My family lives in a neighborhood in the city that is very diverse; many of our neighbors are Hispanic Latino, Somali and African American. Our kids go to a public school that has a Montessori core curriculum and because of that there is less diversity in the school as there is represented in my neighborhood; the school has become a magnet for liberal, white hippie parents who want to enroll their kids in a Montessori school.
Two weeks ago, I found out that one of my co-workers also has kids at this school, and her son is the same age and grade as my son. She asked me if I knew about the “Mom’s Night Out.”
This past year, it seems that several women decided it would be fun to host a “Mom’s Night Out” for mothers whose kids attend our school. It is an appetizer and cocktail potluck hosted at different mother’s homes. The next “Mom’s Night Out” was scheduled for the same evening as the school’s spring choir concert. Since I hadn’t heard of the event, my co-worker said she’d send me the on-line invitation and put me on the e-mail list.
So the morning of choir concert, my husband and I show up 15 minutes early. Greeting us is Mary, a parent volunteer and, I find out, the host of the “Mom’s Night Out.” I know this factoid because after giving every parent a program for the concert, she asks the women if they are a mom and if the answer is yes, hands her a printed invitation for the “Mom’s Night Out” and explains that it’s being hosted at her home that night.
Every woman except me, that is. With me, she hands me the program and tells me where I can sit. No invitation to the “Mom’s Night Out,” even though it’s right there in her hand and I just saw her give it to the couple in front of me, and as I watch while sitting down, she gives it to the woman behind me. Then, with some time to spare, she goes around and gives them out to women she might have missed coming in. Still, she never approaches me.
So you can see where I’m going here. For fifteen minutes, I wait for Mary to approach me and she doesn’t. Yet, every white mom gets an invitation. I watch Mary walk around the audience, handing out invitations. None of the moms of color get one.
My husband and I are sitting next to my son’s best friend’s parents and I ask Kate whether she knows about the “Mom’s Night Out.”
“You mean the cocktail party?” she asks me. “Oh yeah, they’re so much fun!”
I looked around at the number of Muslim parents who are in the audience. None of those moms would come because of the alcohol being served. It was pretty obvious to me that this party was, by purpose or by omission, exclusive and I didn’t look “right” enough to be invited by Mary.
I’m sure Mary didn’t intentionally exclude me, or all the other moms of color, or Muslim moms from this event. Likely, Mary isn’t even aware of her biases that unconsciously steered her away from moms like me, making her uncomfortable. Mary can’t be excused from being “shy” as I observed her approach unfamiliar women all around me. It was a blatant act of being excluded because of my race. Mary must not interact with many people of color.
On Monday, when I get to work, I will ask my co-worker how the “Mom’s Night Out” was, and ask her if any moms of color attended. I will tell her what my experience was and why I chose not to attend. Since my co-worker is friends with several of these moms, I know she will pass on my concerns. There are probably several who will be upset because they think of themselves as allies with communities of color. These are the white folks who live in the city, and think of themselves as politically and socially progressive.
Well, as long as they get to choose who is invited to their parties.
Jae Ran Kim, MSW is a social worker, teacher and writer. She was born in Taegu, South Korea and was adopted to Minnesota in 1971. She has written numerous articles and essays and is most recently published in the anthology “Outsiders Within: Writings on Transracial Adoption” from South End Press. Jae Ran’s blog, Harlow’s Monkey, is at http://harlowmonkey.typepad.com/