Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Race Matters

Jerry and I are still finding our footing in the new area. A week or so ago, while at the mall, we asked a group of adolescents if they knew of a Bank of America ATM nearby. “Don’t you mean ‘Bank of China,’” quipped one of the teens. I felt speechless at the time, but Jerry gave a mild reprisal: “Hey, be serious, please.” A different bystander behind us then stepped forward to offer directions, and we soon left. Later that night, I brought up the subject. “That girl was probably just trying to look cool in front of her friends; I’m sure she didn’t mean anything personal against you.”

“But I felt made fun of,” Jerry pointed out. I realized I was apologizing for inappropriate behavior, trying to minimize it rather than acknowledging what it really was—a form of racism. As part of a privileged race, I am still not quite sure sometimes how to admit that I have advantages to which I have so long been oblivious, but nonetheless enjoyed. I know a lot of Caucasians do not feel privileged, especially those in lower economic classes. But here is what I am talking about. Some experiences on this list have become apparent to me since marrying my sweet Asian husby. For example, I never knew how lucky I was to be able to go to any hair stylist and trust that she would be equipped to handle my locks. Jerry, on the other hand, has the minor inconvenience of having to search carefully for a new barber each time we move, enduring bad haircuts during the interim, until finally finding that rare American stylist who knows how to effectively use scissors and a razor on thick, coarse, straight black Asian hair. Imagine how much more trying that experience must be for African-American women.

I have had other issues in life, of course. But race has not been one of them--and so there will be this part of my children that I may not understand. Handsome as Little is, he will probably come home from school one day saddened by the na├»ve classmates who tease him for the parts of him that are Chinese. I hope at that time I remember not to minimize his feelings, remember not to tell him something ridiculous like, “I am sure they didn’t mean it that way.” I am prepared now to validate his experience. Actually, now that I think about it, I do know what it is like to be teased because of my face. I had abnormally bad acne for awhile in elementary school and junior high. Kids were cruel. I still feel a twinge of pain for that girl I used to be, remembering her self-loathing.

It is common for minority races to feel ashamed of their faces at one time or another during childhood, but it helps if they can relate well with their parents over the issue. This is one reason inter-racial adoptions can be tricky. At least Little Tam can see that he has the eyes of his father, and be comforted by thinking, “if dad feels good about the way he looks, then so can I.”

And I can learn to cut the hair of my sweetheart and sons. Last week I cut Jerry's hair, when he decided it sounded like a better alternative than salon-searching yet again. "At least you will listen to what I tell you," he reasoned. So he talked me through the haircut, and it turned out fairly presentable. We did have to special-order a size 12 clipper guide from the Wahl website.

The "Before" picture. Jerry was pretty nervous, and actually offered a prayer before letting me touch his hair. At one point I was holding the baby in one arm, and wielding thinning shears in the other. Sounds like it really was miraculous everything turned out okay...
Here is the "after" shot. Gels up nicely. Room for improvement, but we feel good for now.


Gisela-David said...

I can't say our experiences have been the same as yours and Jerry's, but I know how it's like to be singled out sometimes. Although Hyrum looks a lot like his dad, I know there will be the day when he comes home crying because he got picked on. There's also the flip side, were a lot of family members, friends and even strangers will ask me if he speaks Spanish and if I teach it too him. Even when I say yes, people can become very defensive. I just keep praying for patience and knowing what to say.

Brianne said...

It's sad that there are still racist people in America. I hope Little won't have too many people judging him by his heritage. Kids do have a way of picking people apart for the smallest differences though. I'm just hoping that I can teach my children not to behave that way and to see the whole person.

The hair cut looks great though! I'm impressed.

Natalie Pyles said...

Hi guys! oh that's so cool. We lived in Wheeling WV for 18 months. We were just right across the border from Ohio.

Allison said...

Thanks for writing that. I don't consider such things near enough in my privileged ignorance. I hope I can remember. Also, I can tell that you are and will continue to be a great mom.

Becca said...

I am so sorry that there are still people like this out there.

On the haircute though- YOu did a AWESOME job! When I do Mike's he just gets it buzzed. That is why every other time he gets to go get it done by a professional.

Valerie said...

Jerry's haircut looks excellent --I'm quite impressed! Sorry about the racial cut.

Melody said...

I can't believe people are still like that? And especially in this "politically correct" world we've evolved into. Yeah, all my neighbors are black and sometimes they are still prejudiced against when they leave this area even though there are tons of blacks in the city. Then of course there is me and I don't have to have anything said to me. I just stick out like a sore thumb here in Miami.

Joel & Megan said...

Hi Courtney-
This is Megan W., from the 44th ward. I found your blog from the Agles blog site. Little is absolutely Adorable. I have to admit that I was Astonished and repulsed by the comment of that teen. I know very well that we have a long way to go for equality and unity. I am grateful for the laws in this country that try hard to establish equality, but we still have quiet a battle to fight. I just can't believe that no one had taught that teen proper manners, or at least as it looks she was not taught. I hope that our children are taught to be more respectful and loving of others.

P.S. LOVE LOVE LOVE the haircut! You did a great job!

momps said...

It is so hearbreaking that Jerry had to experince such blatant disregard from a thoughtless and ignorant stranger.I have found that people who try to belittle and/or hurt others because they are different from them are often driven by fear and feelings of worthlessness. It's just sad that we live in a world that doesn't embrase diversity but shuns it, because we all have a little something to offer the world, no matter who we are or where we come from.
I am brasing myself for all the things my kids will come to me about, but in the mean time, i try to teach them to accept themselves for who they are and always remember that a very perfect Heavenly Father made them that way for a very special reason.
Hold your head up high, Jerry;)