In 2005, my husband and I took a trip to Tanzania. It was primarily to attend the wedding of one of his best friends and since we were half way around the world we decided to explore a part of the world we had never experienced before and booked a tour through Northern Tanzania and a safari as well. And while being 10 feet away from mating lions was indeed a highlight of the trip (ask me for the pics some other time), the experience that stood out the most for me was our friend's wedding.
It was the most amazing, joyous, vibrant ceremony of love that I have ever attended. It was also the first time that my husband (a first generation Chinese-Canadian) and I had to deal with questions about our inter-racial relationship. For the most part the questions were not offensive, just more curious and mostly from the younger crowd. How did we deal with people not approving of our being together? Do we hold hands and/or kiss when out in public? What did our parents think of our union? In those moments and conversations, the bubble of our privileged lives in Canada was effectively POPPED! We heard stories of interracial couples being spit on in the streets of Johannesburg. Of them having to leave places at different times so as to not arouse suspicion. Of not being able to share with their families their happiness in finding love. It broke our hearts to hear these stories and all we could offer these young couples was our hope that someday this would not be the case for them.
That somehow racism would cease to exist.
That trip was almost 6 years ago.
I am trying not to give up hope.
I am trying not to let it get over-run by fear.
A fear that is on television, in the news and in our faces EVERY SINGLE DAY.
That fear that feeds itself and grows exponentially in the wake of every incident of horror or injustice in our society.
This past week the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case fed this voracious fear one hell of a hearty meal. And once again, my heart was broken and my head hurt from trying to understand how this could happen in our world. I can't and won't speak for the millions of women of colour whose own fears for their sons were confirmed on the day Trayvon was shot dead and again on the day his killer was acquitted of his death. I refer you to The Feminist Wire to read Christen Smith's open love note to her son and to Ebony.com to read Asha French's A Time for Tantrums and to Heather Greenwood-Davis's post over at Embrace the Chaos. To read their words and too know that no matter how hard you try, no matter how much you imagine yourself in their shoes, you will likely never know that kind of fear for your child.
What the Trayvon case has done for me is make me question the things I haven't talked to my kids about. Specifically the topics of race and racism. We haven't really talked about our Canadian (and their Chinese) history and how we all came to be where we are today. And we certainly haven't come remotely close to discussing oppression in the Americas.
One of the many wonderful feminists that I follow on twitter had this to say the other day:
What followed was a great discussion about how to start this conversation with kids and a few others joined in to give ideas and suggestions on age appropriate books and materials as well. This was one of the posts shared, with links to some great books as well. I also picked up "If the World Were a Village" yesterday at our local library to start these conversations in our house.
And while we often hear parents saying things like, "Oh, they are just kids, they don't see the differences in skin colour, they just see another friend to play with" or some variant of the rhetoric of "colour-blindness" in children, I think that we need to help our children recognize and appreciate the differences in all their friends. Everyone is unique and special and instead of pretending that these differences do not exist, we need to teach our children to understand those differences and to accept those differences in each other. Because like it or not, at a certain point, they do see them, especially if they are the different ones. I have already started to notice that far too often there are not a lot of girls in stories and books that look like my daughter. Dark haired, dark eyed, slightly darker skin tone. And what pains me a bit every time it happens is that she chooses the books (and toys) with the girls with long blond hair over the ones that look more like her. One of her favourite movies is Disney's Tangled, but do you think you can easily find a Rapunzel doll with her great (and much more practical) AFTER hair cut? No, you can not. It is up to me to make sure my children see themselves as valuable and beautiful and worthy of their own stories and adventures.
I am not even going to pretend to understand the levels of hate and racism that continue to exist in our world. All I can do is teach my children to love themselves for who they are and to accept and love others for who they are regardless of size, colour, gender or orientation. And I will continue to work hard, and be an example in my life and as a parent and guide in my children's lives, so that one day, love and hope will drown out the fear.
Have you discussed the Trayvon Martin case with your children? How do you address issues of racism in your house? Please share any books or ressources you may have. Thank you.
Please read this post from Mahogany Motherhood with more links to the parenting community's conversations and posts about racism. Please read them to help you understand their stories and Trayvon's tragic one too..