The Ability to be Oblivious OR Is there a manual for the multicutural world we envision?

June 16, 2009

in no manual for parenting,this i believe

Warning: The following text contains ruminations on the color of our skins. If you feel uncomfortable discussing skin colors, wish that people would just stop obsessing over skin colors and go on with their lives, or believe that the insistence on talking about the colors of our skin makes the originator of the conversation a racist him/herself, there is nothing much I could do about it. But I thought I’d let you know since you may not want to read the following…

Like most kids, Mr. Monk, my 6 year-old, is fascinated by people that look different from him. The problem is, even though my children are half and half, Mr. Monk is able to “pass” if I am not around. His older brother, however, stands out distinctively and has experienced name-calling at school and at extracurricular activities, much to my chagrin and surprise.

Seriously. Which century are we in? BUT I also believe that my oldest will grow up to be stronger and more compassionate. It’s funny, or disturbing rather, how my children will grow up differently, shaped by how the outside world view them differently…

Despite my being an annoying PC Police, to my best intentions, I am utterly confused when it comes to educating the very young, especially my own. Even though I always wince whenever Mr. Monk refers to someone who is apparently not white by the color of their skin, I fear I may have lost my bearings…

The other day while I was trying to demonstrate to him that we do not refer to people this way and also to challenge why he does not refer to someone of Euro descent by saying, “The White Lady” for example, I asked him,

“So what color is your skin?”

“I am white.” He said without even a pause.

Shock. I did not expect this answer. Well, when we discussed this before, in the context of Crayola rainbow of colors and how we, thank goodness, no longer refer to the “Peach” color as “Skin”, we had agreed that his was “Tan”…

“Hmm. No. You are not white. You are only half.”

He started protesting. “I am white!”

“Ok. So what do you think mommy is?”

“You are white too!” (I am very obviously not and we both know it)

Now here came a moment when part of me thought, “I really should drop this. Maybe I should go back to school, take more child psychology and postcolonial theory classes, before we continue this discussion…”

Yet the other part of me insisted, “No. We have to discuss this especially when they are young and malleable and forming their self-identities.” Sometimes I think that if I were my mother I would hate me.

“Ok. Could you please tell mommy why you think you are white?”

“Because we learned in school there were slaves…” he stopped abruptly and would not go on.

Silence.

“Mommy. Are there still slaves in the world?”

Oh, gee. What is going on in that tiny head of his?

In the midst of trying to explain to him that in some parts of the world, yes, (WHY do I have to be so brutally honest with my children, I do not know. Damn liberals I guess…) but not in this country, Oh, god no, he does not have to worry about ever being enslaved, we dropped the discussion on the color of his skin.

Here is what I wish I had sometimes, with guilt of course, for myself and for my children:

The ability to be oblivious.

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