Monday, July 29, 2013

"Would you go along with someone like me"

My new freelance job required a quick trip to "a school in Boston," to stand in front of a (very nice) lady with a printer for two minutes, and then turn around and make the 1.5 hour trip back home.  Highlights: the Providence bus station sells coffee milk (Boston does not).  The nice lady who gave me directions in Boston said "Bang a left at the Au Bon Pain."  New England in a nutshell.

I haven't spent much time in Boston in some twenty years.  When I did, we didn't have cell phones, or any type of computing devices.  The T required tokens, but if I was lucky sometimes I got a french centime in my drawer at work and I could use that.  T drivers made incomprehensible announcements, and "CAWP LEE STATION" barely broke through the background noise.  We drank a lot, Guiness or Sam Adams when we were fancy, and forties of Miller when we weren't.  We made tofu pot pies and pasta with prego.  One night I was in the Stop & Shop buying dollar frozen pizzas late after I finished a night shift, and I saw the cops nab a guy who was smuggling meat out under his parka.  There were Vietnamese restaurants where you could still smoke, and we would eat cheap food we didn't understand, and drink strong sweet little coffees, and smoke for hours.

I had a job in Cambridge that started at 5:00am.  I'd spend a dollar at the Dunkin Donuts in Allston and get a coffee, a donut, and a Globe, then I'd sit on the curb and wait for the bus.  Sometimes an obese raccoon would waddle across the street while I waited.  There was a bar on the other side of the street, and every morning at 4:45am two old guys would come and unlock the door and go inside.  I never found out why.

[There was more to this post, but I started going to a bad place musing about young women and feminism in the early 90s and the first job that I knew I got because I'm white.  I think that will all have to wait for another day.]

For years after that Stop & Shop incident, this song would get stuck in my head every time I went shopping.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Awkward Conversations with Toddlers about Race: Hanna Anderson Edition

After my recent posts about white kids and race, LB decided to give me some additional content.

Imagine the scene: two white ladies relaxing with microbrews (LB doesn't partake, but she does run over with her sippy cup and yell "CHEERS"), listening to The Clash, and reading the new Hanna Anderson catalog.

Eventually LB decided she wanted to see the catalog and immediately pointed to one little girl:

LB: "That Amy! That Amy!" (not her real name).
Mary: "No, that's not Amy."
Mary: "That little girl has brown skin like Amy, and curly brown hair like Amy.  Does she look like Amy?"
LB: "AMY!"
Mary: "She's not Amy, but she has brown skin and brown hair like Amy."  "Is Amy your friend?"
LB: "Amy fwiend!  Amy nice! Elmo fwiend!  Kittycat fwiend!"
Mary: "Who does that look like (pointing to a redhead)?  Who looks like you?"

When LB fixated on one little (brown) girl in the catalog and compared her to another little girl she knows in real life (who does have a similar skin tone and hair color), B and looked at each other and it was awkward.  If you are a reasonably sensible white adult, you know that "Hey [insert name of person of color], you look just like [this other person of color]" is right up there with "can I touch your hair" in the taxonomy of racial shit you shouldn't say.

Let me make a very smooth transition here with the announcement that I know nothing about teaching small children about race.  Yesterday, I also knew nothing about dealing with a dog who was on the losing end of an encounter with a skunk.  But I learned.  That learning was quite painful, involving multiple changes of clothing, sitting fully clothed in a full bathtub pouring diet coke over the head of a terrified dog, but I did it because my only other option was to live with a dog who smells like skunk.

If I won't talk to LB about race, race becomes the skunk dog in our living room, because no matter how much I would rather not deal, race is part of our world.  So, for the two-year-old set: people have different skin colors and hair colors, hair styles, and eye colors. Our friends have different skin colors. Our friends are nice. Repeat."

But, I have to say that in this whole learning process, that Hanna Anderson catalog really isn't doing us any favors.  I once spent a day in an archive sorting and cataloging all the cards sent to a prominent African American family in the 1950s congratulating them on the birth of their son.  There were hundreds of cards, and every single one had a white baby on it.  My young friends, that was what people used to call a "click." These were wealthy, powerful people who knew a lot about their own history, but every single card had a white baby.  So, things have changed in 60 or so years.  At least where I live, you can go to Target, or Hallmark, or Walgreens and buy a greeting card with a brown baby, or bride, or graduate.  But, Hanna Anderson isn't making my life as a white parent any easier by having a catalog that 85% white models.  And I guess you could say: oh it's a Scandinavian company, or is there something wrong with white kids-should our kids no longer be seen in public?, or even, last I checked there was still a white majority in this country-so the models just reflect reality.

I grew up in a place where almost everyone was white.  In my school pictures, there is usually a lone kid of color.  That's not LB's reality.  Her reality is one where kids come in lots of different colors, which was one of the reasons that it was so weird to us when she fixated on the fake Amy.  It's not wrong to see white kids in catalogs, or even lots of white kids in catalogs, but would it be so terrible if sometimes white kids were the one making the token appearance?  Someday, my friends.

LB rocking out to The Clash last year, when she was just a little girl.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

You've Come a Long Way Baby: Part 2

A year and some ago, LB was not quite walking, and then she was not quite talking.  I was hanging out in the space between mom of typical kid and mom of atypical kid.  A year later, LB is a walking talking machine.  Tonight she balanced on an upside down chair while saying (at our prompting of course) "Honey Badger don't care." We've come a long way, but LB is still on the edge of typical.  After a few weeks, LB's speech therapist ruled out receptive or expressive language disorders, and decided that LB is capable of speaking at a normal volume when she wants to.  After observing LB at daycare, she raised the idea of sensory issues.  Apparently at school, LB is sometimes happy to ignore the activity and do her own thing and she speaks very little compared to what we hear at home (no Honey Badger monologues for school).  Wait and see, wait and see.  Then there was the physical therapist evaluation.  LB can run, and she can walk up and down stairs, which is all good.  But we've noticed that she has a crazy little egg beater motion when she runs.  And it makes her so happy to swing her little legs as far away from her hips as she possibly can as she runs.  According to the PT, we are correct, and this issue has a name, genu valgum or knock knees.  Othro consult to follow (for freaking knock knees!).  At this point, it's not good or bad, it just is.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

2nd Generation Equally Shared Parenting

I know there's a book called Equally Shared Parenting, but I haven't read it.  That's partly because parenting books are one of the few that I just can't get into, and partly because it's just what we do and it feels natural.  Maybe for one subset of gay parents, of which we are a part, splitting parenting duties comes pretty easily, but I know plenty of gay couples who don't have an even split whether because of logistics or philosophy.

When my parents decided in the 1970s that they wanted to have a child, and they both wanted to be involved in the day-to-day parenting of that child, they felt like pioneers.  In retrospect, their work/life balance must have been rough.  My dad worked nights and weekends and my mom worked a traditional 5/week job.  But, from my perspective as a kid, they managed it really well.  I heard them complain about coworkers sometimes, but never about work--the kind that you do for money or the kind that you do for family.

While I was home I found this calender from when I was around LB's age that they marked to help me keep track of who I'd be spending time with on each day, S was the lady who lived across the street from us.

**By my rough estimate, I've written about 10,000 words this week, some more coherent than others, and honestly I feel completely fried.  I just had to tell that to the universe.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

White Kids and Race: NurtureShock and Civil Rights Music

Our house, this morning:

M: "Yeah, he's a white man."
B: "Really? He's a white man."
M: Basically, they're all white men."
LB: "White guy!  LB's a white man! LB's a white man.  C(r)oc shirt.  LB has c(r)oc shirt.  Kittycat lub you!  Elmo lub you!"
Dancing ensues.
End scene.

So, I'm trying to put together some resources related to my last post on white parents, white kids, and race.  This post talks about the book NurtureShock and some music of the Civil Rights Movement. I've also gotten some great suggestions for kids books that I will share later.

There are many conversations I don't look forward to having with my child.  If she could live in a world without death, guns, poverty, sexual violence, hatred of people of color, gay people, women, people with disabilities, that would be wonderful.  But we brought her into this world, and this world requires uncomfortable conversations.

Specifically for white parents teaching their white kids about race and racism, there are some web resources you can find by googling "raising anti-racist kids," and such.  I've not really looked at these site enough to have solid recommendations.  What I didn't see, were any handbooks on Amazon for white parents.  You would think there would be such a thing, someone should get writing.  One interesting resource is the chapter "See Baby Discriminate," in NurtureShock.  Review here at Salon.

The short version of the NurtureShock argument is that white parents are uncomfortable talking to their white kids about race, so they usually fallback on "we are all the same underneath," and encourage kids to be silent about race in order to keep them "color blind." However, the lesson white kids take away from growing up in a racially stratified society is that maybe white people are just better than people of other colors.  So, white kids need to learn about racism in order to have some response to racial structures that shape their worlds.

For a little girl like mine that means talking about skin color, and our friends who are all different colors.  It also means hearing that "Some people are mean to people who have brown skin.  That is not nice.  We should never be mean to someone because they look different than us."  For many white toddlers and preschoolers that is going to be a really random life lesson, one which may not make any sense to them."  But, our lives as parents are all about preparing our kids for future experiences before they encounter them.

We want our kids to know about guns and bad touches before they ever encounter such a thing.  Our kids will encounter race and racism.  We only help them by teaching them early the lessons we want them to carry through life.

You'll notice in the phrase above I said "are mean" rather than "were mean."  Both phrases are correct, but I think it's important to not only present racism as something historical.  Teasing out the differences of racism as it operates today, versus histories of slavery, lynching, and Jim Crow segregation is really challenging, a project for a lifetime.  Kids need to think about both what happened in the past and what happens today, of course, in an age appropriate way.

Some Resources:

I really like music as a teaching tool, and I think this anthology Sing for Freedom is a great way to talk about the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement.  It's mostly songs, with some short spoken word pieces.  It's music you can just enjoy that can eventually lead to conversation.  LB was stomping around to some of these songs this morning, and if she doesn't yet understand why people were "marching to freedom," at least it will be a familiar concept as she grows older.

I love this video of The Roots doing "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around," it does include some archival footage that might be scary to the younger and more sensitive set.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Raising White Kids While White

The death of Trayvon Martin has provoked a lot of public conversation about the lessons that Black parents teach their children.  Lessons about safety in a dangerous world, and the burdens of a culture structured by racism.  LB is 2.5 and still in the rainbow coalition stage of life, but I've spent a number of years teaching African American history, and having many related conversations with young people about race. Below is my primer (i.e. starting point) for talking to white kids about what race means for their lives, and the lives of their Black and Brown friends in the US.

Notes for my (white) daughter
  • Know our history.  The racial history of the United States belongs to all of us.  White kids need to know the long history of police brutality in Black communities, the history of racially disparate incarceration, and the history of racial stereotypes in American popular culture.  Without that history, you can't understand the dangers your Black friends face.  Without that history, a white parent is a lot more likely to get a call from a college dean and find out that a beloved white child was just found at a college party dressed in blackface (and Babydoll, I don't ever want to get a call like that about you.)
  • Stay out of trouble, think about yourself and think about others.  I know a lot of white girls who have run from the cops, and the worst result was a skinned knee and a stern talking to.  White kids need to understand that their Black friends may have a smaller margin of error when it comes to teenage rights of passage like smoking weed in the park, shoplifting, and pulling pranks. 
  • Know when to speak up. What will you say if your white friend makes a racial joke?  If your white friends say all people of color are "like this" or "like that." If you don't like these comments, respond.  Try some difference responses. Speaking up might not change minds, but put it out there in the universe, because you respect yourself, because you love other people.
  • And when to stand back. You may find yourself in situations when you're with Black friends where your well-intentioned intervention can make things worse.  The police likely don't want to hear your analysis of structural racism.  Know that there are situations where you need to stand back and be quiet because you can't fix it.  You can still be a witness.  Pay close attention to everything that happens.
  • Listen and learn.  It's hard to empathize with people if you don't know what their lives are about.  Listen to people tell you about their lives without defensiveness.
  • Know that you will make mistakes. I doubt that anyone in a racialized society like this one can go through life without offending someone of another race.  As a white person in our society, you will find yourself acting out the role you were born to play.  It will happen.  If you realize you've said something hurtful, done something because of some racist part of you that you didn't know was there, stop and think about what happened, think about what you would do differently.  Consider whether it's possible or appropriate to make amends.  Don't let guilt or embarrassment weigh you down, let it motivate you.
  • Understand affinity groups.  Sometimes your moms want to hang out with other gay people.  This doesn't mean that we hate straight people, but that as a minority it can be really comforting to spend time in a group of people who are like you. Sometimes your friends may want to hang out with people of the same race, that doesn't mean they don't like you, that doesn't mean you can't be friends.
  • Cross-cultural respect.  You know we're are pretty casual at our house.  Not everyone is like us.  When you meet your friends parents, ask them how they would like to be addressed, and follow their house rules.  When in doubt, say Mr. and Ms., keep your feet off the furniture, and don't take the Lord's Name in vain. 
  • Equal doesn't mean the same.  If your white friends say that Black people get special rights, that Black kids get into college over white kids, that it's okay to use the word n***** because Black people do, please come talk to me.  We can look at some data.  We can talk more about structural racism.
  • White privilege.  What does that mean in your life?  Historically that means that you and your family are still reaping the benefits of government programs that helped (mostly) white people: the GI Bill, and FHA loans.  Our family benefited from redlining and discriminatory college admissions policies.  Our home, our financial cushion, and your education are the direct result of this preferential treatment.  That's life in a racially structured society.  I'm not asking you to be consumed by guilt.  I'm not saying that our family hasn't worked hard.  I just want you to know that your success will be due to both your hard work and the extras our family got because we are white.
  • Love yourself, respect yourself.  Once you know all about structural racism, it can be hard to trust your instincts.  This is one of the hardest things about living in a society structured by race as a white person.  Trust your instincts, and know that they can be wrong.
  • Please don't be Abigail Fisher.  See above

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


I've landed some short-term contract work, and, as it turns out, 11 hours a day spent researching and writing really cuts into a lady's blogging time.  Things may be quiet around here for the duration.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Dispatches from Liberal Land

Maine: Yes on 1

I've been thinking a lot about my brothers and sisters in the non-marriage equality states, and I though I'd give a report from marriage equality land.  B and I have lived in Maryland and Rhode Island, and I've previously lived in Maine and Massachusetts, which is to say, I have my finger on the pulse.

After bitching to my favorite taxi driver about the fact that B and I can't file taxes together, the response: "Are you sure about that? It doesn't seem right.  I mean, you're married right?"

Upon complaining to LB's speech therapist on the Tuesday before the Supreme Court released the DOMA decision that we would have to pay tax on the full amount of any insurance benefits I got through B's plan: "Really?  When are they going to change that?"  My response: "Maybe in an hour."

Our neighborhood has been ablaze with discussion about the public activities of a local Southern Baptist congregation.  They are undertaking a church-planting mission here in Providence in order to "bring light to the darkness."  Someone posted a bunch of their informational materials to the listserve, which state that fewer than 2% of the population of Providence attend an Evangelical Christian service in any given week.  In our neighborhood, there are certainly lots of secular folks like us, but there's also a large population of Orthodox Jews and Catholics.  In any case, the church planters have a hard road ahead.

Listserv responses ranged from: "exclusionary religious groups should not be allowed to have gatherings in public spaces like parks (including the throwaway line 'wasn't DOMA just repealed'),"  to "don't we have a right not to be evangelized, and the church is too sly with their promotional materials," to a majority arguing that all have the right to say what they wish in public spaces, even if we don't like the message.

So what's next on agenda?  From
  • Build community among and empower LGBT people in rural Maine
  • Create a more inclusive, supportive, and affirming climate in Maine for LGBT, questioning and gender non-conforming youth
  • Ensure LGBT elders are safe, healthy, connected in the community, and free from discrimination
  • Ensure transgender and gender non-conforming people are safe, healthy and free from discrimination and bias
Read the full plan by clicking here.
Sounds good to me!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Back to Nature

A week in Maine with ocean, skinned knees, bug bites, kittycats.  The vibe is very "Ladies of the Canyon," with a Grandad added in.  It was cool and foggy and salty when we left this morning.  Now we are hot and sticky and digital.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

My First Feminist Book Review (1980)

This is my eight year old response to sexist attitudes and actions in one of the Bobbsey Twins books.  On our recent trip north, I was able to find this gem, some interesting books, and a bottle of Love's Baby Soft perfume that I received for Christmas sometime between 1984 and 1986, and which, miraculously, has not evaporated at all.  If I remember correctly, I felt incredibly cool to have that Love's Baby Soft, which was what all the popular girls wore, but it made me horribly allergic.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Dispatches from the Southern States

There as been a lot of talk since the DOMA decision about the gay inequality enshrined therein.  Personally, I find any gay-state guilt to be a wasted emotion.  The question for me: how do we help our friends and fellow travelers in non-marriage equality states?  We can donate money.  We can share information.  What else can we do?  (non-rhetorical question)

Luckily, the southerners seems to be doing it for themselves.  Last week, I posted a cool video from New Southerners on the Ground (SONG).  The people participating in the WE DO campaign of the Campaign for Southern Equality also seem to be redoubling their efforts to attempt to get marriage licenses, knowing that they will be rejected.  More info here.

Southern activists, I'm proud to know you!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

On an Independence Day

I woke up to the Declaration of Independence being read on NPR.  I am a cynical progressive lesbian feminist, but let me tell you, nothing gives me more confidence in the future of this country than sitting in a room with a bunch of smart young people, listening to them read, analyze, and discuss the founding documents of this country.  I wish it happened more often

Our Independence Day: frantic preparations to travel, Waylon, Dunkin' Donuts.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."