I know this is not one of my typical types of posts, but today I’m helping promote a new line of multicultural kids’ artwork. I am not being paid for this.
I met Tracy over at One Brown Crafter through email, as she was searching for biracial and multiracial kids online. We’ve chatted a lot through email and Facebook. She’s an intelligent and savvy multiracial woman of color who finds herself a minority in the crafting world. So she began designing her art surrounding that idea. I love her artwork and plan to buy this one. A piece that Annika picked out for her room.
I love Tracy’s work because it reflects the simplicity of seeing past skin color by acknowledging everyone’s place in the world. She comes from a space knowing what it’s like to feel out of place, but has embraced it and her artwork certainly reflects the spirit of being a child. Please check her stuff out. She’s introducing a new line this fall and I look forward to seeing more of her beautiful artwork.
A Little Bit About the New Line From Tracyville:
Illustrator, recycling artist and blogger, Tracy Viverretta is launching a line of fun, functional and inspirational products geared toward biracial and multicultural kids that officially launches on Labor Day. These handmade products will also encourage self-love and self esteem.
Tracy isn’t saying what they are as yet, but all month long, she’ll be sharing “teasers” of the new goodies on her blog – Tracyville – all leading up to the big reveal on Labor Day. Make Tracyville a regular pit-stop to get the full story on this product line and to join in on her Back-To-School-Labor Day-Product-Fest-Handmakery-Adventure as she conceives, sketches, doodles, designs, sews, draws and illustrates tons of fun and functional goodies for the kiddos.
You can find Tracy’s work at the following locations.
This morning when I awoke and read that George Zimmerman had been found not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin I was stunned. And I decided to tell my daughter about his murder, even though she’s only 5. Even though we live in liberal, happy-go-lucky Austin, Texas. I’d been wondering when I would need to start this conversation with her, about racist acts. And suddenly, I knew. The time was right.
I wasn’t so surprised about the verdict. After all, it is Florida. (Yes I know that’s offensive, I don’t give a shit. I’m fucking pissed! Plus, I live in Texas, I hear that shit about us all the time, and you know what? They’re right.)
And after all, you know, he’s a black male so he must’ve been doing SOMETHING wrong walking around a white neighborhood. (That’s sarcasm, in case there’s a troll reading.)
As I got up and wandered into the kitchen with my squeaky 5-year-old, a child with brown skin and curly black hair. A beautiful child. An innocent child. A child that was once Trayvon Martin.
I looked at her and I didn’t so much as think, but I began to feel fear. I knew within a millisecond before I opened my mouth that I was going to start down a treacherous path with her. One that needs to start now. Because if I wait, she might not know enough in time to save her life.
I am not being dramatic. (That’s also for the trolls.) That’s the worst part of this conversation.
So, I said to her as we prepared to make banana pancakes, “Baby, I’m a little sad this morning.”
“Why mama?” as she colors in her coloring book.
So I began to tell her. I told her that a man who murdered a boy named Trayvon Martin was on trial. I told her that he got away with murdering Trayvon.
“Trayvon Martin had brown skin like you, baby. And he was walking in the dark, alone, and he was wearing a hoodie, you know a jacket with a hood? And this man thought he looked suspicious. Do you know what suspicious means? (Explain the meaning of suspicious, move on.) So this man picked a fight with Trayvon Martin and then he shot him in the chest with a gun. And Trayvon Martin died.”
“I’m feeling really sad for his mama and daddy right now, because their son died last year. And today, the man who murdered him is going to walk free.”
I choked up a little as I spoke to her, surprising even myself. I am not a very openly emotional person. But as I sat down next to her, she put her arms around me and said, “Don’t worry mama, that won’t happen to me.”
God. She gets it. She fucking gets it! She cut right to the chase.
It was downright chilling.
I wondered immediately and even during the moment if I was doing the right thing by telling her about Trayvon’s murder.
I went on to tell her that I didn’t want her to worry. And that part of the reason he was killed was because he was alone and in the dark. He’s older than you, 17. And I also told her that he should have run.
He should have run.
I wish we didn’t live in a world where we need to tell our brown skinned children that they can’t stay and fight. But that they must run.
With the controversy surrounding Paula Deen and the n-word, it got me to thinking about how we white folks give ourselves a pass on racism in many instances. “I’m not a racist. I would never use the n-word!” type of thinking.
Using the n-word is not the only thing that white racists do. Here’s a non-comprehensive list of other things that white racists do. This is (very) mildly tongue in cheek. This is meant to make you think.It’s not about shame. I can write this because I’ve done/said many of things in my life too. Heck, still do some of ’em sometimes.
Racism is systemic. It’s endemic in our white American society. And the only way it can stop is when white people start owning up to it, recognizing it and then actively working against it.
How to Tell If You’re a White Racist
You (think you) don’t judge people based on skin color, but you judge a person of color based on clothes they wear.
You judge people of color based on the music they listen to.
You judge people of color based on the condition of their car.
You clutch your purse/belongings closer when you see a group of them walking and talking loudly.
You don’t clutch your purse/belongings closely when you are on the elevator with them, actively proving to yourself that you are not a racist.
You cross the street to get away from one or a group of them.
You don’t cross the street, actively proving to yourself that you aren’t a racist.
You have referred to hair of another culture in words that don’t normally describe hair, i.e. puffs or balls.
You describe skin color with words that are typically designated for food, i.e., caramel, chocolate, brown sugar.
You have ever told a racially insensitive joke.
You have ever laughed at a racially insensitive joke.
You use/have used the n-word among white people and assumed that they would be okay with it.
You heard the n-word in a group of white people, felt offended, but didn’t tell them they were being racist jerks.
You think the best way to teach about racism and promoting racial harmony is through literature.
Your child goes to a school where they have pictures of Martin Luther King on the walls, but they don’t actively seek inclusion and the majority of students are white.
You tell your white children that “skin color doesn’t matter.”
You don’t talk about race or skin color with your kids.
You don’t have any friends of another race.
You do have friends of another race, but you never talk to them about racism.
You say that you’re colorblind.
You talk about other races with words like “culture” and “diversity” but you feel uncomfortable hearing people mention skin color.
You don’t bother to learn how to properly pronounce names that aren’t similar to ones you know how to say.
You practice cultural norms from third world countries with the mindset that it must be more natural, but you’ve never been to those countries, don’t know anyone from there and have the only reason you think it’s more “natural” is because you have a fancy sling/cosleeping gadget that was really fucking expensive and so you must justify its naturalness.
You ask people “where are you from?” even though they dress like an American and don’t have an foreign accent. What you really mean to say is, “What is your ethnicity?” or What is your ancestry?”
You say things like: “Jewed down,” “Mexican shower,” “Ghetto,” “Slum (when talking about large instances of cultural minorities).”
You see a parent and child of differing skin color and assume the child is adopted.
You are overly interested in the hair of people who are not of your race.
You think that people of other races smell bad.
You didn’t know that in black America, Bill Clinton was considered the first black president.
You think that racism is dead because a black man was elected president.
You downplay racist complaints from people of color.
You think that racism is only something that happens with negative intent.
You don’t know how you’ve benefited from white privilege.
You’ve said, “Yeah, well black people can be racist too.”
Finally, 16 months after his murder, the trial for Trayvon Martin begins. Jury selection for the George Zimmerman murder trial started yesterday. I will be watching this case closely to see if justice will prevail and a precedent will be set for all those who think that an unarmed black male walking in your neighborhood is cause for alarm.
Key points of George Zimmerman Murder Trial:
Trayvon Martin was murdered on Feb. 26, 2012 as he walked from the store to buy an iced tea and bag of Skittles when Zimmerman profiled him as a suspicious character. Martin was shot in an ensuring scuffle. Details of their interaction are not entirely clear. Zimmerman says he shot Martin in self defense. But many have argued that he chased down Martin and Martin was the one fighting for his life.
If convicted, George Zimmerman faces life imprisonment.
George Zimmerman pleaded not guilty, claiming self defense.
This case hold the potential for a defining moment in civil rights.
George Zimmerman wasn’t arrested until 44 days after the killing, citing the Stand Your Ground law in Florida.
Zimmerman was finally arrested after an outcry from the nation’s top civil rights leaders and American citizens demanded that this was not a case for the controversial Stand Your Ground law.
The 911 call will be debated, there is still no determination on whether it was Martin or Zimmerman screaming for help.
Jurors will remain anonymous.
George Zimmerman waived his right to a “stand your ground” pretrial immunity hearing. If he had had this hearing, a judge could have ruled that his actions were legal and no civil or criminal hearing would have continued. Instead of doing this, Zimmerman chose to use a self defense claim.
This is the second day of jury selection, which is speculated to last about three weeks.
Late last week this Cheerios commercial was all over the internet, and of course, multiple people were posting it to me on Facebook.
When I first saw it on another mom blog’s page, I was overjoyed. What an adorable ad. It was perfectly understated. Just two parents hanging out with their kid. I am seriously going to go buy some Cheerios even though we rarely eat cereal. They were actually my favorites growing up anyway. Annika has never liked cereal, but it’s been long enough. It will probably become her new obsession. The only thing about the commercial that I thought was unbelievable was the fact that the mom was quietly sitting at the kitchen table reading while the dad was taking a nap.
But anyway, it didn’t take long for my bubble to get popped when I started seeing articles about how this ad brought out the racists. I hadn’t bothered to read any comments when I initially viewed this ad, so I didn’t get to see them. I never read comments unless it’s late and I’m severely bored. Apparently, according to various articles, the racist comments got so bad, they were closed. I saw a few on some of the other articles. They made me a little sick.
It was just another reminder that there are people in the world who view me and my daughter with quiet hatred every time we go out in public. Just when I start to become complacent, out it comes.
For the most part, I figure it doesn’t matter to me. There is hate all over the world. But it worries me, how people view Annika. I worry about how she will manage as she ages and how the racism will affect her self esteem. Or how it might affect her in situation where she might stick out just a little more than a white kid.
Annika has been saying things this past year about her skin. Negative things. Mostly she says she wishes she was white and had “hair that falls down” (straight hair).
Every time, it pains me. I grew up wishing I was taller; had better hair; or bigger/smaller boobs (depending on my phase of life), etc. etc. But disliking the color of my skin never entered into the picture. You can change your hair color and texture (temporarily), lose weight, and adjust clothing to make yourself bigger or smaller, so when you’re young and experimenting with your looks, one can achieve temporary perfection occasionally (very temporary). I’ve tried lots of different looks over the years.
But you can’t change your skin color. No matter what Michael Jackson tried to convince us that was true, it just isn’t. The only thing you can do is learn to love it.
I have no idea how to teach Annika to love her skin color other than to love it and hope she mimics me. So, what I’ve been doing is inserting comments about beautiful brown skin. Showing her images of beautiful brown people and pointing them out when we see them in real life. Talking about beautiful brown skin.
I’ve never really mentioned my own skin much, except in comparison to hers. But the other day, I was putting on sun block and Annika asked me why I was putting it on. Without thinking, I said something like, “Well, I really don’t want my skin to get tanned.”
“Why mama? Don’t you want to have brown skin?”
Whoa. That stopped me in my tracks. I suddenly had this realization that while I was telling her all the time how pretty brown skin is, I rarely mentioned mine on its own. And I had never explained that while I think brown skin is pretty, I wasn’t necessarily wishing for my own (brown skin).
So I said to her, “I think brown skin is beautiful. But I’m not brown. I’m white. And I think I look pretty with white skin. We’re all beautiful the way we’re born.”
She seemed to like that and went about her business of watching one of her current favorite television shows, “My Big Big Friend.”
Last week I was interviewed for a research study being conducted to study white mothers who have biracial children.
It was thoroughly enjoyable and very casual. The interviewer, a white mother of a biracial son, is writing her dissertation and might eventually produce a documentary on the topic.
Her research is strictly on white mothers of biracial children and their interactions with people at school. The interview was very casual, conducted over Skype and we essentially just talked for about 90 minutes. (I think it was only supposed to last an hour.)
We talked mostly about our various interactions with the general public and our thoughts, feelings, and attitudes about race and skin color, and how those have changed (or not) since having our children.
Our feelings on many of the topics were similar. There were plenty of “YEAH! I KNOW, RIGHT?!” moments, which was awesome. Even when you have friends who are biracial moms, these conversations still don’t happen very often because we’re all parents who have busy lives and when we get together we don’t all sit around talking about our kids’ skin colors. So it was fun.
One of the points she made during the interview that I absolutely loved was how it’s so important for white parents to talk to their white children about race, skin color, and racism. I thought I knew all the reasons it was important but she brought up something I’d honestly never even thought about.
There is a whole new generation of white kids out there who will grow up to fall in love with a person of color. We did. And yet, it’s not something that parents necessarily think to talk to their kids about.
There’s lots more on that topic, but I’ll let you save it for a conversation with her. Or the possible documentary. Just something to think about.
Jennifer Chandler is doing this study for Cardinal Stritch University and is looking for more participants. If you wish to participate, contact her directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org
When Annika was a baby, I once casually mentioned to Toyin that I’d like to dress her as Snow White for Halloween. He rolled his eyes and scoffed, “You can’t dress a black child as Snow White!” He was joking, mostly.
But even so, that year, I dressed her as a kitty cat, because she could say cat.
Oddly, Toyin doesn’t remember that conversation, or perhaps, remembers it differently than I do. A few years later, when Annika was 3.5, one of his family members sent us a Snow White costume for a Christmas present, which we both enjoyed watching her get excited over and immediately put it on and dance around. By that time, it was no big deal. Or was it? As I watched her pull it out and realized what it was, I flashed back to that conversation, when all of this was so new.
Thinking about race and skin color enters into the most mundane of choices when you have a mixed race family.
If the opposite had happened, let’s say my white daughter wanted to dress up as say, Diana Ross, I would probably be thrilled with her choice, glad my child was so multiculturally aware and being the raging liberal that I am I would brag about it to all my friends.
So when my brown-skinned daughter wants to dress up as a white character, coincidentally, also Daphne from Scooby Doo, why do I feel mildly ill at the thought?
I posed this question on my Facebook page a couple of days ago and got the same thoughts back at me that I’d been thinking myself.
The gist of the commenters said what I’d been telling myself, “She can be whomever she chooses. It’s not about race. It’s about what she likes to watch on TV. It’s no big deal.”
And they are right. I was right. I went ahead and ordered the costume. She wants to dress as Daphne for her Scooby Doo themed birthday party. I will not say a word when she puts on the costume as I didn’t when she dressed as Snow White. When she dressed as Ruby Gloom/Tinkerbell.
I think what all these thoughts are telling me is this.
It’s not that fact that my child wishes to dress up as a white character. It’s the fact that most characters are white. It’s that there are so few reflections in the media for her that she only sees white.
It’s true that what we see reflects back on us, in all walks of life. And if the equality in children’s programming was more balanced, I would have less of an issue with it. But it’s not.
Basically, there’s nothing wrong with my child. What’s wrong is societal messages and media reflections. It’s time to change that.
I can’t do much with that. Sure, I could lobby and join groups that support media issues. But honestly, I’d rather spend my time being a mom and doing the best with what we’ve got. In time, all of this will change. I know it because I see it happening.
Every generation keeps the talks going along and eventually, equality and fairness will win out in the racial divide. I believe that wholeheartedly, although, I don’t think it will happen in my lifetime.
But for now, what I have to do is go out of my way to ensure that my daughter see whatever reflections that are there.
I’ve started coming up with a list of non-white characters that I will do my best to insert into her regular viewing. I’m not going to try to cut out white characters, but do whatever I can to show her that the others exist.
Off the top of my head I can think of exactly one black female cartoon character that Annika watches semi regularly.
Last week I got into a little disagreement on Facebook, through a comment thread on an acquaintance’s page. I left a comment saying that people who fly confederate flags are generally not the kind of people who a black man (or woman) might want to be caught in a dark alley with. My point was not so much that flying a confederate flag makes you a racist, but in my experience, they usually are.
Then I got called a racist. By a white guy from Mississippi. Which, as another commenter on the thread pointed out, was kind of humorous.
The whole thing was kind of silly. Serves me right for wasting my time commenting on threads of people I barely know.
I forgot about it, for a day. But then out of the blue a couple of days later it popped into my head and I began to wonder, “Am I starting to be a bit of a racist toward white people?”
And then I wonder, is that even possible? The notion that white Americans can cry racism is complex and debatable in communities like Detroit, where race tension often runs high. It’s an argument that would take an entire other post to fill.
But the issue at hand, a type of ism, which I will call whiteism, and really has little to do with people who actually fly confederate flags, before Annika was born, and even before I met Toyin, I held the same opinion of confederate flag fliers.
But getting called a racist is unnerving. It’s been a long time since it has happend to me. But it happened a number of times when I lived and worked in Detroit. Black people often pulled the race card out when I worked at a bank on the border of Detroit. And it pissed me off royally every single time.
So the comment struck a nerve with me and it made me start to think about how I view other white people now.
Now that it’s been four years of being the mom to a child of color, I realize that I often view other white people with an initial suspicion that I never did before. I never needed to. I am white, and in the past, there was no reason to associate me with people of another color. Even when Toyin and I were a couple, it wasn’t the same as being someone’s mom. I never took it all that personally or really cared what people thought of us.
But a mother cares and holds concern when the thought that some people might assume negative things about her child.
All the general stereotypes that I know are there about African Americans and mixed race mothers, float through my head when we go to the park, to the store, to school, wherever, in certain neighborhoods. It doesn’t matter what they are, but I wonder, even here in liberal Austin, if they are thinking them about me/us.
They probably aren’t. I try to brush the thoughts away, telling myself that most white people aren’t racist. Even the ones who are friendly, I wonder, just a tiny bit if they are thinking something negative about me.
It’s hard to brush away all the memories of being in a group of white people and hearing things that I know they wouldn’t have said if there was a black person in the room.
And it’s just the white people I wonder about. With black people, I feel more accepted by them than I did before.
Black people typically pick up that Annika is my daughter. The occasional brown skinned person has asked if she’s mine, but for the most part, they see it.
They can tell a biracial child from a black child. They know what it looks like and in their world, it’s just not as uncommon. Additionally, they aren’t looking at her skin color because it’s not a definer. They see her hair, her bone structure. They look at her face faster. It’s not something anyone has told me, but I see it. I can see that they are really looking at her and to them, she’s just a child, not a black child.
I generally feel a sense of welcome when a black person sees Annika and me together. They smile a bit bigger than I imagine they might have when she’s not with me. They see us and they know that I will see them as a person. And I wonder, if perhaps, it’s because they know right away that they can drop their suspicions about me.
It’s true. I’m not imaging it. I began to notice it when I was pregnant. The first time I noticed it was when Toyin and I went out to eat. Our waitress was a black woman and she was so friendly to me. I thought it was just because I was pregnant. Toyin said, maybe that was why, but his guess was that it was because she knew I was carrying a black child in my belly. “You’re one of us now,” he said.
So, in some manner, becoming a part of a culture that I was never entirely privy to, have I renegotiated my status in the other culture that I was once a part of?
It’s a question I wonder about. And it’s why I know, viscerally, that racism still exists. Because I feel it inside my bones and in my heart.
I have no answer to this question. I am not interested in coining a term or floating around a new race debate (not really new). But it’s just something I wonder and I know that I will likely never have a very good answer for.