Tag Archives: white privilege

Eating Local

Originally published at Feeding My Boychick

I live in Portland, land of organic vegan locavore ironic bacon hipsterism. Located in the (stolen and colonized) Willamette valley, one of the most fertile pieces of land on the continent (despite many greedy people having done their level best to destroy it), eating local here is downright easy. About the only things we can’t grow are tropical fruits, coffee, and hard wheat, and nevermind because we still import, roast, and mill those locally. It’s absurdly easy, if also absurdly expensive, to buy only foods grown, produced, slaughtered, or processed within 100 miles of here, either in a market or grocer or even dining out at a locally-owned restaurant. And this is great.

Except.

I also live in Portland, one of the whitest cities in the country with one of the worst track records of gentrification. And much of this push for “local” and “sustainable” is coming from relatively new, relatively wealthy, overwhelmingly white consumers and business owners, not from the communities of color who have eked out spaces for themselves here for decades. I see them, small business owners themselves, pushed out of business by white people who’d rather shop at a national name than someplace run by a person of a different color whose fluent English the monolinguists can’t understand, and now replaced by white people who spurn the corporate giants for “local” businesses that have been here for SO LONG — since the mid-aughts! — owned and frequented largely by other white people able to pay higher prices and higher rents and higher mortgages.

So here’s my choice: I can buy dinner from a locally-owned restaurant that’s been here for decades and uses conventional produce and imported noodles and factory farmed meats frequented by the people of color who have lived here for decades, or I can buy it from the three year old place that uses local and organic and fresh everything and is all the rage among the white people who have lived here for three years.

Or I can buy groceries from the locally-owned store that’s twice as expensive (but everything is homegrown!), or the budget Safeway that’s served the neighborhood for decades. I can support the brand-new co-op that sells organic produce, or the Asian market that sells unmarked, unknown-to-me veggies.

It’s not that I disagree with the small-business, locally-owned ethos nor the entirely logical reasons to support the same. But the fact remains that when my neighborhood (which I, middle class white woman with my young family, just moved into) started gentrifying, in classic Portland style, all the new mostly-white people said “we want local shops — let’s start some!” and didn’t ask their neighbors where to buy veggies, where they ate out, who owned and shopped at and was employed at the run-down supermarket. We didn’t move in to this imperfect neighborhood and ask “what’s being done to improve the place we now live, what’s important to our neighbors, and how can we help without taking over?” We moved in and assumed nothing of value was here and we needed to replace it all with trendy, “local” businesses and eateries (never diners!) and then we patted ourselves on the back for being so damn sustainable, so morally superior, doing something good while we bought our organic fair trade latte from the queer artist barista with all the body modifications.

But it’s culture. It’s all culture. We want to shop and eat and be seen at places that feel like ours, that reflect us, that tell others about who we consider ourselves to be and who we want to be. And that’s not wrong, not really. But it’s also what the people who lived here first, who we pushed out to the margins before we decide to take that over too, also want. And the conversation we need to have isn’t local-small-good versus corporate-giant-evil. It’s whose local? Whose good? Who was here first, whose voices have long been marginalized, whose foods are exoticized and whose normalized, who’s making the decisions about what’s valued and what the neighborhood needs?

Those are questions I need to consider as well, no less than “was this peach sprayed, is this asparagus local, is there MSG in this?” It’s not as easy a conversation, nuanced instead of ideologic, complicated instead of obvious. But it’s important. Because “community” isn’t a nebulous concept, it’s the family next door we never talk to, the people who walk up my street to get to the free clinic, the guy who runs the convenience store two blocks away. And the health and sustainability of food isn’t just how it affects and nourishes my family, but how it affects the people who grow it, the people who harvest it, the people who sell it, the people who cook and serve and clean up after it. Only considering part of that system isn’t sustainable; it’s selfish in the extreme.

(Note: I use “we” throughout not as writer-and reader, not to assume the “they” I speak of is not also you, but as writer-and-agent, as indication of my own guilt and reminder to myself of membership in the offending groups. I’m still searching for less alienating phrasing; please forgive any implications of exclusion.)

You will never be him; please don’t be them

Dear Boychick,

Last week was your fifth birthday. We made carrot cake and sang you happy birthday just the once like you wanted and opened so many presents from family who love you fiercely despite being so far away. We bought you a bike and a raincoat and I cooked breakfast and lunch and dinner (and did I mention the cake?) just like you asked for and I marvelled at how very fast you are growing up.

There’s someone I’d like you to meet. I don’t know if you’d like him, or vice versa. He was born twelve years before you, which is too much of an age gap to be peers, but maybe he was the type to like kids. I don’t know, and we will never find out. I would like you to meet him, but you won’t, because eighteen days before your birthday, he was shot and killed by a man who looked at a black kid in a sweat shirt and saw a threat. He was killed by a man who is walking free still, nearly a month later — after your presents are losing their luster, after your bike is no longer quite so new — because of racist gun laws and racist police departments. He was killed by a man who mistook vigilantism for protection, violence for justice, and a kid walking with candy in his pocket for a no-good criminal.

Millions of parents across our country are holding their sons closer now, with this one thought echoing in their heads: that could have been my son.

You’ll forgive me I hope if I hold you tighter tonight, if I snuggle you just a little longer, kiss your hair just that bit stronger. But the thought in my head is: that will never be you.

You will never be seen as suspicious because of your skin color. You will never be coded as a violent criminal because of your race and your gender. You may one day know persecution, may one day be subject to epithets and violence simply walking down the street — you may be a fag or a tranny or a crip — but this, this will never be your fate.

But I am aware, I am so very, painfully aware that you might be on the other side of this. You might be the one wielding the gun1. You might be the one looking at the dead kid and seeing a corpse, a criminal, a cause for gunfire and “self-defense”. You might be the one letting the killer go without testing him for drugs or alcohol. You might be the one lobbying to pass laws that are disproportionately harmful to black and brown communities. You might be the one opining that it’s all so tragic but the kid did look like a thug after all and he shouldn’t have been out walking where he didn’t look like belonged.

When I hold you tight, I am thinking, praying, begging: don’t be them. Don’t be them, please, child, my beautiful boy: don’t be them. Don’t be the one that black mothers are afraid of tonight more than usual. Don’t be the one that lets this happen without trying to make it better. Don’t be the one that cracks a joke, that thinks of it as their problem, that doesn’t bother to care. Don’t. Be. Them.

You are, no matter how much I wish it otherwise or how much I work to prevent it, going to be infected by racism. It will — is, has already — pervert you, damage your ability to see others’ wholeness and humanity and (says your theist parent) holiness. You live in this society, in kyriarchy; it cannot not touch you and make you rougher.

But you don’t have to let it make you them. You don’t have to let it turn you into Trayvon’s murderer and his family’s misery. You have to not. You have to resist. You have to find a new way.

I’ll help you child, as much as I am able — how can I do else when there is a family without a son and without justice for their loss? — but as much as I want, I cannot shape you as I will, cannot fill your tabula with my anti-racist scripts (nor would I know the right things to write there, even if I could). I can only whisper in your hair, pray to whatever gods are there, write to a you I hope will be ready to listen: don’t be them. Don’t inflict this pain. Remember a boy you will never meet, and for him, for his family, for every family knowing it could be them: please, be better.

For Trayvon Martin. For so many others. Please.

Yours always,
Arwyn

  1. George Zimmerman — per Mother Jones — is Latino, but the point stands: white men might kill a black boy, but they will never be killed for being black.

On speaking race, take two

I think I got half the problem right in A Tale of Two Slayers, but I ended up asking the wrong question. Rather than “how does Clueless White Girl guess others’ race” (which, though not quite what I meant, ended up being what I asked), the question should be “how does Clueless White Girl speak race and name whiteness without guessing or approximating or unwanted labeling, so that her child grows up measurably less clueless?”

Because while the fact that I really cannot tell what makes someone ethnically Japanese or Korean or Hmong by sight1 is a symptom of my white privilege, the racist society I live in, and the very-nearly-monochromatic circles I’ve always traveled in — so too is the need to define, and label, and categorize others, rather than listening for another’s identity to be communicated as (and if) they choose, and to accept ambiguity and ignorance in the meanwhile.

It would be easy to say that I simply need a more diverse group of friends, because then we wouldn’t be guessing, we’d know (or not, as they wished). And while that’s true, there’s also something godawful skeevy in the suggestion that I make friends to, essentially, act as Model Minorities for my child.

It would be easy also to say that I need to expose my child to more cultures, so it’s not just about skin color speculation, and that is also true. But I worry about the conflation of race and culture, when they’re not necessarily the same at all2 — because all too often that too is about pigeonholing people, making assumptions about “where they’re from”3, and more, risks making Culture something Those (Brown) People Over There have. How many white middle-Americans say they have no culture?4 Or how often do we make culture about something that happened Long Ago and Far Away — not something that is here, now, living and evolving and real? None of which is to say learning about diverse cultures isn’t important — I just don’t think it’s the full answer.

It would be really easy to give up, to metaphorically toss my hands in the air and declare that there’s no winning, and it’s too hard, and why should I even bother if there’s no Right Way. Because that is what my entire kyriarchal culture is telling me to do — and I gotta say sometimes my perfectionist-crazy agrees, because this is hard, and the outcome is so important, and I have no idea what I’m doing, and at least if I fucked up my kid with race-ignorance (instead of race-speaking fumblings) I’d be in abundant company. But I owe him better than that.

I have no more answers than I did a couple days ago. But I think I’m closer to asking the right questions.

How do you, or might you, speak race (with your child and with yourself) without potentially-offensive speculation? How do you make distinctions and connections between race, nationality, culture, and skin color? If you are parenting a white child, how do you make sure they know race and culture are not something only other people have? How do you talk about race when you don’t have the words?

—————

  1. And that I’m reaching to name more than a few east Asian ethnic groups, and couldn’t tell you the name of any indigenous/native Japanese people(s?), though I know they exist.
  2. My high school contemporary comes to mind, who was first generation USian, ethnically Chinese, and a native Spanish speaker by way of generations of ancestors living in South America.
  3. To paraphrase Margaret Cho, who has her problems but also some profound (and profane) wisdom: “How do I say cunt in ‘my language’? CUNT!”
  4. Well, probably not as many any more, now that some have taken to saying “their culture” is being attacked by uppity foreign-born liberals.

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.

The Boychick’s Bookshelf: Board Book Round Up #1

Welcome to a special edition of The Boychick’s Bookshelf! In this entry in the series, I review a small collection of children’s books of interest to those who want to raise children free from and opposed to kyriarchy. These reviews will focus on books which showcase stories and lives beyond the dominant culture of white straight middle-class families, or which contain explicitly anti-kyriarchy messages (anti-racism, anti-ableism, anti-sexism, anti-heterosexism, anti-cissexism, anti-violence, anti-colonialization, and so on).

Many people have not-exactly-complained about how the books reviewed on The Boychick’s Bookshelf are great, but too advanced for their six, twelve, twenty-four month old. So, to remedy that, here’s the first edition of a special Board Book Round Up: smaller reviews for smaller books, but more of ‘em at once.

To commence:

More More More, Said the Baby by Vera B Williams


The Boychick loved this book, once upon a time. It’s a trilogy of short stories, all with the same pace and many of the same words, in which we meet Little Guy and his father (both apparently white), Little Pumpkin and hir grandmother (apparently black and white, respectively), and Little Bird and her mother (apparently Asian or Latina). I love it for depicting a variety of caregivers — showing loving fathers to the Boychick is especially important to me — , a variety of races (including the apparently-white grandmother to black Little Pumpkin), and both the Boychick and I loved getting to act out the belly kisses and toe nibbles. As with many board books, it ends with Little Bird falling asleep and being put to bed, making it a good choice for nap or nighttime reading.

Downside: The text, while colorful and artistic, might be hard or painful to read for people with visual or focusing difficulties.

Peekaboo Morning by Rachel Isadora


Peekaboo Morning follows a black toddler through hir waking up, with visual clues leading to each next page, from “I see… my mommy” and daddy, through getting dressed, eating (and feeding hir breakfast to the dog), playing with toys, then going outside and greeting Grandma and Grandpa and a (apparently white) friend, and finally engaging the reader with “I see… you!” I wasn’t sure at first about getting the Boychick a book written in first-person with a non-white protagonist, fearing it might be appropriative, but I bought it anyway because books featuring families of color are so scarce, and it really is an enjoyable (if repetitious — but it makes it especially great for toddlers), quick read, with realistic paintings with enough detail to maintain interest over repeated viewings. It is very heteronormative, with a mommy and daddy, and grandma and grandpa, and very suburban (there is, truly, a white picket fence in one scene), but given the stereotypes of black families as urban and “broken”, I’m not sure that’s entirely a bad thing.

Downside: I’m reaching to find anything beyond the heteronormativity and repetitiousness (though again, that’s something of a plus when writing books for toddlers) to name as a downside. I will say that the painting of the dog looks like there is a smudge on the dog’s face, and it bugs me every time I look at it. But I have Issues.

Mommy, Mama, and Me – and – Daddy, Papa, and Me, both by Leslea Newman


These are two books, but a symmetrical pair, and we bought them together. Each is told from the perspective of the toddler-aged child of same-gender parents, describing how both Mommy and Mama or Daddy and Papa take care of hir, each alternately engaging complementary games or childcare duties. Besides the same-gender parents, these are fairly run-of-the-mill white suburban follow-the-child’s-day books, and the Boychick enjoys them. That very banality, though, is likely the point of the books: “Look, two-mother/two-father families are just like you!” or “we’re just like other (white, middle class) families!” This makes them a good intro to same-gender parents for the unfamiliar (and helped the Boychick accept that his friend with two moms did not, in fact, also have a dad), or normalizing books for kids who don’t get to see families like theirs very much, but also reinforces the white- and middle-class-ness of the “default family”.

Downside: In addition to the aforementioned issues (and I cannot emphasize enough the problems with only ever modeling white queerness), although each book stands well on its own, with many examples of gender-role breaking (especially in Daddy, Papa, and Me, as is expected in a culture that says toddler-parenting is women’s work), when I compare the two, there is a greater emphasis on play in Daddy, and more on nurturing in Mommy: Daddy ends with Daddy and Papa collapsing in exhaustion at the end of a park trip, Mommy with being tucked in and getting kissed goodnight. This relatively minor difference wouldn’t be problematic except that it reflects and reinforces cultural memes, that fathers are playful (and easily overwhelmed), and mothers are nurturing and organized.

Global Babies by The Global Fund for Children


The Boychick, along with every other child I’ve heard of who has been introduced to Global Babies, loved this book for its close-up, face-focused photographs of babies and toddlers from all over the world. Babies, in general, are fascinated by other babies, and this gooey-sweet simplistic text’d book fills that desire perfectly. The Boychick and I loved especially that so many of the babies are shown being worn: of the 16 total photographs, 7 are shown in or apparently in carriers (this does include one baby in a cradleboard being help up but not on a person). Each of the photos is labeled with the country the baby is from, and although two are from USA, this includes one white seemingly-middle-class baby, and one Native child (in the aforementioned cradleboard). Not all of the babies are smiling (or indeed, awake), which seems to increase the appeal; the young reader is able to study faces reflecting a variety of emotional and alertness states.

Downside: The text is far less interesting than the photographs, with sometimes just one word per two-picture page; I’m not sure the Boychick ever absorbed the “[all babies] are beautiful, special, and loved” message with it being read so slowly, interspersed with up to several minutes of studying the photos. There is something of a photo-safari feel to the book, though I think this is somewhat mitigated by the lack of depicting less-advantaged children as “pitiful” or “unhappy”, as many such projects do. I must also say that I know nothing of the Global Fund for Children beyond the noble goal printed on the back of the book (“…advancing the dignity of young people around the world.”), and cannot speak to its work, good or otherwise.

Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers


(Note: Cover pictured is for the hardback edition of the book.)

I love this book almost as much as the Boychick does. There is more text than in many other board books (including all of the ones mentioned here), but the text has a brilliant bounce and simple (but not overly so) rhyming rhythm. The text loosely follows a diverse crowd of babies from birth to the first year, often with several scenes on each page depicting many different races of babies and configurations of families (including an apparently-single mom of twins, multiracial and multigenerational families, and a two-mom family). Although very Western and moderately sub/urban and middle-class, the wealth of diversity shown in what “Every day, everywhere babies” are doing helps make it a delightful read. It’s also a favorite in the attachment parenting community for explicitly showing and mentioning breastfeeding (and I love that the mom shown breastfeeding is a woman of color, fully dressed, passed out in a rocker holding a book) and babywearing.

Downside: Along with depictions of breastfeeding and babywearing — though the ring sling appears to be drawn by someone who has never actually worn a baby in one — are abundant depictions of bottles, pacifiers, and strollers, as well as less than ideal carriers, and a baby in a carseat not in a car; I’ve somewhat mellowed on this since first reading Everywhere Babies, but on some level it still bothers me: these things are all ubiquitous in the culture the Boychick is growing up in, and the more he — and everyone else — sees them, the more they become/are reinforced as the cultural defaults. (An astute reader will note, however, that I haven’t let this stop me from enjoying this book with the Boychick, but I do usually change the words to the “babies are fed” page, to skip bottle, spoon, and cereal feeding.) I am also irked that the final scene, which depicts a single baby at hir first birthday party, features an apparently all-white, heteronormative family. It doesn’t completely negate the racial diversity of the rest of the book, but it does, once again, ultimately center whiteness, and reinforcing the white family as default. Also note that there are no visibly disabled parents or children depicted, and no assistive devices beyond one cane half-hidden behind an old woman seated in a chair.

Summary

I would recommend any or all of these books as additions to a beginner anti-kyriarchy bookshelf; though a handful of books featuring racial and sexual diversity read to pre-literate and mostly pre-memory children are not going to subvert the dominant paradigm or counteract a culture of hate all by themselves, they’re not a bad way to start. Buy any of these or other titles online at Powells.com or Amazon.com and support your friendly neighbourhood blogger; or find or order them at a local independent bookseller.

Have you read any of these with your child, and what did you or s/he think? What are your favorite pro-diversity, anti-kyriarchy board books?

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