Saturday, February 23, 2013

Field notes from nine years of parenting

With Beanie on her first night at home, 2004.

Beanie is nine years old.

On the occasion of her birthday, I want to say a little something about what parenting has taught me about my husband, myself, and the two of us.

First, about my husband. This is what he is not:

  • One of those eternally boyish and playful guys who bounds around with earnest enthusiasm about being a dad. A word that we had to teach Beanie fairly early in her life was sarcastic. As in, "You know when your dad is making a joke that he seems to think is funny, but that you kind of feel like might not be funny after all, even if you could understand it? That is him being sarcastic."
  • From that tribe of weekend warriors. He is all about TGIM (Thank God It's Monday).
  • One of those fathers who helps out and occasionally baby sits. This is because he is fully and equally the other parent. When the kids wake in the middle of the night, Beanie with bad dreams or Bubbie with a nosebleed, they go to him, not me, and he sings to her or sits with our son on his lap until the bleeding stops.

Second, about myself: If my husband were anyone or anything other than who and what he is, then I could not even remotely be the person, woman, mother, friend, anthropologist, etc., that I am or at least try to be.

Third, about the two of us: Our egalitarianism is more practical than it is idealistic. We are full and equal partners because our life simply will not otherwise compute: 2 academics + 2 kids = 2 much. If I drop off kids in the morning, then he picks them up after school. In between, we each go to our campus offices and answer our students' emails and prep and teach our classes and work our writing into the moments lining the meetings that we have to attend for the committees that we serve on. At home, he cooks and then cleans afterward. I wash and fold the laundry. He remembers birthdays. I shop for gifts.

A lot is said about getting fathers more involved with parenting their children, but I think a lot more still needs to be said about getting men more involved in their partnering. What makes my husband a full and equal parent is rooted as much from his commitment to me as to our children.

So, this makes Beanie's birthday an occasion to celebrate not only nine years of our daughter, but nine years of us.

Happy birthday!

StraightMan with Bubbie and Beanie, 2008

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What I hope girls' Legos can teach my boy

Without revealing TMI, I have been in a bit of a working-mothers-just-cannot-win kind of funk the last few days or so.

That was before I stumbled upon this scene in our living room.

The kiddos have integrated Bubbie's Lego Star Wars, Mega Bloks Spiderman, and K'Nex Xtreme Ops with the Lego Friends that Beanie just received for her ninth birthday.

How Bubbie, age 5, typically likes to play with his Legos is to build ships or space vessels large enough to carry all of his various mini-figures. Basically, he builds space buses to transport his guys from their home on Tatooine to their school on Naboo.

Today, using his sister's new blocks, Bubbie had built both the paddock for the Lego Friends pony and a little house front - complete with flowers - to present to his sister. Then he populated it with the mini-figures that he calls his "guys."

Because even when you are busily ruling the universe, you still need a place to hang up your helmet and body armor. Just a quiet little place in the country will do.

This has me thinking. I realize that Lego Friends is another manifestation of the classic pink-it-and-shrink-it maneuver to attract consumers of the female persuasion. Promoters and defenders of Lego Friends suggest it introduces girls to the kinds of play that they might not have considered. Like, could building structures with Legos interest girls in architecture and engineering?

However, I want to turn the question back to the boys. Could Lego Friends interest them in the kinds of play that they also ought to be encouraged to consider, such as the "cooperative" play that Lego designers say they have observed among girls and that they wish to incorporate into Lego Friends?

Because what this parenthropologist thinks we need is not only to teach our girls that they can play with boys' toys, but also to teach our boys to play a little more like girls.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The problema with Skippyjon Jones

Hello, friends! Been too long since I last blogged. Not necessarily for lack of having anything to say, but today I feel especially motivated to get back to the blog and speak up. I read a piece  by Nation blogger Mychal Denzel Smith, "White People Have to Give up Racism." Smith writes: "While we’ve all come up internalizing racism, since it’s all around us, only one group of people actually benefits from its existence. Not every white person is a racist, but the genius of racism is that you don’t have to participate to enjoy the spoils." As to how white people can even begin to give up racism, he suggests: "the chief job should be admitting there is a problem. White people have to name it, and it can’t be a cutesy euphemism that dodges the issue." Here I am reposting my first piece for this blog, originally posted on March 21, 2010 - about giving a name to the problem of everyday practices of racism:

Then using his very best Spanish accent, he said, ‘My ears are too beeg for my head. My head ees too beeg for my body. I am not a Siamese cat…. I am a chihuahua!
-- Skippyjon Jones (2003)

As an anthropologist, I have two words to describe the above passage: Mock Spanish.

You know Mock Spanish. If you are born-and/or-bred American - English-speaking and monolingual - then you have heard it on the playground and even in the classroom as well as at the supermarket or at the water cooler. You might be able to recall recent instances of speaking it. For example, said without ambivalence or ambiguity as a flat denial to requests for candy, car, or casual sex: "No way, Jose." Or, delivered in a comparable dead pan, part cyborg and part Austrian: "Hasta la vista, baby."

Mock Spanish is not necessarily a direct mockery of Spanish or of speakers of Spanish.

"Speakers of Mock Spanish are likely to view their use of Spanish as indexing positive personal qualities," writes Rusty Barrett, a linguistic anthropologist, in a 2006 article, "Language Ideology and Racial Inequality: Competing Functions of Spanish in an Anglo-Owned Mexican Restaurant." In other words, when Anglos (a term that is meant to contrast with Latinos) use Mock Spanish, they are "just joking" or even exhibiting their easy familiarity with another language and culture.

This is why the suggestion that Mock Spanish might be "racist" inspires insistent objections, including accusations about "political correctness." For Anglos, Mock Spanish is a sign of education and open-mindedness - the opposite of the ignorance and closed-mindedness associated with "racism."

Even more important, Mock Spanish is a sign of having a sense of humor. There is no meanness intended here, the reasoning goes - just a bit of fun.

Yet, the yuks of Mock Spanish derive from stereotypes about Latinos that circulate among Anglos. Familiar uses of Mock Spanish include the "borrowing" of words like manana, which for Spanish speakers refers simply to "tomorrow," but for Anglos connotes procrastination. In other instances, borrowings include obscene or vulgar terms like "cojones" or "caca."

Or consider this equation for constructing Mock Spanish: "el" + English word + "o" - which yields such formulations as "el cheapo" or "el stupido."

Stereotypes about Latinos might not be referenced directly in Mock Spanish, but linguistic anthropologist Jane Hill noted that "the negative residue of meaning" remains attached to its uses. "Those who hear Mock Spanish jokes, for instance, cannot possibly 'get' them - that is, the jokes will not be funny - unless the hearer has instant, unreflecting access to a cultural model of 'Spanish speakers' that includes the negative residue," Hill wrote in her 1995 article, "Mock Spanish: A Site for the Indexical Reproduction of Racism in American English," which introduced the term and the concept to scholars.

Here is where we need to consider "racism." Again, I quote from Hill's 1995 article: "To find an action or utterance is 'racist,' one does not have to demonstrate that the racism is consciously intended. Racism is judged, instead, by its effects: of successful discrimination and exclusion of members of the racialized group from goods and resources enjoyed by the racializing group."

We need to consider that racism is not now, and in fact might never have been, only about "hate." Hill suggests that a significant reason for why we need to pay attention to Mock Spanish is this: "In a society where for at least the last 20 years to be called a 'racist' is a dire insult, and where opinion leaders almost universally concur that 'racism' is unacceptable, how is racism continually reproduced?"

At this point, let us return to Exhibit A: Skippyjon Jones.

"Yip, Yippee, Yippito!
It's the end of Alfredo Buzzito!
Skippito is here,
We have nothing to fear.
Adios to the bad Bumblebeeto!"

Then all of the Chimichangos went crazy loco.
First they had a fiesta.
Then they took a siesta.
But after waking up, the Chimichangos got down to serious bees-ness.

-- Skippyjon Jones

On the one hand, the rhymes here are catchy and to be honest, clever. For example, the use of "bees-ness" not only references a "Spanish accent," but also the character of Alfredo Buzzito, the bad Bumblebeeto.

On the other hand, Skippyjon Jones not only (indirectly) references well worn stereotypes that are instantly and unreflectingly accessible to the grown-up's reading the book to their children, but it also reproduces them for another generation - in the form of what might be experienced otherwise as an entertaining, gentle, and sweet little story.

I think it proves Hill's point that parents, writing reviews on amazon, will praise this book because it "introduces" Spanish words to their children - and that the critics become accused of missing the point of the story and being self-righteous and having no sense of humor. In fact, the expectation that a children's book must be innocent seems to be used as itself a defense of Mock Spanish. That is, because this is "just" a children's book, it cannot possibly contain "racism."

That is the problem with Skippyjon Jones and Mock Spanish in general. It makes racism seem so catchy and clever and cute.