Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My Answer to "An Honest Heartfelt Inquiry"

Last night, an anonymous commentator on this post wrote:

After reading this I must admit, I feel that I've for a long time been, well, ignorant. I am a European-American currently in a very committed relationship with an African-American man who was raised by a European-American family. I sometimes feel that I will unintentionally raise our future children as "white kids", and in turn hurt them. Do I not have enough understanding to properly raise my own children? I don't want to misguide them when they already will have enough odds stacked against them in this white supremest society. How does a European-American mother find out how to raise an African-American child? I admit my ignorance here, but this is an honest heartfelt inquiry.

Because I suspect that there are a number of readers who might be interested in my response, but who might not see it in the comments thread in which it appears, I have reprinted it here:

You probably know more than you think you do, Anonymous. In fact, one of the things I've learned in life is that you can't graft new information onto a closed mind. In other words, when I think I totally understand something, I am usually almost as likely to be close to clueless as if I was too oblivious to even ask the question. So your realization that there is much you had not considered is actually a wonderful place to begin. Read all the links at the top of my blogroll and then proceed forward.

I hang out with, ask for input from, and really listen to people of color. I read. I watch films (both documentary and feature-length). I go out of my way to attend plays and performances by African-Americans. And I have been for decades. Through this process, I have developed what sociologists call Black "reference points" (hooks onto which to put information gathered; codes for organizing life) to supplement the White reference points with which I was raised.

Keep in mind that there's no way you can "become" Black or erase your own background. My bi-racial daughter had to point out to me in a blinding flash of the obvious one day (after she grew up) that despite the African and African-American friends we had and despite the wide range of books and music and art and so on in our home related to the diaspora and despite my work, she believes that she grew up with White reference points. I was, frankly, somewhat disappointed that my best efforts had seemingly been for naught.

Then, she said something that helped: the gifted classes she was in had no other children of color in them, so most of her peers typically looked like me. And most importantly, those were the peers she spent the most time around, the ones she would be most socialized by, and the ones with whom she would be most pressured to fit in.

On the other hand, she may, in fact, have equated class with race. In other words, many of the African-Americans around which she was raised were very poor and even though we were poor during her childhood, as well, our reference points were pretty middle class. And she may have perceived that difference as racial.

Still, neither she nor I can possibly know for certain how she might be different had I raised her without all the exposure to "Blackness."

As you evolve into what I call a bi-cultural personna, various members of society (both Black and White) will put you through changes over the years for being with a Black man and for having bi-racial children. As difficult as this will sometimes be, it will also help more than you can imagine to give you the perspectives you may at this point lack.

It may also help you to read the book I've written and am currently posting on this blog a bit at a time (scroll down to the list of labels on the right and click on "Reduced to Equality"). The book uses my life as a construct to discuss race and so includes my experiences as the mother of a bi-racial child.

The bottom line? Plunge in, love your children when they come along, be open, and expose yourself and them to as much of the gamut of life as you can. And then trust the process. As an older woman who studies humans for a living and raised two children to adulthood -- one of which has a Black father -- I can tell you that, in my opinion, that's all any parent can do anyway.


Anonymous said...

Thank you. Thank you so very much. I feel as though I was waiting to exhale after writing that comment. After having my eyes opened to my own ignorance, it was nice to know that I wasn't blasted for it. I had already enjoyed the piece of your book that you had posted on here. I noticed an interesting similarity to myself. I was raised in a racist family in southern Louisiana. I, too, found it confusing that I was simply unable to wrap my head around the idea of color differences being anymore than a pigmentation issue. Without a doubt there were many struggles along the way for being the "odd one out" in my family. I know that your book will be so educational and especially interesting to myself. Thank you also thinking outside of the box.

Changeseeker said...

You're welcome. And thanks for your encouragement. I needed that. Thanks to input like yours, I'll be posting another few pages of the book every Friday from now on.

Social Offspring said...

Well, I guess we know what I'll be adding to my Friday's to-do list. :)

Changeseeker said...

Hey, Offspring. Let me know what you think about Reduced, okay?