[When I am the only person wanting to] Talk about Race

September 14, 2014

in no manual for parenting

I’ve read the Millennials are the color-blind generation, and it’s always bothered me a bit. To be honest, I was hoping that I not be the person to break the bad news to my kids why this optimism is misplaced.

Millennials, as a whole, feel that colorblindness is something to strive toward, yet they believe in “celebrating diversity” within their “post-racial” generation. According to research compiled by MTV for a public affairs campaign to address bias, entitled “Look Different,” millennials believe they are more tolerant and diverse, profess a deeper commitment to equality and fairness, and are less afflicted with “different treatment” than previous generations. Latinpost.com

There really is no point to this post – like most of my posts here. Yet another LOL-oh-so-hilarious irony that’s so sharp it cuts. Let me rewind a bit.

Scene: Dinner table

Cast: My family of four. Me. Husband. The two boys.

The subject of homecoming dance came up, well, because we have a 16-year-old. My 11 year old on a lark asked, “Hey, dad, who did you go to homecoming with?”

I laughed. “He went with Auntie Phuong.”

“It’s not Auntie Mai Phuong that we see every Christmas. It’s Auntie Phuong whom you probably don’t remember.” Husb added.

My 11 year old who would have chosen the faction of Candor if we lived in the Divergent universe blurted out with a “gotcha” smirk, “So, you have a thing for Asian women.”

The air froze around me. Or was it instead getting hot? Everything around me simply paused. The voices were coming from far away. I was pulled away from the set but also immediately thrown back down to earth violently.

I sucked in my upper lip and my nostrils might have flared. With my eyes shut tight, I took a deep breath.

I think I am going to lose my shit. 

“So…” I decided that I could not let this slide. Isn’t it part of our job as liberal, feminist, culturally and politically conscientious moms to take full advantage of teaching moments such as this?

“So. You’re suggesting that Dad went out with me not because of anything special about me as a person, but because I am Asian first and foremost?”

I think I am losing this. Look at those blank stares. They, both of them, don’t get it.

16-year-old being the diplomat that he is [Thank you Model UN!] stepped in, trying to broker a peace treaty, “Mom. I think you’re overreacting.”

I was ashamed. What kind of sane mother ruins a great family dinner by reacting so vehemently to her child’s innocent remarks? I stepped away from the table with resignation.

“Liberal, feminist, culturally and politically conscientious mom lost her shit when child spouted an honest, possibly innocent, observation that unfortunately harkened back to unequal racial dynamics and power relations”

The easier route would have been to let it go. But we never take the easier route, do we? So I marched the three steps back to the table, going in for the second round.

“No. I am not overreacting. That’s what we’re told every time we call out racist statements or behaviors. Oh you’re overreacting. It’s just a joke. Don’t take it too seriously. You should learn to take a joke. No. Not any more.”

Again, bless his heart, my 16 year old came to his brother’s defense, “That’s not a racist thing to say. It’s just an attribute. It’s no different than saying someone has a preference…”

I stopped dead right there.

I don’t think I am cut out for this. Fuck all these theories, post-colonial, performative, race and ethnicity, feminist, blah blah blah, they are useless when it comes to parenting. Useless when it comes to parenting this generation of kids. 

This generation of suburban kids who were brought up to be “color blind” by TV programs, YouTube videos, and Tumblr memes and GIFs are ignorantly and blissfully blind to racism. They simply do not believe in racism. And by not believing in racism, they believe that racism does not exist.

It’s like reverse Tinker Bell.

“We don’t believe!” Kids to racism.

Racism, “I am getting weak. I am dying.”

Poof. Racism gone. Dead.

[Scene. Lights up. Back to reality]

They think that people like me who cannot let “race” go are the problem. “Why does everything have to be about race?”

Believe me. I wish I were oblivious too, kids.



Ian November 26, 2015 at 8:53 am

I just came across your site while googling Norman Rockwell’s Freedom from Want and wanted to let you know that I absolutely think you were overreacting. At least you’ve raised children who aren’t afraid to speak their mind or defend their own ideas.

alexandra October 30, 2014 at 9:28 am

Why is this just coming to my email box today?

Either way, I LOVED IT. Because I hear you, the hardest battles I fight are at home. With a husband who feels I overrreact, and with three boys who look to their male alpha for how to behave. This is why I fight harder…. to be heard and raise awareness.

Absence Alternatives November 5, 2014 at 12:34 am

Thank you! I feel relieved to know that I am not alone in this. xo

Keia September 15, 2014 at 2:54 am

Just an attribute? I’m not so sure of that.

I’m pretty sure you weren’t overacting! And if you were it was your job to do so. As a mom of a boy…much younger than yours, I thank you for not standing down. As we both know life lessons start at home.

Absence Alternatives September 15, 2014 at 6:40 am

Thank you! That’s what I thought: Life lessons. Oh they’re so hard to teach when it’s so close to home…

Naptimewriting September 15, 2014 at 12:22 am

Oh, mama.

Nothing is “just” an attribute. It’s all power. Fat and thin is power, tall and short is power, male and female is power. Mutable attributes of hair and clothes are statements. They are perhaps fair game, but even they belie power.

You’re right not to let it go. I know you’re not happy with *how* you did that, but you were right not to let it go. There’s a very good chance your boys will never be an Asian woman, and you get to tell them about one woman’s perspective on that.

Hang in there. They struck a chord. Find out together, as a family, why.

Naptimewriting´s last blog post…Open Tabs

Absence Alternatives September 15, 2014 at 6:39 am

Once again, you know exactly how I feel and know how to put them into words much better than I have. Thank you! I wrote this down to help myself think. And now that I’ve slept on it, I knew I’d taken all this all too personal and got myself into an irrational blind rage that was not productive at all. It did strike a chord and that’s why I didn’t handle it well.

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