences

Today’s guest post is from one of my newer internet friends. She is a single mama, like me. She also reminds me of myself about a decade and more ago when I started trying to really understand racism. She is Only-Mama, a blogger, a single mom, but most importantly, a deep thinker who acknowledges her lack of understanding and wants to change that in herself. I love this post because I can relate to it on many levels, on both sides of the coin, and I appreciate her taking the time to guest post for me a second time on the topic of race.

I am a white woman, primarily raised around white people.  I have always considered myself to be as non-racist as possible, given my isolation from other races.  In my heart, I believe I don’t judge others based on color, and I think I manage to avoid believing or perpetuating stereotypes.  But sometimes I get it wrong, and my first clue is the awkward silence.

When you are a white girl like me, you say stupid things on occasion without realizing why you just said the wrong thing. For example, I had a coworker whose daughter was pregnant the same time that I was, so we talked a lot about pregnancy and infants during coffee break.  One day she showed me a picture of her adorable grandbaby.

NEW GRANDMA:  Isn’t she the cutest little ewok?
(baby girl has curly hair up in two round puffy ponytails on top of her head. Absolutely adorable!)
ME:  She is absolutely adorable!

Later that week, grandma, me and a white coworker were looking at pictures.
ME to white coworker: Isn’t she the cutest little ewok?
NEW GRANDMA:  deafening silence.

awkward silences pic

Apparently white people can’t call black babies ewoks to other white people.  I wasn’t trying to be dehumanizing, I was just using her word. I didn’t know that I didn’t have a right to use it.

I had a longer discussion with a different black coworker about calling black kids monkeys.

TEE: And so WHITE FRIEND came up to me at Target and my kids were hanging off the sides of my grocery cart, and can you believe she called them monkeys?
ME: But what is wrong with that?  I call my own kids monkeys all the time!
TEE:  But you can’t call a black kid a monkey!
ME: But they were hanging off the cart like monkeys!
TEE: I can call them monkeys, but white people can’t.
ME:  But isn’t it racist that white kids can be monkeys and black kids can’t?
TEE:  Porch monkey? Hello?
(A porch monkey is a derogatory term meaning that the person is lazy. Laziness is a negative stereotype often attributed to black people.)

I had honestly never thought of that.  I was glad that Tee had told her story and was willing to spell it out for me. I learned more than if she had just gone with awkward silence.

There are other negative stereotypes that are good enough reasons why black children shouldn’t be called monkeys. For a white kid, it’s not a big deal because they don’t have the background of stereotypes depicting their ancestors as sub-humans, lazy, and ignorant. But black children do, and should never be called a monkey

Now, you may think it is ridiculous that a white person would even think to call a black kid a monkey, but we don’t always think in terms of racism.  If my kid is a monkey, and your kid can’t be a monkey, that’s a racial division I don’t always think of. (This is a sign of white privilege.)

Insensitivity, sure. Wrong, yes.  But when you become friends with someone you don’t always remember to be sensitive, and words come out and fall on the floor with a thud met by silence.

Time and again I have put my foot in my mouth and have had no clue until I am hit by the awkward silence, and I really don’t want to be offensive.  I need someone to clue me in.  I don’t know how to ask for this though.  When I am shown my ignorance, I don’t know how to bridge the divide my words have just made, and I really want to.

Maybe next time, instead of changing the subject, I can have the guts to say, “Wow, I obviously said something wrong! I’m sorry.” And maybe whomever I am speaking to will have the generosity to tell me why my words hurt.   I want to be better, I just need a little help growing.

Winter HatOnly-Mama is primarily a single parenting blog where I try to examine my moments of failure as well as my successes and don’t talk about being single as much as I intended. I am occasionally deep and insightful, more often light-hearted and irrelevant, and I have a propensity to discuss my underwear more than is appropriate. Thanks toMomsoap for allowing me an opportunity to get out of my comfort zone.

 

This guest post is part of a series for Black History Month. If you are interested in contributing, please see this post for more details. Or go directly to my Submit Guest Posts page. 

 

Quvenzhané Wallis in the Remake of Annie is a Huge Win for Girls of Color, Especially Mine!

Typically, I don’t get excited about classic move remakes. Okay, okay, I’m a huge grump when a beloved classic remake hits the big screen. But this one, I am fucking stoked!!

If you haven’t heard, the remake of the movie Annie is going to star Quvenzhané Wallis. The new Annie is black, THE NEW ANNIE IS BLACK!!!!

This is HUGE for us. Check this out below:

annie

 

Yes, this is my child’s favorite movie! Well, okay, if you ask her on any given day, there could be a number of favorite movies. It really is one of her favorite movies. She’s watched it multiple times. She sings the songs from the movie and has even discussed how her hair is similar in texture to Annie’s. She’s going to go GA GA!

Watch the trailer here:

If you don’t think that’s a big deal, picture having a daughter who says things like this:

“Mama, all the shows I like only have one girl with brown skin.”

Or,

“How come all the best books and movies only have people with white skin, Mama?”

Or,

“Mama, look! I think my skin is getting whiter!”

And lest you wonder if somehow she’s getting the impression at home that white skin is better, you’d be severely wrong. We discuss our differences all the time. I tell her she’s beautiful. I make sure that she knows that black is beautiful. Brown is gorgeous. And her hair is simply divine. Nope, it’s not coming from anywhere but the media.

Now, the grump in me says that if not for having a daughter with brown skin, I might be not quite as excited about Annie being played by someone without red hair. Sure, I get it. Some may be disappointed.

Heck, there will be probably be an outcry. I know I won’t be able to avoid the racist, comments that are coming already happening.

But for now, I’m going to revel in this news.

And you can bet your bottom dollar that we’ll be lining up to see this movie when it comes out on Dec. 19!

(I’ll save y’all from the cheesy Sun Is Gonna Come Out Tomorrow line in my head.) But damn, I’m excited!

Now go watch the trailer again.

A White Woman’s View on Race, From Detroit

This is the next post in my guest series on racism, which I am extending indefinitely. I have decided that one month is not enough to devote to this topic. I want to let people have the opportunity to discuss race in an open and honest way.

This post is written by a former coworker of mine from many years ago. I like this post because it is way more raw than much of the writing here on this blog. To be frank, it is an insider’s look at an academically uneducated view on race from the white person. It is not a hateful view, but a limited one.

It does have some things in it I disagree with, academically. But instead of having the author change them to fit my views, I decided to leave them in, but I feel pressed to make sure that I point out a couple of things.

In this post, the author mentions “reverse racism.” Her views are honest. So I left it in, because the notion of “reverse racism” still runs rampant in our society.

Academically, this notion is flawed. But because white people generally do not understand racism, or feel it personally when they do not hate, it is a common misconception in the white community.

I felt it myself, for a long time, until I began to understand the difference between racism and prejudice. Anyone can be prejudiced. But according to critical race theory, racism is something that black people in America cannot be, simply because racism is too deeply ingrained in society. Because we live in a culture of institutionalized racism, one does not need to be black-hating racist in order to still be defined as a racist. You simply are because you were born into this societal fabric. On the opposing view, one can be in the minority and can hate, or be prejudiced against the majority, but that does not make that person a racist. They are simply prejudiced against the status quo.

And with that, I give you a raw and honest look at a white woman’s view on race. From love with Detroit. 

Ok, let me start off by saying, I plan to be open and honest, but will probably not be.

Not that I’m going to lie, but let’s be honest here.  This is a hot button topic, and anything said about race will set someone off, so you need to tread lightly.

Second thing is, I’m a bit of a rambler, I don’t really even know what I’m going to say, so bear with me.

I like to think of myself as a non-judgmental person.  I don’t judge people on their race, sex, sexual orientation, religion, whatever. I do, however, judge people based on their personalities.  So, I can’t understand why people would lump groups of people together based on anything other than their personalities.

My Experiences with Other Races

I grew up in a suburb of Detroit.  In about the third grade I became close friends with a girl who was mixed.  Mom white, dad black. Mom was remarried to a white guy, and she had a younger half brother.  I never really thought anything about her being mixed, she was just my friend.

We both loved to sing and dance, her mom had a jukebox, so we would hang out at her house, playing oldies, singing and dancing.

About a year later, I had my first run in with racism.  We were walking home one day, and a car started following us, pacing us.  We kept walking, aware that there was someone following, but ignoring them.  Next thing I know the person started yelling racist remarks, to both of us.  I can’t remember exactly what they said, but I was in awe.  They drove off.  It was eye opening, because I realized then, that this is something she dealt with on a regular basis.

Later that year, members of the KKK were outside the school, handing out flyers, spreading their hate, and it was then I realized that there was true hate in this world.

In middle school I went to school with a new mix of kids, I added Jewish, and even more black kids to my group of friends.  I again, never thought twice about it, they were people I got along with, people I liked.

I, again, was to be shocked –by a family member–when I started dating a Jewish boy.  I was told that there was nothing wrong with people who were Jewish, but that I shouldn’t date them.  I was also told the same thing, when I later, started dating black boys.

None of this changed my views, I still looked at people as people.  I didn’t understand why, when I went to the mall with my friends who were black, we were followed through the department stores by the employees there, in fact, asked to leave the store at one point, when all we were doing was walking through the store to get to the main part of the mall.

Feeling My Own Prejudice

In high school I was lucky enough to be invited to be part of the Horizons Upward-Bound program.  It’s a wonderful program, that includes kids from Pontiac, Detroit and Berkley.  To be invited, you have to pass tests, be the first member of your family to attend college, be from a low income family, and have a high IQ.

During the summer, we stayed on campus, at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, for six weeks.  We slept in the dorms, and on weekend, we had free run of the  campus. This was when I feel I fully understood what it must feel like to be a minority.  The very first day I was there, after I got my room, I went to the cafeteria, to eat lunch and I was taken aback.  I didn’t know anyone at all in the room, not even anyone from my own city of Berkley.

There were, say, 400 students there, and maybe 40 of them were white, and included in the white students were people of Hispanic origin, Asians, and Middle Easterners.

I had never been in that situation.  I was scared.  Not because of any reason other than, I was the minority, I didn’t fit in.  I found my roommate, who was Hispanic, and we went and sat at a table together in the back.  There were two tables, further back, but those were only for the Seniors.  The rest of the table was all white.

But as the summers went on, I made a lot of friends there.  From Detroit, and Pontiac. My Sophomore year I had my eyes opened, yet again. That was the year I discovered “reverse racism”

I was dating a black guy, and a couple of his friends (black), were dating other white girls.  We were all a big group of friends, so we were all pretty close.  The boys informed us one day that a teacher had them stay after class so he could talk to them about dating white girls.  He thought it was a shame that they would date white girls when there were perfectly fine black girls to date, that if they kept doing this, they would be killing their race.

I was again in awe, and lost complete respect for this teacher.  And it was then I realized that no matter what race you were, you could be racist.

I’ve learned things in my adult life, how racist people are.

I have had to wait on people that I knew to be Nazis, I have had to deal with people of other races using their race to get out of things, and when I brought the fact that they weren’t doing their job to my bosses attention, they said I was racist.

I currently work in a mixed neighborhood, we have just as many black customers as white, most of my co-workers are black, and I have been told, by not only co-workers, but by customers, that I may be white on the outside but black on the inside.

I find I can fit in with any group of people pretty much, black, white, Jewish, Christian, Pagan, all sexual orientations, I look at myself as a chameleon.  I was once accused of being fake, because of my ability to do that, but I’m not fake.  I look at it as I have many, many parts of me, and that allows me to fit in with everyone.

Teaching My Daughter My Views

I have raised my daughter to do the same thing, look on the inside, not the outside.  If I don’t like you, it has nothing to do with your physical appearance, it has everything to do with your behavior.  If you act rude, or ignorant, I’m not going to give you any respect, but if you carry yourself like a decent human being, treating others with kindness and respect, I will treat you the same.

It’s a shame that it is the year 2014, and people are still having to discuss racism.  I don’t understand why people have such hatred inside of them.  I think that people are people, and everyone is equal.

I think everyone should have the same chances as everyone else, and that there shouldn’t be special treatment for anyone.

I just hope that maybe, this can inspire someone else to think twice before judging someone else. And I’m proud to say that I am “black on the inside”, but to me, I’m just me.

It’s a shame that personality traits are viewed as one race or another, or that people can’t be just viewed as people, but have to be typecast because they can fit in with other people.

20130705_164652Crystal Breger is a white woman in the suburbs of Detroit, which is one of the few metropolitan cities in the country that has a majority of African Americans. She is a wife and mother to one, in a white, monoracial family.

This guest post is part of a series that I initiated during Black History Month. This guest series has been extended indefinitely. If you are interested in contributing, please see this post for more details. Or go directly to my Submit Guest Posts page. 

Hey there! If you like this kind of stuff, why not Fan me on Facebook? Or Follow me on Twitter and Pinterest.

Guest Post: Practicing How to Act in a World of Privilege, Where You Have None

Today’s guest post is from a blogger who I’ve known online for a while. She’s guest posted for me before, here. Jen Marshall Duncan is a teacher, and also mom and wife in a biracial family. She understands racism well enough to teach black students about how to act in a world where they will be judged based on their skin color. She is insightful, articulate and intelligent. I am very glad that she agreed to write another post for me. 

 

I am in my second year of teaching a class full of students who are all young black men. I do not look at the boys in my class and see only their skin color, their sagging pants, or their hoodies. I do not feel fear when they posture, flash signs, or rant about the things that make them angry. (In fact, the white kids I used to teach did the same things.) I do not feel fear when I see young black men at all–I feel love. I want to hug them.

I look at most young black men and feel the same warmth I feel when I see my own son. Then a minute later I feel my whiteness, and I want to apologize on behalf of a society that has all but abandoned them by making assumptions about their worth and their future. I want to teach them to navigate the ways of our predominantly white school/city/state/country.

I say things to my students like, “There are white people who will be afraid of you no matter what just because you are a young black man. You may think it’s not your job to make them feel comfortable, and that it’s not fair that you have to act a certain way. You’re right–it’s not fair. But the fact is that if you don’t try to protect yourself by learning the ways of white society, it can get you in trouble. In this town (state/country), it is proven that your word isn’t as believable as a white person’s.” (Questlove describes the way that feels here.)

Because the truth is exposed time and time again  that anyone who is not white or straight or male or well-to-do is treated differently in our society, my class is about practicing how to act.

We practice what to say and what to do in white society that will help us be successful. We practice applying and interviewing for jobs. We practice how to behave in a predominantly white setting. We practice what to do when the police stop them (because the police will stop them).

In short, I try to teach the boys in my class how to protect themselves in a white society that is plagued by racism.

I do the same thing at home when I teach my own biracial children how to navigate a system that doesn’t acknowledge the half of them that is white. Most white people don’t look at my son and say, “There’s a nice white boy,” or even, “Look at that handsome mixed boy!”  They see him as a young black man–exactly the same as the boys I teach.

As young black people, there are certain safety lessons that both my children and my students need to learn:

Don’t carry a big bag into a store or you may be accused of theft.

When you’re driving, keep your hands on the wheel if an officer stops you, so he doesn’t think you’re reaching for a weapon.

Always be respectful so no one can arrest you for disorderly conduct when no other charge will stick.

Be smarter, more polite, better than you think you need to be–because it will be hard to make some people believe who you really are.

Sometimes I feel like I am giving my students the key to a locked room, and I know that there are white people out there who would view me as a traitor to my race for giving them that key.  I want my students to not only to survive, but to thrive in this world, and I will do whatever I can to help them.

I want them to make it in life with the same fervor that I want my own children to make it. In fact, I care about them like they are my own kids–unconditionally.

And even though it took a while, they feel it.  The boys in my class know how much I care, and they reciprocate. One calls me his OG. Another calls me his “white momma.”

I am both honored and a little worried by their nicknames for me. The first time I was called someone’s “OG,” I said, “I am not an OG! I am a middle-aged white woman!”

I am so touched that they think of me as one of their own, but I would never ever presume to be something other than what I am:  a white teacher with a black family who sees reality. I care deeply about my students, and I care about trying to right the wrongs of racism.

I am honored that they give me respect and count me as part of their community. At the same time I am totally embarrassed by my privilege.

I didn’t ask to be the one person in the room who has more access to tools of success just because I am white.

I didn’t ask to be the one person in the room who doesn’t get followed around in stores to make sure I’m not shoplifting just because I’m white.

I didn’t ask to be the one person in the room who can drive home every night for years and years without being stopped by a police officer.

I didn’t earn those privileges–yet I have them. That’s embarrassing. Shameful even.

I truly wish I could share more than words and practice sessions with my students. I’d love to share white privilege. Wouldn’t it be something if all white people shared their privilege?

I mean is there a finite amount of the stuff? Will the world run out of privilege if it’s handed out to everyone?

Try to imagine what it would be like if we extended privilege to all. When I do, I see a world based on mutual respect….where I’d need to find some new material to teach in my class…and that would be a very, very good thing.

jenmarduncJen Marshall Duncan lives in Iowa and blogs at empatheia, where she  writes about her experiences in a mixed race marriage,  raising  3 biracial children, and her experiences as a teacher of kids who don’t fit into traditional high school settings.

 This guest post is part of a series for Black History Month. If you are interested in contributing, please see this post for more details. Or go directly to my Submit Guest Posts page. 

Black History Month Is Now, But It Doesn’t Have To End

ellaBlack history is part of our nation’s history. And how we choose to teach our children about all of our history starts in early childhood, whether we realize it or not. As a white American, I remained ignorant about a large chunk of our history for the first part of my life. Living in Detroit and finishing out my education at a largely African American-attended school, I was no longer able or willing to remain ignorant. But even now, after all these years, I continue to strive and work to keep up.

Every year since Annika has been born, I make an effort every February to instill regular discussions and education about black American history.

If not for having a brown-skinned child, I don’t know that I would have made such an effort. But being that I’m white and she’s black, AND since I’m her primary caregiver, I worry that she won’t have a real understanding of what it means to be black in America. So, I figure the least I can do is give her a good academic base of knowledge.

All that said, I think it’s hugely important for white parents, as well as parents of color, to teach their children about racism, otherism, and other forms of prejudice, including homophobia and genderism, which we also discuss.

This month, we have been reading children’s black history books. I plan to keep black history books as part of our regular rotation, rather than just doing it in February so she will have a constant influx of knowledge throughout her childhood.

Children’s Books for Black History

brewsterTwo black history books that we read this week were both great for two reasons. One gave Annika a beautiful illustration of a strong and talented African American songstress, Ella Fitzgerald. And the other introduced her to some of the subordinate racial slurs that African Americans have had to endure, as well as a lesson on segregation with a child-like twist.

In the book, Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa authors Audrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney tell the tale of this super songstress in the voice of scat cat, a kitty jazz fan who regales us with the tale of her life; how she taught herself to dance on the sidewalk; almost bombed at the Apollo and turned out to be one of the most lauded black singers of her time. After we read the book, we watched a video on Youtube.

I loved this book because Annika was very excited about the beautiful illustration on the front and it gave me an opportunity to introduce her to a beautiful part of black history.

The next book I’m recommending is Busing Brewster by Richard Michelson. This book made me blanch just a little because I didn’t read it ahead of time and I came across the words, negro and colored, in reference to people. The boy, Brewster, calls himself both a few times in the story. And the word colored is used by white people, in a negative light.

But this one was her favorite book out of the two. She asked me to read it over and over again. I think we read it 10 times this week. In at least two instances we read it twice in a row. I’m not sure what it was about this book that she loved so much. She didn’t seem very concerned about the ending of segregation or why the two brothers had a hard time going to the “white school.” There was just something about the brothers that she really liked. Although, she did question why the white people were angry about the brothers going to their school.

This book is a tale of two brothers who find out they are going to the “white school,” while the older brother is upset and angry about it, the younger brother, who is just entering kindergarten, is just a little confused, and also a little excited.

In Busing Brewster, the brothers encounter picketers; rocks being thrown at their bus; and a white boy who tells them he wished their “kind” stayed at their old school. But after a while, he makes friends with them, until his father picks him up from school and mutters ugly words about the brothers, making young Brewster feel unsure about his pending friend.

I highly recommend both of these books. The first one is a great example of a talented and strong African American woman. And the second is a history lesson that gives just enough to provoke interesting discussions about the ugliness of our past, and how we have moved forward.

To read Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa and Busing Brewster (these are Amazon Affiliate links) or check them out at your local library, which is where we picked up these books.

Guest Post: A Letter to My Daughter

 Today’s guest post is from a former classmate in Detroit. She writes a letter I could have half written myself. The parts she writes to her daughter about what may be to come are things I have thought myself. The worries about the cruelties she may have to suffer in school without my protection. I can’t relate to the parts about being targeted, but I do remember hearing hurtful things in school. This is a letter that all parents to children of color will be able to relate to. The knowledge and worry about what your child will almost certainly endure at too young of an age. 

 

Dear Jade,

As I write this, I think of you, my little love – tucked snugly away in your bed tonight. Cherubic. Dreaming.

You’re only four years old and so blissfully unaware of any feeling other than the love that exists within the walls of our home.

You are treasured. You are loved. You’re my baby girl.

As your mother, I wish I could shield you from all of the ugliness and injustices that exist in this world.

Someday, your peers or their parents, may comment on my nationality. They may ask why my eyes look more almond-shaped than yours. They could be kind about it. Or, they could be cruel.

I wish I could tell you that there’s no such thing as racism, bigotry and prejudice – that these are as imaginary as the monsters under your bed.

But, I can’t.

So, before I send you out into this big, beautiful world to secure your place in it– I want you to understand that there is also an unpleasant side to it. There’s a shadowy underbelly to our nation’s history—and to human nature itself. You will learn some of this from textbooks – in History class. And, some of this you will have to learn on your own.

I did.

I had my first taste of racism in kindergarten.

It was then, over paste and construction paper and finger-paints, that one little boy called another little boy the “n-word.”

At the time, I didn’t understand the true weight, the sheer hatefulness, of the word. And, most likely, neither did the little boy using it. But, the look on the other kid’s face told me all that I needed to know.

It wasn’t until I got home, and I asked my parents (your grandparents) what it meant, that I truly understood.

Of course, I got the watered-down, “after-school special” definition of the term, but the point was still made: Don’t ever say it. It’s cruel. It’s hateful. It’s racist.

The second dose of racism came in middle school. Only, this time, I was the target.

It came shortly after our class was required to present a “family tree” assignment that detailed both sides of our family – going back at least three generations. Until then, I don’t think many of my classmates were aware that I was of half-Chinese descent. But, they were after that.

And, after that day, they never let me forget it.

Words like “chink,” “Jap,” “slope” and “gook,” were spat at me by kids I had known most of my life.

Again, I had no idea what those words meant at the time. But, they were uttered with such venom, through gritted-teeth by my classmates. And, they were almost always muttered in hushed-tones – so that no authority figure would hear.

And, after I looked up each word, one by one, in the dictionary, I knew why.

These words – harsh and cold and cruel — were designed to wound. To label me. To marginalize me, strip me of my individuality and make me feel like less of a person. And, for a time, it worked.

Each day, every slur seemed to chisel away at my self-esteem. After a while, I faked illnesses to avoid going to school. I lost interest in my classes. I held my head a little lower.

It took me a long time to view my heritage – our heritage– as beautiful and unique and not as some sort of genetic curse that made me stand out as a subject of ridicule.

I never want you to feel as I had.  And, my hope is to raise you to be the kind of person who would never make anyone else feel that way.

Be kind. Be compassionate. Be better than the people who, one day, may try to steal your light or those who wish to extinguish the light of others.

Stick up for yourself. Stick up for those who are too fearful to stand up for themselves.

Have the courage that I never did when racism was staring me straight in the face.

Don’t run. Don’t cower.

Stand proud.

Know you are more than the label someone may affix to you.

Know your worth, because I do.

Love always,

Mommy

407525_325480864136732_1315670521_nBio: Andrea K. Farmer is a single mom living in the Detroit area who works for a major metropolitan newspaper. The loves of her life are her little girl, Jade, and writing. She is currently working on a fiction novel.

 

This guest post is part of a series for Black History Month where writers/bloggers talk about their feelings and thoughts about race and how it affects their every day lives. For more info on this see this post or see my Submit Guest Posts page.

Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman, Black Feminists At Heart

harrietsojournerI recently introduced Annika to the idea of slavery, it happened to come up and it felt like a good time to talk about it. Being Black History Month, I’ve gotten a handful of books for us to read this month.

So far, the only person she recognizes without fail is Martin Luther King Jr. I mean to change that starting now.

As a child, I never got much in the way of black history. Not really knowing all the truths about our country until adulthood was in part how I sealed much of my white privilege for so long.

Part of raising a black child means that she needs to understand our nation’s history well as she grows up. She can not be afforded the luxury of ignorance.

One of the first books we read this month was  When Harriet Met Sojourner. When Harriet Met Sojourner is a childlike introduction to two of the women in the movement toward freeing slaves.

It introduces children to two women who worked to to free slaves. The books describe the women as so determined to fight to be free, they were willing to die trying.

This is the kind of role model I want for my daughter. They are two true pioneers, feminists and Black History heroes.

It had been a long time since I read much about either women. I never even heard of Sojourner Truth until I was an adult. Although, I was introduced to Harriet Tubman somewhere along the line and even as a child, I had always loved the idea of the Underground Railroad.

Tubman and Truth are both great women to read up on for adults and youngsters. I hope to use stories like these to help give Annika a positive view of strong black women.

For a great intro to Black History and feminism, read:

Read more about Harriet Tubman

Read more about Sojourner Truth

Guest Post: Not So Fantastic

Today’s guest post is from a friend. He’s a dad in an interracial relationship with two kids. Mark is a very thoughtful man, someone who I am proud to have guest posting on my blog. He’s not a blogger. But he is an author and shares a male/dad point of view on how media affects him and his children’s outlook on life. 

468px-GreenLantern-full_0_1

A couple of weeks ago, my kid told me some things that made my geek dad heart soar for about a minute, until some grim realizations sunk in.

On our way to pick up a Saturday night fast food dinner, my daughter decided to take the opportunity to workshop a comic book story she planned to flesh out later. It centered on all of the members of our family having superpowers. She gave me super strength, her mother super intelligence, and her brother super speed. “But what about me?” she wondered. “I know! I have a great imagination, so I’ll be like Green Lantern. I’ll have a ring that lets me do whatever I imagine!”

This thrilled me because Green Lantern typically gets less love than other super heroes.  Batman, Superman, Spider-Man and so many others are very evident and obvious in their powers and how those powers manifest. It can be difficult for younger children to understand a superhero whose power stem from his will and his mind. So I had a big grin when she said that. Points to me and her for picking Green Lantern!

It’s too true that pride goeth before a fall though, because the thought that followed that one shook me out of my joy. One day my daughter will open up a Green Lantern comic – or really any mainstream comic book – and quickly realize that no one looks like her…because she’s a young black woman.

Before I go forward with this blog entry, let me go back in time a bit.

In the spring of 1984, I wandered into a 7-11 and saw the first issue of Marvel’s Secret Warsthe forerunner for pretty much every epic comic book crossover. I knew that comic book represented a special moment when first I saw it, and it took me about twenty-five years to find an additional layer of specialness in it: the cover to Secret Wars #1 features three black super heroes, none of whom are related and none of whom are good friends – they aren’t even all on the same team [1].  I don’t know if this is something that has been repeated on a comic book cover – mainstream or independent – since that time.

 

Can you find the three black super heroes?

Can you find the three black super heroes?

And there’s still another layer of awesome to that cover: two of the three are black women.  If you’re not trippin’ yet, hold on because I’m about to take you still deeper: yep, there’s another layer to this cover, though it involves things that happened after the issue hit the stands. Those two black female superheroes would later go on to be leaders of their respective teams.

 

This is all excellent, right? You’d be forgiven if you found yourself thinking that over the course of 30 damn years, we’d have seen a nice upward trajectory for the representation of black women in comics and speculative fiction (sci-fi/fantasy books, TV shows, movies and video games).

But I wouldn’t be writing this guest blog entry if we had.

 

I wish I knew what happened. I suspect that much of what Sojourner Truth and bell hooks have said about how women of color, black women in particular, are forgotten when progress is made for women has played a role. I know that if the comic book industry let me write The Fantastic Four, given the metaphors and social commentary inherent in the nature of the characters (e.g., the brash young man is fiery, the loyal friend is rock solid), I’d make the Invisible Woman be an African-American woman.

 

After all, where are the prominent black women in some of the larger speculative fiction properties of the last few years? I’ll wait while you count them in Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Disney’s Princess line, and Star Trek.

……

Okay, I gave you time to think about all of those properties, each with many dozens of characters, many with very strong female characters, and I bet you still came up with only a few more than that funny book featured on its cover in 1984 – and you likely accomplished that by getting fuzzy with definition of “prominent”.  Some of the only speculative fiction properties that do feature a black woman in a major supporting role – for example, The Walking Dead and Sleepy Hollow – are way too intense to share with my daughter.

 

Confession time: I don’t know what happened…and I don’t know what to do about it. I’m a writer, but I’m also the Man in Black to the publishing world: I am no one of consequence. (I’m also smiling because I am not left-handed.)

 

I know that many authors and directors simply don’t listen when one raises this issue.  By contrast, when Lena Dunham got called out for the lack of black women in Girls, she didn’t immediately go on the defensive/offensive or offer lame excuses about marketing and “numbers,” she acknowledged the problem and indicated that she’d give some thought to how to make it better. The only speculative fiction creator I could see responding in that manner to a similar call out is, in the immortal words of David Tenant as the 10th Doctor, “good ol’ JK.”

Ultimately, I guess I have to content myself with this knowledge: for all their imagination and the awards the Powers That Be behind so many of these properties give themselves for their epic imaginations, the fact that my daughter can see herself as a prominent superhero while they cannot means that if a dying alien with an artifact of incredibly advanced science ever crashes on Earth and seeks a worthy human being to wield the power of that artifact, my daughter is far more likely to be chosen than any of them.

[1] The three are Iron Man (Jim Rhodes, played first by Terence Howard then by Don Cheadle in the movies), Storm (of the X-Men), and Captain Marvel (the backstory to that name and the character who claimed it at that time would take up more space than I have for this blog entry; long story short, in 1984, Marvel Comics’ Captain Marvel was a black woman from Louisiana).

meMark Power-Freeman is the author of The Face Value Blues, a sci-fi/fantasy novel set in the Jazz Age. In his day job, he’s a creative director at a design consultancy company located in Austin, and he’s dabbled in everything from acting and modeling to screenwriting to tech support to teaching. 

This guest post is part of a series for Black History Month where writers/bloggers talk about their feelings and thoughts about race and how it affects their every day lives. For more info on this see this post or see my Submit Guest Posts page.