It was fun, I guess. We did all kinds of art projects together and cool stuff like learning how to sew and make sun tea and somewhere in there, there was the obligatory “how to tie a knot” exercises. I remember going to a dude ranch and riding an ornery horse and eating some kind of campfire stew made with canned tomatoes and beans and water that had way too many onions and not enough salt. And in my then-12-year-old world, you just couldn’t beat earning enough pins to make the sash all heavy and stuff.
Good times, Girl Scouts.
Until that one afternoon my cousin and I dared ride my bike on Pennsylvania Avenue. It was only one block away from my childhood home, but it might as well have been Mars in my neighborhood, where black families had only begun to dot the lily-white streets of this mostly blue-collar, working class community. There were streets you walked down if you were black and many others you didn’t—those were the (unwritten) rules, and those of us who lived there just kinda went with it.
My cousin? She was from South Carolina. And a rule breaker. And since she was driving and I was riding, we found ourselves on Pennsylvania Ave., cruising past my Girl Scouts Troop leader’s house. Her daughter—a fellow scout—was having a party with a bunch of girls sprawled all over her front lawn. We’d barely gotten past the yard when the troop leader’s daughter hurled her greeting.
Nigger want a watermelon?
Stunned, scared, hurt and betrayed, I was rendered mute. But my cousin, who had no blind allegiance to those girls and whose mouth was bigger than the Long Island Sound, had no problem saying a few choice words back—nasty enough to get the fellow scout and all of her friends to chase us all the way down the street. All the way off Pennsylvania Avenue.
I never stepped foot back on that block again. And I never went back to Girl Scouts, either, for obvious reasons. And at age 12, I swore that no daughter of mine would ever be a Girl Scout or find herself in a situation where she was The Only and The Others could jump her or verbally abuse her or make her feel unwelcome or a combo of the three.
Of course, my 12-year-old pronouncement is smacking against my very real world mom experiences, which, if I’m worth my mom salt, must include letting my babies pursue their passions and experience the beauty of trying something new.
Thing is, letting my babies be The Only in a room full of The Other is not easy for me. It happens, no doubt; though we seek diversity in most everything we do with our children, the way we live and the circles in which we move and the experiences we have sometimes wind up being as homogenous as a carton of 2%. My daughters can handle themselves in such situations; it’s not a thing for them to be The Only—it doesn’t change who they are in any way or make them feel lesser or want to be something other than the beautiful brown girls that they are.
But it’s not my girls I’m worried about...
To read the rest of my commentary on how I struggle with balancing my daughters' pursuit of fun with the ugliness of homogenous kid programming, check out the MyBrownBaby page HERE on Parenting.com's The Parenting Post.