Monthly Archives: October 2010

A Tale of Two Slayers: on speaking race and white-as-default

“I’m Kendra, the Vampire Slayer! I’m a girl! I’m Black!”

This was the child’s refrain nearly non-stop for three days last week. We’d watched an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer1 with the other Slayer, Kendra, and he latched on to her immediately. Why? No idea. But it was an interesting few days.

After a while, he stopped (she only shows up twice before dying herself), and the refrain was replaced with “I’m Buffy! I’m the Slayer! I’m a girl!”

Notice what’s missing?

While I’m pretty pleased that the Boychick is willing to name race at all, he only does it for the Black character — the Other.

“You’re Buffy, huh? What race are you?”

Silence. Try again: “What color are you?”

“I’m the same color as you.”

Oh boy.

We’ve had this conversation a dozen times now. Sometimes I ask him what color I am; sometimes I tell him (“So you’re white, like me, and like [the Boychick].” or “Well, my skin is a light pink, and we usually call that white.”). He is unafraid to name her gender, unafraid to correct his father or I when we use the wrong pronoun (“I’m a she!”). But her race, to him, is invisible. It is the default.

And that’s a problem. That’s my problem, inasmuch as I have allowed and encouraged it. Because there is this: if his race-less Buffy-play had not been preceded by race-named Kendra-play, I wouldn’t have noticed anything wrong. I wouldn’t expect him to name Buffy’s race, because white, to me, is default also. It was only in the juxtaposition, in the so-loud silence after the uncomfortable-speaking2, that I could see the damaging ideas already taking root in my child’s psyche: White is default, unnameable; Black can be spoken, and is therefore other.

Up to now, we, like many bathed for a lifetime in white privilege, have named race only when it “came up” — meaning when a non-white person or persons entered a situation (real life or television). And when it does, we name both white and, as best we can, nonwhite. But still this is based on white-as-default, and communicates so much to the Boychick about what we take for granted, “normal”, and what we see as Other. It is, to put it plainly, based on racism.

To some extent, his belief in white-as-default is normal. To some extent, we enter the world incapable of believing that anyone is not-like us. But he is entering a phase where this is no longer entirely true: within the last month (around when he started naming race regularly at all), he has started announcing he is a boy, and when he plays Buffy or Kendra is a girl, which is different. And furthermore, it is white privilege that has allowed him to be race-ignorant for this long: children who do not see themselves so represented in their neighbourhoods, their television, even their books, have race-knowledge forced on them much earlier. And still more: because of that privilege he has (we have) even more of an obligation to counter ignorance, to do better, to be a decent human being. Because that’s really what this is all about.

I’m not entirely sure what to do. Or, I am, and I am terrified to do it: the solution is to name race more. To name race when everyone in the room is white. To name race when almost everyone in the room is white and not starting-and-ending with that “almost”. To name race as easily as we name hair color, clothing, gender, height.

This terrifies me not just because it is so taboo in “we don’t see race” “anti-racist” white circles, but because I am so afraid of doing it wrong.

Because it is so easy to do wrong. Kendra and Buffy I got down: Black and white. Not too hard3. Diego4 is Latino, or close enough (I hope). And anyone who we know well enough to tell us their race, then we use that. But people on the street? In a crowd? Is that person black? Arabic? Indian? (Is that even an appropriate term?) He looks Native American — but what about his tribe? Does he prefer Native American or American Indian, or…? And her: is she swarthy and kinky-haired and white? Black, white and Jewish? Him: Aboriginal? Actually African? And oh lord I think she’s from East Asia, but where? Is Asian enough? (Why can I probably get right French or English, but not Korean or Japanese?) How the hell do I do this??

I don’t know. Truly, I don’t. Race and ethnicity and nationality and identity are complicated enough when one can tell another clearly the words and terms one prefers; leave it to Clueless White Girl to name, or approximate, or guess, and, well… it’s not pretty. Or, possibly, wise. And yet, what are my other options? To remain silent, and let kyriarchy colonize my child unopposed? To pretend race doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter — or doesn’t affect him –, thereby guaranteeing his racism?

As always, it seems, I am left with this: it has to be enough that I am trying. It has to be enough that he will see the process, learn the reasons, if not be raised well then well enough to continue on the path towards basic decency himself. It has to be enough that when he says he is Kendra and he is Black he is affirmed, and when he says he is Buffy, he is asked her race. It has to be enough, because it’s all I have.

But I’ll keep looking for better.

  1. Take criticisms of my child’s viewing habits elsewhere. Or better yet, stuff ‘em. I’m not gonna defend it, I just don’t wanna hear about it.
  2. Because speaking race is still uncomfortable to me, though getting ever less so the more I practice.
  3. USians, quite rightly, are sometimes criticized for seeing all race issues as black and white (pun intended, I think). And while this has something to do with our long and ugly history of slavery and segregation (ignoring our long and ugly history of genocide and colonization), I sometimes think it’s also, in part, because clueless white folks (like yours truly) stand on far firmer ground naming “white” (us) and “black” (everyone part of the African diaspora, tribes and ethnicities and families and lineages ripped away from them, freeing us from having to make any finer distinctions). It’s not at all an excuse for not doing better, but I wonder sometimes if it’s part of an explanation.
  4. From his video game, Diego Does Dinos, or whatever it’s called; he hasn’t seen Dora or Diego the shows, and I’m quite happy to keep it that way, thanks.

NPFP Guest Post: Hold This Thread as I Walk Away

Welcome to RMB’s Naked Pictures of Faceless People, a series of guest posts from diverse anonymous bloggers. (Read more about NPFP’s origins.) These are the posts that are jumping to get out of us, but for whatever reason — safety, embarrassment, conflict of interest, protection of loved ones’ reputations or feelings, or so on — we don’t or won’t or can’t post at our own blogs. Anyone, whether blogger or reader only, is welcome to submit or discuss a potential post by emailing arwyn at raisingmyboychick dot com.

Hold This Thread as I Walk Away

Dissociative Identity Disorder is a mental disorder where a person’s sense of identity becomes so fragmented that it results in different identity states. There are a lot of misconceptions and stereotypes regarding the condition, due in no small part to media portrayal in which the complexity of the condition is misunderstood. One of these misconceptions regards memory: the idea that dissociative amnesia means never having access to the memories or information of what happened during a particular event. This isn’t, necessarily, true. A person with DID may not remember the details of what happened, but the event was still experienced and that still impacts them and the identity states as a whole.

If you wish to learn more, there is a blog regarding the nature of DID and its stereotypes by the name of Dissociative Living over at HealthyPlace.com. The posts are quite detailed and informative, to help people gain a better understanding of this condition. This post, unlike Dissociative Living, is not about 101 education. This post is a (short) emotional outlet, saying what also needs to be said from the bottom of the heart. These are the words that go unheard in a life where we must educate the world simply to survive.

They call it a vacation. A break.

There is no such thing as a vacation from life.

People try to joke with me, saying they wish they had that ability like I do. Most of the time I just laugh it off. I don’t expect them to understand. After all, if you’re not there, you can’t experience what’s going on in the world around you, right? It can’t affect you.

Right?

I wish. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

Everything is interconnected. Woven together into an intricate web, where nothing has a definite beginning or end. You might be able to pick out base threads and follow those, but none are alone. Eventually, they all connect to another. And another. And another. If a drop of dew falls onto the top of one of those threads, it will spread its influence onto all of those branching off of it on its way down. You cannot take away one of these threads without damaging the infrastructure of the web – it’s just far too complex. Something will always be shared.

Bigotry, ignorance, or a lack of concern… it’s all shared. I may not be the one present to hear it, see it, or feel it inflicted upon me. But all the same, I experience it. Every moment of it.

Like you, I wish I could escape it, even if only for a day. but I can’t. I can’t disappear from it any more than you can. I just go quiet about it for longer than you.

——————————

Please support the Naked Pictures of Faceless People project by commenting on the posts. Comments which attack or attempt to guess the identity or any aspect of the identity of the blogger will be deleted, however. Protect and respect this space as though it were your own work on display here, naked and faceless.

Anonymous comments are welcome on NPFP posts. Simply put “Anonymous” or any pseudonym in Name, and either your own or a fake email addresses (ex me@me.com) as the email. NOTE: If you have a Gravatar associated with your email address, it will show up even with an anonymous name, in which case please use a different or a fake email address.

These people have never wanted for childcare

In this piece on procrastination, we are told that our putting projects off because of our belief that later, things will be better! is a delusion of our monkey minds. And while I have experienced this so many times myself, have been living it so many times in recent days (I can blog tonight; I can blog tomorrow; I’ll catch up on homework in a couple days; I’ll send off that piece next week; we’ll clean the house this weekend; we’ll carve the pumpkins when it stops raining) all I could think while reading it was:

Yeah — but next week, I’ll have preschool for the Boychick again.

A picture says a thousand words (or two, repeated 500 times)

So some freelance writer working for Marie Claire (a mainstream fashion/women’s magazine? I guess?) wrote a douchey article that covers at least half of a fatphobic bingo card all by itself. I won’t link, not wanting to further up their page-views, but it can basically be summed up as “ew, fatties!” If you’ve the spoons and/or Sanity Watchers points, you can read some of the specifics over at Dangerously Luxe’s awesome smack-down, because while I could expend a thousand words going in to everything wrong with the original article, I simply can’t be bothered today.

Because today, the Boychick and I went shopping, since I’m down to one no comfy, attractive (unstained and untorn) warm shirts or sweaters, and that’s just not good now that we’re solidly in the Northern autumn, not even here in semi-temperate Oregon.

I, alas, could not find any sweaters. But I did happen to spot a dress. And I shrugged, and tried it on.

It fit.

Red Dress

Photographer, no. Hot, yes.

When I walked out of the dressing room, the Boychick said “Ooo, I love that dress! Mom, you should buy that dress.” Well, how could I not?

Today I dedicate the purchase of this red-hot dress to Marie Claire, Maura Kelly, and everyone who thinks fat chicks are disgusting, unattractive, unfuckable. This, unfuckable? Try fucking hot.

A friend protested this dedication, saying they didn’t deserve my hotness. And while that’s surely true, I firmly believe that the best revenge is a life well-lived.

Preferably in a red-hot fuck-me dress.

(There is a part of me that does not want to post this picture. There is a part of me yelling about how fat I am, how flabby my arms, how double my chin, how sagging my comfy-tank encased breasts. I am afraid of the insults of trolls, and afraid of the whispers from tsking readers. But there is nothing a troll could say that the troll inside me has not said to myself. There is nothing a well-meaning loved one could shake hir head over that I have not spotted myself. But as I’ve learned before, the best antidote to this urge to hide is to show myself. And frankly, if my flesh bothers someone, including that horrid little voice inside me, I have two rude words to say — five hundred times.)

Guest post: Without a happy ending: what to do when no one else does

This is a guest post from Kelly of Underbellie.

Without a happy ending: what to do when no one else does

My husband works at an institution as a Big Important Computer Guy. Over the last week he’s been getting calls from one of the librarians that a computer user had been repeatedly caught viewing pornography on the computers (this is illegal use of state facilities). The librarian had kicked the young man out, but he kept coming back – only to view more porn. What disturbed the librarian was the (seemingly) unflappable repeat offenses despite what was obviously against the rules. The fellow just kept doing it.

Today my husband was able to take “snapshots” of his browser history without actually visiting the sites — not only sites like pussy.com but, in my husband’s view, more disturbing Yahoo Answers submissions. (As my husband put it: “Lots of entitled, frustrated male stuff.”)

Having finally received enough information to document the violation of policy, he locks the user account and instructs the staff to have the man contact him when he next tries — and fails — to log on. The fellow is soon escorted into my husband’s office, where, confronted in dry, by-the-book lingo about his policy violations, he asks “what’s the problem?”, showing no remorse or even understanding — and waits for things to go back to the way they were.

When my husband informs the Chief Information Officer of the offense, she reams the young man extensively, but then gives the go-ahead to reinstate his log-in.

While investigating the man’s IDs in the process of reinstating the account, one of which has been obviously modified, he learns that another lab worker, E., a woman, had a creepy encounter with this same young man just a few days ago.

My husband goes to head of security and relates the details of both the internet history and the incident with the lab worker. The head of security seems to take this very seriously and discusses the measures he’ll take; he informs my husband that when it comes to safety it is no violation on my husband’s part to discuss details of the user’s computer history.

******

And that — so far — is that.

I don’t want to get into discussing pornography and whether it is some kind of litmus to the harmful objectification (is there any other kind of objectification?) of women which is in turn correlated to the support of violence against them. Briefly, it’s my opinion that in a “perfect world” porn would be mostly sex-positive and rather fun; but in the world we live in porn is corrupted by kyriarchal and oppressive memes; there is a strong correlation between many straight men who consume typical porn and attitudes of oppositional sexism and rape apologism1.

But please don’t let this be a derail: the fact is my opinions on porn aren’t necessarily central to this story because in this case what my husband and I found most disturbing were his repeat offenses, his Yahoo submissions, his lack of remorse or even comprehension when confronted, and the fact at least three women who’d had experience with this individual were disturbed and agitated by his behavior.

And what does my head in is how many, many men (and women) would have done so much less than my husband in a case like this.

So now my husband is home and he’s worried. He’s thinking of the George Sodini case.2 He’s taken entirely appropriate and protective measures and put things in the hands of his superiors — but he’s not sure that’s enough. He’s conducted himself admirably (to my view), but he’s thinking of E. and wondering if he should talk to her. He’s worried it would be “creepy” (to E.) if he did.

At this I disagreed; my advice was to talk to E. and tell her briefly there was an investigation; then to offer – in a non-professional capacity — that if she ever felt uncomfortable and wanted an escort or any help, to call him and he’d come right over.

And then I thought of the times I’d been coerced and violated and the many men (and women) who knew or were there — and did nothing. I don’t think in my entire life any man, besides my husband and father, have ever offered their assistance in the way my husband is thinking of offering it to E.

And I thought of those horrible stories where — afterwards — people wring their hands and say, “He seemed like such a Nice Guy!”3

And I thought of America’s horrific track record of sexual assault, coercion, and rape.4

Entitled assholes (or Nice Guys™, see above footnote) are not the same as rapists (although some of them are, in fact, rapists). But, I’m sad to say, rape and sexual assault affect us all – even the genuine nice guys – and our silence and discomfort only serve to maintain the status quo.

So, do we like the status quo?

Can we live with it?5

I’m not holding up my husband as a hero and, on the flipside, I’ll be pretty pissed if anyone accuses him of not doing enough to stop a (potential) monster. I don’t particularly want advice given on what, if anything, my husband should do next – or if he should have never taken things as far as he did – because my trust in his awesomeness is pretty solid. But I note he took this more seriously than the other six employees yet (with, I hope, the exception of head of security), while still acting in his professional capacity — which is a fine line. Tonight my husband and I both feel a bit worried, unsettled, upset. But I’m impressed with him.

It worries me to think others — many, many others — might be exposed to information like he was — and do nothing.

Private