[Written by Love Isn't Enough Contributor Rachel Broadwater]
There are two things that children seem to have an innate skill for: the art of evasion and picking up inappropriate language. In our house the girls’ evasion skills seem to manifest most when they bring their various grievances about the other to the attention of me or husband. While I am trying to find out the source of their distress one of the girls will start bringing up things that happened last night, last week, last month. Usually after a few moments of debate “Noooo….” “Yes you did….” “Noooo….” we try to get the discussion back on track. After 10 or so minutes both of them will walk away glum faced since more likely than not both of them were wrong and both were robbed of the victory that they thought was most certainly theirs.
Where the girls ability to employ bait and switch in taking responsibilities makes me every so often question my principle about not drinking in the daytime hours, their pitch perfect timing of picking up inappropriate comments has me chuckling privately on occasion since more often than not they have no idea what they are talking about. If you will allow me to demonstrate…
Setting – our home after school. Snacks have been given out and they are telling me about their day while preparing to do homework.
My niece: “Titi you wanna hear a joke?”
Me: “Sure baby. What is it?”
Niece: (very excited with a great big you know what eating grin on her face) “Titi do you like to play with…. balls?”
Me: “Excuse me?”
Niece: (giggling now and my daughter who is on the couch with her hand over her mouth trying not to ruin the “punch line”) “Do you like to play with balls?”
Me: “Baby do you know what balls are being talked about in the joke?”
Me: “No darling. They are talking about boys testicles.”
Just a note, total shock can be really funny on a child.
Niece: “Ooohhhhh….EWWWWWW!!!!!!! I don’t want to play with them. I don’t even have testicles!!!!”
My daughter: “Yeah Mama we have vaginas. Why would you want to play with testicles? I don’t get it.”
After we had a not so short discussion, it got me thinking about all the kinds of things that children are exposed to. The girls are in third and fourth grade. This is the beginning of crushes, cliques and destructive language. In addition to dirty jokes they will learn in the coming years about whores, sluts, bitches, skanks, dykes, lesbians, fags, ghetto, dumb blondes, freaks, spics, niggers, rag heads, dot heads, queers, queens, sucky sucky love you long time, illegals, and the like depending on your locale. It amazes me how words are so central in order to further racist agendas. Not just any words, specific words that are designed to elicit a very particular response. But those words are also used to dispel, deconstruct, and deny those attacks.
So I am sure you may be wondering what exactly was the point of my little story other than making you spit out your morning coffee. We use the same tactics of evasion and name calling to deal with racism specifically when it comes from a white female body. In this case I am talking about Alexandra Wallace.
She is the former UCLA student who felt compelled to leave after a video she posted on YouTube caused uproar. In the sweetest way possible excluding her cool Asian friends of course, she spoke of the hordes of Asians, families of the Asian student population who come every weekend to take care of their sons and daughters who in Ms. Wallace’s estimation either cannot or will not take care of themselves. Her other issue are Asians (who speaking in the previously unknown “ting tong” dialect who apparently hail from the province of Wide Eyed Asian People Land) who do not respect the American rules of not talking in the library.
The reaction has been swift and has taken on predictable routes of resistance. While there were some really beautifully nuanced responses many have taken to misogyny in order to shut down Ms. Wallace. This has come from both male and female of every ethnicity in the form of slut shaming. She was a dumb blonde, a slut, only good to someone on her knees etc. At first it made me think of ping pong with each side lobbying their own defenses. Then I thought about it more and realized the discourse in this county surrounding race is more like a crosswalk. There is a section on the road for pedestrians to get from one side to the other. Sometimes it is white or yellow but it is always very distinct, explicitly telling the person where they are supposed to cross. When we talk about race especially parents it is sort of this back and forth action. Racism is bad. Don’t call people names it’s not nice. Brown skin is good too. Use your words not your fists. Within those lines on our temporal crosswalk lies our arsenal to deal with racism. Very rarely do we ever talk to children about intersections in particular gender. Most will not learn about this until either they go to college or if they happen to read the works of women of color who focus on this issue. For women of color especially black women and girls in this country racism is highly sexualized. You’re never just a nigger, but a nigger slut. It does not stop with African American girls and women. Witness the dehumanization of the female Latina community. They are painted as a bunch of illegals that are sneaking in our country just to drop anchor babies. The discussion of how to combat racism is too often a binary one. It is literally black and white. The continued absence of gender and how that affects racism is a dangerous vacuum to be doing anti racist work in.
When we in this country think of who are the arbitrators of racist behavior we often think of men. Bull Connors, David duke, Strom Thurmond, and Jesse helms are just some of the names that come to mind when we think of a racist. We have seen the iconic pictures taken during the Civil Rights Movement of black men, women and children being attacked and/or threatened with dogs, water hoses, billy clubs, fists and feet by angry white men. But that is just one part of the landscape of that time. There is a particular poignant photo of Elizabeth Eckford, one of the famed Little Rock Nine, one her way to integrate the high school she is surrounded by a wall of hate. What is interesting is that the majority of those were women; mothers, grandmothers, wives, daughters, aunts, teachers, nurses, representing every stripe of respectable white womanhood. Ms. Eckford who was turned out in a white bloused tucked into sweet gingham printed bell shaped skirt that was stylish at the time, wearing dark shades for obvious reasons was hounded by just as stylishly turned out women. There are women wearing stylish even elegant sheaths, billowing shirtwaist dresses, and lovely shift dresses almost all with small pocketbooks ever so lady like held on the wrist. In one lesser known but equally as powerful photo. Ms. Eckford is sitting on a bench where she is surrounded by people again a large amount female. Again the ladylike decorum that filters the hate just blows you away.
Racism coming from a place of white female privilege is complicated and difficult to deal with. I wasn’t being facetious when I said it was the sweetest rant on YouTube. It does not make her words any less offensive in fact it precisely because it was wrapped so prettily in a big, fluffy, pink bow that makes it lethal. For some, she looks like the babysitter, the girls who volunteers at the homeless and animal shelters, the one who might write a moving essay on Dr. King’s seminal speech that it might inspire a teacher to have it read in class. She does not look you know like “that kind of person”. Black women know painfully and personally that racism does come from that kind of person.
When faced with this peculiar strain of hatred, what does a black woman have at her disposal to combat that? Our proud carriage, our faith, our fierce intelligence, the decorum, a chasteness that was passed from mother to daughter, our respectability. We had to do what we could to prove that we were not those “negroes”. And it’s not just us. People of color have to work hard to prove they are not those Puerto Ricans, those Dominicans, those FOB’s (fresh of the boat). I got my papers. It creates distance between people of color and their own.
When we choose to focus on the appearance and make inferences about morals, intelligence and ethics to gain the upper hand, it simply provides a smoke screen for the offending party to make a clean getaway. Usually white women have one of the three ways to dissociate themselves from the mess they put themselves in: to invoke safety, motherhood, or instability. In the case of Ms. Wallace, due to the threatening nature of responses she felt for her own safety she had to leave. White women have been clutching their pearls for centuries over the status of their safety. There is no doubt that all women face a unique kind of violence simply because they are women. However white women tend to pull this out when the heat gets too hot when the match that they lit is getting to close to their fingers.
Sarah Palin hides behind the veneer of a “Mama Grizzly” when she is talking to the “real” America in often racist code. Shawna Forde, who has been convicted and sentenced to death for orchestrating the murders of 9 year Brisenia Flores and her father Raul, has been painted as a mentally unstable, irrational, and crazy woman.
Now why are these women germane to the discussion of anti racist parenting? Because all of these behaviors are learned. For those who are fighting to break the stranglehold of whiteness regardless of we as parents choose to identify ourselves along gender, racial, religious, physicality lines we must remember to bring gender into the discussion of race with both boys and girls. The reason brown girl bodies are deemed disposable is because they are not taught otherwise. The sexualized racism that has beset Michelle Obama has gone without much dissent from those white women and men who describe themselves as progressive, liberal, feminist, anti-racist. How many parents when she is under attack are telling their children it is hurtful to Mrs. Obama not just because she is black but also a mother? This allows children to start thinking critically, to understand that words and deed can be cruel on many different levels. For parents of color we must take care that we do not teach our children to take their eyes off the prize by focusing on the external, utilizing the same oppressive tropes that are used against us.