It is with great and careful thought that I hit the Publish button today. Is this a topic that a white middle-class woman should be raising on her blog? I just read a book that really made me think about race in a way that I haven't in a long time and felt compelled to talk about it. And Mimi posted a great post on class recently and I thought why not.
I am white, my husband while of Greek heritage, is white. My girls are white. In our immediate families everyone is white. We have friends though of all different races and cultures and in fact my husband's four best friends, some going back to Kindergarten are all black. Three have wives that are white and one has a wife that is black. I remember when we first started dating and I was about to meet some of these friends, he told me right before we were about to meet, "you know they are black." I can't remember if I had any expectations then, perhaps I was expecting Greek friends? I don't think so though. Hubby was according to him, "the cool white guy" in the group.
We are all dear friends, all our children are friends and what is amazing is my girls have never commented on the fact that their friends have parents, grandparents and cousins of different colours. Over the years we have spent lots of time together including outings and traveling. I must say I am always shocked at the sideways glances our group causes, the look on people's faces trying to sort us out - who is with who, who do those children belong to. I have had on occasion found myself with one of these great friends alone somewhere. It is difficult to admit, but a black man with a white woman in Toronto still causes people to stare. Is it because he is so darn handsome or I am so cute? Maybe. Or maybe it is because we look different. I have had but a mere taste of it, how do these families do this all the time? I am quite sure they have all faced more intolerance than I will ever know. In terms of our friendship and stage in life, if you closed your eyes you would be hard-pressed to separate us from one another, all of us are university educated and comfortably middle-class and all are raising young families.
It is not a topic I have ever broached with any of them, to be honest we rarely talk about race. We talk about eating, sleeping, potty fun (or lack-there-of), bad words, school, and the many other topics that having small kids and life-long friendships raises. When we do talk about race it is usually something in the media that prompts us, I remember in fact many conversations about OJ Simpson. One of Hubby's friends felt he could have been framed and all the rest of us disagreed -strongly. We all talked openly about it and it didn't cause any real friction, but I wonder now how I would have reacted if I was black. Would I have felt differently about it all?
When we get together we make quite a mosaic. Two of the guys (twins) are of Barbadian heritage, one is Trinidadian and one is Jamaican. On my side of friends we have several interracial (why is there no better word?) families as well. Papoosie Girl's class has 20 students and I would say at least 15 different nationalities represented which makes her class look a little like a child-sized UN convention - I love that. She is in a Roman Catholic school and from my involvement in the school and working on the School Council I can attest that the school is multicultural in attitude as well and embraces all cultures. Our world is made up of many different people representing many different cultures and the girls have lived this way all their lives. When I was in elementary school (before Grade 6 when we moved) my class was nearly all white, very homogeneous. Then when we moved my world exploded and my class was extremely diverse. I so enjoyed learning about other cultures and became fascinated with several, nothing made me happier than getting invited over to someones house for a peek.
I now live in a city that has one of the highest density concentrations of Indo-Canadians in Canada. The largest Hindu temple in Canada is in my city and the city represents people of Punjabi, Gujarati, Tamil and Sindhi backgrounds. Nearly all of my neighbours are of Indian heritage and nearly all are first generation here in Canada. While we don't know all of our neighbours (and not many people do) there is one family we are close with and listening and learning about their struggles is eye-opening and humbling, suddenly my problems seem small.
This high concentration of Indo-Canadians does effect the make-up of the public school system in some neighbourhoods and my friend's son who is in Junior Kindergarten and is white, is the minority. His school is predominantly Indian and there are a handful of other nationalities. His school is vastly different from ours and they are less than a kilometre away. She is planning on switching him to the local Catholic school soon (they are Catholic and wanted him to go to Catholic school, but due to daycare he started in the public system) and wonders what he will think of the new environment.
Oh how I wish I knew where I wanted this discussion to go. The book I was referring to above touched on how we react to race when it hits close to home. The book is by Barbara Delinsky, Family Ties and while it is a work of fiction it hits a nerve. The story follows a white couple who give birth to a baby with distinctly black features. The husband's family is a pedigreed New England family that can trace its roots to the Mayflower, and he devotes his professional life to championing minorities, but he is blindsided by his daughter's color. He urges his wife, whose heritage is unknown, to start digging for answers. The book debates the way we define ourselves and explores the duplicity of political correctness and personal prejudice.* (*The author's own words about the book.)
While the book was a fairly light read, it did make me think and raised many scenarios in my head. How would I react to a baby who looks nothing like me or Hubby? A part of me thinks I would not be bothered at all, it is my baby and I would love it unconditionally. I also sometimes entertain the fantasy of adopting a baby. We have some distant friends who have adopted a little girl from China and it is something I must admit I think about sometimes. A baby born in your heart a friend of mine calls it. Would I love this baby the same, surely I would. My heart swells just thinking of saving a baby from a lifetime of despair and giving them a lifetime of love and security.
That said, I remember a post by Her Bad Mother a while back when WonderBaby had the chickenpox and she felt awful because she was embarrassed a bit by her daughter's blemished appearance, and she posted about how it made her feel. I am guilty as charged of the same thing. I like it when my girls are dressed well, hair tidy, and generally looking their cutest. I am not a fan of taking them out when they are less than that. I am not talking about playing outside or a trip to the park, but when we go out I take pride that they are looking good. Does that make me a bad person to want their hair to be combed? I really don't think so, but if superficial appearance matters what about skin colour?
By sheer coincidence I took out two great books out of the library for the girls, We All Sing with the Same Voice, is a vibrant picture book about race, and all kinds of families. It is so great! It is based on a song they sing on Sesame Street, but I had never heard of it. The message is, no matter what you look like, or where you live, we are all the same where it matters - at heart. I wish it was as simple as all this, really I do. The other book is The World came to my Place Today, and it is a story about a boy named George and his Grandpa and they take a trip around the world talking about how
he drinks orange juice from Spain, eats rice from China and sets sail for Africa in search of chocolate.
The map of the world, globe and photographs really make this book great, the kind I want to keep. The descriptions are brief enough that I can read it to both the girls as well. Both of these books are a wonderful reminder that the world is much bigger and more diverse than our own little family, school and neighbourhood. I am smart enough to realize that while we can indulge in our interests in learning about other cultures, their are people I know still facing many obstacles solely based on the colour of their skin or the religion they practice. People I know, people in my neighbourhood.
Does anyone else think about these issues? Are you consciously making sure your children are exposed to many cultures? Is it even possible where you live? I am grateful that this generation is so much more tolerant than even when I was in school. Hopefully we are still stepping in the right direction, despite the fact that many other countries seem to operate on an agenda based on fear and intolerance. I want my girls to understand that people really are just people. We all want the same things, to learn, to be loved, to be understood, to have enough to live happy healthy lives.
I wonder sometimes about this little pocket of the blogosphere I have come to call home. We are fairly similar in terms of place in life, mostly all Mom's with small children, but are we really different culturally? Does it matter?
Lots of food for thought this Monday. Let me know what you think if you have the time, I am curious what my smart, kind, bloggy friends think about all this.