Thursday, June 3, 2010

What is she?

Just a quick follow-up to my post about the RAP apps now available at the iTunes store. This is a photograph taken of Beanie two years ago: What is she? StraightMan and I used to call her "baby of the world." Which she seems to be. We took a trip to Puerto Rico when Beanie was about a year old, where everybody claimed that she looked Puerto Rican. At other times, people who see her have remarked that she looks "Mediterranean" or "Middle Eastern" or Persian or Indian. StraightMan found a picture of a Sudanese Muslim girl who strongly resembled Beanie (which speaks also to the history and diversity of what "African" is and looks like). We sometimes describe her as our "silk road" child, or someone who looks like she comes from one of the stan's (Uzbekistan or Tajikistan). Which is an apt metaphor for her lineage. Our friends all claim that she looks exactly like StraightMan. I think she looks like StraightMan as a little Asian girl.

So, talking to Beanie about race is something I consider rather important because when people know that StraightMan and I are her parents, that seems to answer the question of "what is she." I want, of course, for Beanie to question whether or not "what is she" matters at all, but I want her also to be able to say more than "I am a person / a girl / a human Bean / etc." Because if we are serious about wanting race really not to matter - that is, to influence our expectations and experiences of ourselves and each other - then we need to start with a real education about race.

Teaching (and learning) about race is a lot harder than just telling children that race "does not" matter. Which, by the way, even children can observe does not reflect their reality. I still remember, during the 2008 presidential campaign, Beanie coming home from preschool and asking me, "Why is it so important about Barack Obama?" Meaning not that he was running for president, but that he was running for president. "He is the first African-American (or black) president" is an answer, but it is not an explanation. Which is what she persisted in asking.

I am finding that talking about race with my kids means talking about history. Not as the story of how things keep getting better and better (and they lived happily ever after in the New World or industrialization or free-market capitalism or so on), but as the choices that people make without always understanding or being able to know their effects or sometimes even thinking or caring about what happens next. So, we learn more from history than just "history." We learn about the complexity of human thought and action: We can talk about kindness and courage and meanness.

Which has the added virtue of making for a better story.

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