Peanut Butter and Race Relations

[Editor's note: On Monday, we published Jackie Morgan MacDougall's response to the controversy surrounding her year-old MomLogic post about an incident where her three-year-old son asked why her co-worker's face was brown. Today, we have a response from Morgan MacDougall's co-worker, Winter Johnson.

This, I think, is an illustration of why conversations about race can get so darned muddy and difficult. We all come to them with different context. Morgan MacDougall said of her colleague's response: "...her post has surprised me a little just with two points: 1) I wasn't her 'boss' but a part-time writer at the time. It's interesting to see the dynamic from her side. I feel embarrassed that she saw me in a position of power and I turned the situation around the way I did. 2) I was never, ever 'peeved' at her answer. I mentioned it as a light moment the next day when it came up as I made a PB & J sandwich. I saw the conversation completely different, which is another interesting thing I discovered."

It can be tough to open up personal racial interactions to scrutiny. I greatly appreciate both of these women's contributions to Anti-Racist Parent. Thanks, Jackie and Winter, for allowing us to leverage an awkward moment to spark more discussion about parenting and race.]

written by Winter Johnson

An adorable 3-year-old stared at my face for several seconds, looking at me with curiosity when his infamous question shattered the silence in my boss’ office.

 “Mommy, why is her face brown?”

To be honest, I almost burst out laughing. I am no stranger to questions about my race – when I tell people that I am African-American, they usually don’t believe me. I get curious looks from men from men and women of all ages, people who examine my light skin, almond-shaped eyes and long(ish) hair as if I am a walking oxymoron. But I never expected it from Jackie’s son.

I had scored my job at momlogic only six months earlier, and being one of the only people of color there, I was of course aware of my professional need to not appear as the “angry black girl.” Plus, this was my boss’ kid! All these facts that swirled through my head as Jackie and her husband awkwardly looked at me.

I didn’t know if she wanted me to answer. I didn’t know if she was going to answer – or worse, what she would say. Most of all, I didn’t know if little Jacob had ever seen a black person before – and that broke my heart.

But Jacob was looking at me still (as were his parents), so I leaned over and said, “Well, dear, people come in all different shapes and sizes and colors, and I am the color of peanut butter.” A neat way to sum up a really strange and sensitive situation – I even felt a little proud of my simple way of getting out of the scenario, until Jackie seemed peeved the next morning that her son compared to me to his favorite snack during dinner: a PB & J sandwich.

Due to the fact that she was my boss, I didn’t feel that I could give her the hard truth: that while Jacob has seen people of other races, maybe he hasn’t seen enough people of color to make a difference in his life, or to remember that some people are brown and others are like buttermilk and others are like well-cooked toast.  I’m a self-proclaimed foodie – don’t judge me for comparing skin color to my favorite snacks. 

I know that Jackie was blasted all over the blogosphere for her reaction to her son’s question, but my sentiment wasn’t one of anger. It was sorrow – that any child in the year 2008 would be raised in what I assume to be a very homogenous environment. I was blessed to have friends of all different colors from the time I was very young – I had chopsticks in one hand and an enchilada in the other. As an adult, I know that this has made me a well-rounded individual, ready to embrace those who are different than myself.

I just hope that all children (Jacob and Brady included) will have the same opportunity I did.

 

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About Tami

Tami Winfrey Harris writes about race, feminism, politics and pop culture at the blog What Tami Said. Her work has also appeared online at The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Ms. Magazine blog, Newsweek, Change.org, Huffington Post and Racialicious. She is a graduate of the Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism. She is mom to two awesome stepkids and spends her spare time researching her family history and cultivating a righteous 'fro.
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