Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Walk a Mile in my Moccasins

Despite accusations to the contrary, we do not think "race" every minute of every day.  We do, however, do whatever it takes to ensure that our home, and the world that touches our kids, is as safe for our children as possible.  Our family - our ENTIRE family - is multiracial and multicultural.  My black kids are growing up with First Nations sisters, my First Nations kids are growing up with white brothers, and my white kids have black brothers and brown sisters.  And they are ALL family.  My family.  Our family.  

But their histories, their races (even if race IS a social construct), their historical cultures are important pieces to their individual identities, and to our identity as a family.  I can't "love away" their race and raise my kids to be color blind, nor would I ever really want to.  Our differences make us unique, interesting and they are very, very real. 

I love the things that tie my children together with sameness, like our shared experiences, our shared love of our extended family, our personal family history, our faith, our love of taco night and Space Mountain.  I can also equally love and respect those things that make us different.  That St. Patrick's Day was my Irish grandmother's favorite holiday and that Daddy's Norwegian grandma made excellent lefse and that slavery directly impacted my sons' great-great grandparents, and that my girls' great-great-great grandfather was a Chilcotin Warrior, and that three members of our family immigrated to Canada and that six of us were born here. 

I can honor and respect that all of my children have unique, complicated and different histories that affect their present day realities.  That doesn't make me race obsessed, that makes me honest. When my minority children walk out my front door and face the world the first thing that others will see is their race.  That's not right or necessarily wrong it simply is.  And when that happens, I want all my kids to be proud of who they are, and who they were, and who they will become.   I want them to know that white, brown or black and they are valuable, important and worthy of being treated as such.

We don't teach our kids to look for offense, but we do teach them to expect respect.  We identify prejudice when we see it, and explain to them the faults in those that think that way.  We talk about the differences between being a black teenage boy and being a white teenage boy.  We don't talk about those differences because we LIKE them, we talk about them because they exist.  I HAVE TO explain to my kids about racism, prejudice and the complicated histories of all their ancestors because if I don't I fail to prepare them for the real world they will have to live in without my covering and protection. 

Teaching your minority child - or in fact ANY child -  to respect their own history and to be prepared to deal with a majority world that disvalues all things "different" cannot begin when they enter the school system or as they prepare to leave for college.  It's not one conversation, or one picture book or that single token black friend.  As a parent, it has to be a conscious decision to become aware, to become uncomfortable, to challenge your own perceptions and prejudices and to accept, and even grieve, that your child's reality is not your own. 

My daughter wears moccasins.  Not because she doesn't have shoes (she has many, many pairs of shoes), not because there is anything wrong with shoes, but because it is a symbol of her history and a nod of respect to her culture. And that is me, her mother, consciously laying a foundation for her to grow up to first know, and second value, her personal and sacred history. 

I will teach her to respect that personal and sacred history.  I will teach her to expect it to be respected by you, and what to do when it's not.  I will also teach her to fight to protect the value of your personal and sacred history.  From that can come no harm.  


13 comments:

Momof3 said...

They look comfy...I want some moccasins!

Jensboys said...

They ARE!! :) And they each have a pair of fur lined ones too which are AMAZING.

The girls' grandfather has not worn a pair of shoes in over twenty years, their uncle (now age 12) chose 3 years ago to only wear moccasins instead of shoes.

robyn said...

i have so much respect for you because you dont tell your children (the boys in the hockey situations) to "just ignore it". i am pregnant with a biracial daughter and already have dealt with telling friends that i dont like when they say "aw shes going to have the cutest nappy hair!". i know most dont do it to be offensive, they just dont know better (small town bc just doesnt seem to lend to people experiencing different cultures). im wondering if you have any specific terms you like/use? ive been using "ethnic" to refer to her hair (shes not here yet, and being biracial and not 100% black i know she probably wont have that same texture of hair as her dad) in substitute for nappy. thanks for any ideas or advice you may have so i can help learn and then teach my family and friends different more respectful words to use in describing my daughter. i also dont like the word mulatto, but maybe thats just me.

robyn said...

i have so much respect for you because you dont tell your children (the boys in the hockey situations) to "just ignore it". i am pregnant with a biracial daughter and already have dealt with telling friends that i dont like when they say "aw shes going to have the cutest nappy hair!". i know most dont do it to be offensive, they just dont know better (small town bc just doesnt seem to lend to people experiencing different cultures). im wondering if you have any specific terms you like/use? ive been using "ethnic" to refer to her hair (shes not here yet, and being biracial and not 100% black i know she probably wont have that same texture of hair as her dad) in substitute for nappy. thanks for any ideas or advice you may have so i can help learn and then teach my family and friends different more respectful words to use in describing my daughter. i also dont like the word mulatto, but maybe thats just me.

Jensboys said...

Thanks for asking Robyn :)

ok first ACK mulatto is NOT ok so you are prefectly right with being ok with THAT word not being used. The appropriate term for your child would be bi-racial, or simply if they so identify as they get older, black.

I would suggest buying some books - and quickly. "It's all good hair" is a good one. I am sure others could suggest more. Google biracial hair care. Honestly, until your child is born, and their baby hair falls out (probably straight) and then their "real" hair grows in you won't have a clue what their hair will be like. My two sons have VERY different hair types, and a friend with 4 biracial kids deals with completely different curl in each of her children. But it does require different hair care (less washing, differnt things to add to it) In BC Abantu is one of the best resources. They ship anywhere in BC too :)

I think most people reject the word "nappy" because it has some really strong negative connotations historically. Stick with curly :)

OpenAdoptMomOf3 said...

Beautiful Jen!

My 2 cents as another transracial mama: "kinky" works also to describe hair. "My Hair is Beautiful Because it's Mine" is a board book for kids, showing the variety of hair of black children. There is a book called "Happy to be Nappy" (board book) and there's definitely some people for whom that term is acceptable. We have the book, but don't use the term typically.

Robyn, although your child will be half white (I assume?), the world she lives in may not acknowledge that unless she's in your presence. Be ready to embrace that and identify her as "black" if that's what she identifies with. One of my children is AA/NA/CC and identifies firmly as NA, though "technically" she is "more" AA than NA. Blood percentage of "race" (social construct acknowledged) does not guarantee how to define someone's identity... in my experience it is defined over time. I'm sure you know some people that look white, yet identify as black, etc. Time will tell how your daughter will identify and your gift to her will be to give her the freedom to be who she chooses to be and affirm her fully.

robyncalgary said...

thanks for all the ideas! i definately plan on picking up some books both for me and for my 6 yr old daughter and the one on the way. ive always tried hard to raise my daughter openmindedly and she adores this new baby's dad (not her dad) so shes very excited about becoming a big sister. i currently live in calgary so i hope the fact that living in a larger city and a very multicultural neighbourhood will help both my girls feel comfortable in their own skin and to be who they are. i read online that biracial/AA skin and hair tends to be very dry and needing oil/lotion etc, did either of you find that as well?

Jensboys said...

Yes absolutely :) Honestly you don't really get it until you are parenting a child but you will find that her hair and skin is much drier. I really like the oils (coconut especially). You should be able to find a store in calagary that specializes in black hair care and skin care products. There are special products (Carol's daughter is a good line) that makes products for babies and young children. You want to make sure it is hormone free and as chemical free as possible.

My boys need to be "oiled" daily - hair and skin.

mommyhoodandlife.com said...

Oh, Jen, it hurts my heart to think that people would actually question you for talking about race and racism with your kids. You are teaching them that YOU are aware of these things, and that they can feel safe in coming to you with their feelings about these sensitive topics and be heard, not dismissed with "Oh, we don't even think about the color of your skin." or other so-called "colorblind" platitudes.

Ignorance of disparate experiences based on race and culture is only possible for the privileged majority. Obviously, I am still trying and learning to be aware myself. I hope to raise Badger as a thoughtful person who abhors racism.

I respect and admire you more and more as I read along.

Leah C (DDW) said...

Love it! I put Cameron in moccasins a lot.

robyncalgary said...

hi jen, wondering where do you buy coconut oil? it is specifically a skin product or a food type oil? thanks for all your advice and ideas <3

JC said...

Hi Jen...I know, weird to get a comment on something from way back in May, but I just had to leave a note.

I have been reading almost non-stop for the last several days. I say almost, because the 7 month old I have precludes almost all free time. :)

I have to say, I really enjoy how open and frank you are with your talk of race and how you and your family deal with it. As a new mother of a child that is part white, part Hispanic and possibly part African American, I am really interested in what you have to say. And you say it very well.

This entry really touched me, and I am having my husband read it too. :) Oh, and I post over on adoption.com forums as jcm. :)

Jensboys said...

Hey JCM :) Thanks for reading and I am glad you are enjoying it.