Friday, October 29, 2010

Just Say "NO" To the Stereotyping of African American Parents and Other Moms and Dads Of Color

Like, what kid doesn’t dig the park? Mari loved the slide, you know? And the monkey bars. And especially when I pushed her on the swing. Her plea was stickier and sweeter and more delicious than a cherry pop: Higher, mommy! Higher! I want to kiss the sky…
I delighted in watching my baby jump and twirl and fly and pucker up toward the sunshine. Her happiness was infectious. But my hate for the park was equally passionate—searing. Particularly when visits with my then 2-year-old daughter fell outside of official playgroup playdates and it was just me and the kid and my swollen, pregnant belly and my elephant ankles and those eyes—those evil, prying, judgmental, better-than-thou eyes that, in a single glance, would betray the conspiratorial conversations The Playground Mafia dug into when they saw me and my chocolate beauty trotting up the walkway.
It never failed; I always got the distinct impression that neither my baby nor I was welcome there. It was all up in the icy glares. The side-eyes and whispers whenever I smiled in their direction or tried to make small talk. The rolling cloud of sensible shoes and mom jeans and crocheted sweaters that always seemed to stampede toward The Children of The Playground Mafia whenever my baby girl penetrated their invisible barrier bubbles.
Always—always—I’d act like it didn’t matter. For my baby’s sake. But on the walk home, I’d stew and silently wonder what, exactly, ran through their minds—their little, teeny weeny minds—when they saw me. Maybe they thought I was the nanny—untouchable and unworthy of conversation (unless they were looking for a new one, and then I’d get a fresh “family” card pressed into my palm. True story.). Maybe they thought I hitched a ride from nearby Newark, N.J., so that my kid could play in the “good” park. Maybe they thought I was a teenage mom, slumming off the system, popping out babies and intent on scaring all the good, hardworking white people at the park while I waited for their tax dollars to convert into my welfare check.
After a while, I stopped wasting precious brain matter trying to comprehend why The Playground Mafia acted the way they did to my daughter and me. It became painfully clear relatively quickly that it would never occur to them that I was a neighbor, who, while on maternity leave from a high-paying magazine gig, frequented my neighborhood park to escape endless reruns of Teletubbies and The Wiggles back at my more than half-million-dollar home, four blocks away.
It would never occur to them that I always bought my shrimp and Salmon and whiting at the local fish market and the French bread with the wickedly crusty crust from the local bakery and that my neighbors literally held vigil outside my house on block party afternoons, waiting to dig into my huge basket of fried chicken, hot and sweet.
It would never occur to them that I adored George Clooney and collecting art and throwing dinner parties and writing—that I was interesting and funny and smart and madly in love with my husband and growing family.
That I could love.
And was loved.
This, apparently, is not the stuff black folk are made of—at least not in the minds of some suburban white moms. Witness this blog post, written by a mom who got all freaked out when her son struck up an afternoon playground friendship with the son of a man she surmised was a “gang member”:
"How did you KNOW he was a gang member?” I can hear you asking from behind your computer monitor. I'll admit, I'm not exactly up on my "Signs Your Child's Friend's Dad Is A Gang Member" literature. Let's just say it seemed likely. There was the prison number tattooed on his neck, for example. And the cryptic, graffiti-like tattoos all over his arms. And the white tank top. And the baggy jeans. And the bandana. And the unlaced shoes. And the baseball cap worn sideways. If he wasn't a gang member, he definitely wanted people to think he was.
The writer goes on to chronicle how, even though the “gang member” tried to strike up a conversation with her—you know, what normal human beings tend to do when other human beings are around and the kids are playing together—her side of the talking stalled because she wasn’t “well-versed in gang member icebreakers” and she couldn’t think of anything to say to him beyond, “When’s the little guy’s initiation?”
Later, when the two scooped up their sons and tossed each other a “see ya,” the blogger considers telling the “gang member” how much she enjoyed the gang movie Colors, and silently wishes she had a camera to document the occasion so that years later, she could reminisce with her son about “that gang member” who pushed him on the swing. “Such a nice gang member…” she imagined she would say to her son as they flipped through their scrapbook of memories.
She and the posse in her comment section thought the blog post was humorous.
Laughing yet?
I’m not...


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  1. I am always amazed by the judgment of others and the "lightness" in which they do it. It happens every day, especially in New York, especially in the area of Brooklyn I live in. And I am always taken aback despite seeing having it done to me and those I love almost on a daily basis
    (Last Saturday- shop owner telling me "you know all about them" as I curiously rooted through a bowl of Mexian Milagros (religious charms) and her face when I ask her "why would you assume that? I was impressed by those I saw and learned their historical/religous significance while touring Sicily, Having a white woman ask my sister if she was a Nanny to her red haired, green eyed daughter and her creamy cocoa skinned son, Having a shop owner follow my clarinet, writer's camp attendee 11 yo chatterbox niece around a store no bigger than my kitchen because she was wearing a down jacket and picking up and examining everything she might spend her $5 allowance on)

    So do we swallow our anger and begin to stay away from places we want to explore and or love and experience to avoid being judged? Or do we open ourselves up and expose that we are "just like you" in our desire for good things and our ability to have and maintain a full creative existence? Or do we ignore those who peer and whisper and assume who we are and pray that our armour is strong enough to protect not only our own dreams and lives but the dreams and lives of our children? sigh..I'm still trying to figure that one out..

  2. Thank you MBB for posting the info about the family on you site! They have been truly blessed and they now have the beautiful family that they both, so lovingly, desired. I've read many of the comments posted and while we live in American and all have freedom of speech-- opinions are like a**&%$#@-- everyone got one!! Now, if only folks would lend a hand as ly and liberally as they feel inclined to give their opinion. I bank w/Chase and I'm making a donation to this family PRONTO!! AND, I would like to encourage all of you other "good hearted" folks out there to do the same. Love and peace-- pax vobiscum

  3. Great post as usual mama!! Love it! Off to read the rest on Parenting. And whenever I'm in a writing slump I'm coming here from now on. You ROCK!

  4. It is said that the first impression of most families of color by other races not just whites is disfunction, uneducated, and fear. I understand and sympathize with the anger and disdain that you have when visiting your local park with your daughter.

    When my daughter was younger I use to visit the park the same way, however I abruptly discontinued those visits when I started feeling like the parents where advising the kids to treat my daughter unkindly. Her feelings would be very hurt and she would cry that they are not being nice to her (by their actions and words), while the other parent would sit there as if nothing was going on (several occassions). Or I would have my weekend read (my book of choice for the weekend) and I woudl get the looks and whispers. To continue the teachings that tried to instill in my daughter, I stopped going to that park.

    Now because she is older, my teachings are the same, but different. I tell her that she has to overlook ignorance, not all people will think that they should treat you with the respect that you desire. Not all people will see you as a person instead of a color. This is a learning experience for them as children, but for us as parents it is a hostile situation which we have to place ourselves in timeout to calm down and assess for what it is. Ridiculous!

    But as always, I pray for them to be able to lift the veil from their eyes to see people for who they are and for us to be able to overlook and forgive pass their faults! Have a blessed weekend!

  5. Here today from Navelgazing and really liked your post and response to the other post. It appears she's taken it down now, but I'm not satisfied with her apology, either. She says her article was intended to be a satire (maybe, maybe not), but then she also says it was supposed to be "race-free," which I'm having trouble understanding how she thought so. Anyway, glad to have found you.

  6. Hey I hearya. And I'm not brown. Just a medium olive. I've got my stereo types to deal with - that I'm quiet, that I'm smart, I should have an accent - whatever prejudgments people make.

    So I've been thinking about these issues A LOT. For like, 40 years.

    I recognize that people are more comfortable with their own. Animals have an instinct to detect danger. But as human animals, we are capable to getting past our instincts. Most people just. don't. think. So white women with frosted hair and lace collared dresses scare me. Heh.

    And. I grew up in rural PA where it is 99.7% white, mostly of German and British descent. You will not believe how many out-of-wedlock, welfared, baby-popping, hollering white girls there are buying cheetos and soda at the grocery line. So where did the stereotype come from??

  7. Oh and that blogger says she was being satirical and apologizes. We can't be cynical and not believe her because she's a southern, suburban, white mom.

    I know someone who knows her so I just want to tell her the satire misses because there are so many people who actually think that way.

    I can give her so many examples of what people have said to my face, like:
    "Do they have bathrooms in your country?"

    "Are you a war bride?" (Umm, you mean the war that ended in 1955?)

    "You speak English so well!" (Yeah, I had to, to get into the Ivy League university I attended.)

    "Are you built sideways?"

  8. White woman here. The other white woman who blogged about 'gang daddies' or whatever is an idiot. Clearly.
    I have no idea how her obviously-racist-by-her-own-words-even-though-she-can't-see-it-self's blog post relates to one about a mama of a brown kid assuming the thoughts of others. Those white ladies at her playground might be racists idiots as well. Until they say something or act, how do we know? Is it best to assume that they are racist and go from there, or for everyfrickingbody to give everybody else the benefit of the doubt until they by their own words/actions other than staring.
    Hell, maybe they're just idiots that didn't like you cause they thought you pushed your kid too high or didn't like your shoes.
    Or maybe they didn't not like you.
    Maybe they just had sun in their eyes making them look nasty.
    Who knows?
    Also, Inspire All said, "It is said that the first impression of most families of color by other races not just whites is disfunction, uneducated, and fear." 'It is said'? Who said this? This is not a statistic; not a fact. Was it just another ignorant person who wants to prejudge what 'other races' think? Lots of things are said that are just guessing and that doesn't help anybody.
    Personally, I see another race and I just note they are another race and got their own stuff going on and are doing just fine. I know nothing about them. Oh, but I often look. It might seem like staring. (I get embarrassed when I seem that way to somebody; it's a personal oversight, not a flaw of character, not that I'm judging somebody.) I stare cause I'm interested in all sorts of people and cultures different from my own, as well as ones 'like' my own. I yearn for that, and without meaning to might end up looking impolite. I wish I knew a whole lot more different people than I do. Wish we all did. Maybe then we'd all not jump to quick judgment of one another so fast. Just a hope.

  9. The swing's definitely loads of fun and it's great to see your little one so happy, particularly when it gives you so much joy too - very sad therefore that people can be so prejudiced about color when we all share this earth together and should live in harmony - just hold on to that joy you have and live life!

    @first4childcare - Surrey Nurseries


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