Monday, September 21, 2009

Beloved

This morning, my daughter pranced out the door on her way to another day of second grade. She was pleased as peach with her self-selected outfit, her dark curly hair (inherited from her Kenyan father, kept "down" with a headband today), and the academic activities ahead (she loves school).

This afternoon, my daughter returned home and reported that she had had a "kinda bad" day: several kids in her predominantly white elementary school felt the liberty to tell my biracial daughter that her hair "looked like Frankenstein" and was "freaky." Another young student suggested that she should "do something about" her hair.

A few years ago when my son was in kindergarten, a classmate commented that he looked "bald" when he came to school with a fresh haircut. To this day, my son--now a fifth grader--has strong opinions about the length of his hair when he sits in the barber's chair (it cannot be too short).

I'm debating a letter to the editor in the local newspaper, reminding parents that the ways in which they voice their opinions at home about politics, people, and the state of the world directly impacts the kind of crap that their kids dump on my kids. Whaddyu think, too strong?

Anyway. For tonight's reading time before bed, I am printing out the following excerpt of Toni Morrison's Beloved (a beautiful but troubling book) for my kids to read: that wonderful sermon by Baby Suggs in the middle of a forest clearing. Perhaps someday the affirmation of bodies of color will no longer need to be a covert act of resistance but a common celebration of humanity.

"We flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don't love your eyes... No more do they love the skin on your back... And O my people they do not love your hands... Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face 'cause they don't love that either. You got to love it, you!"

"This is flesh I'm talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms I'm telling you... And the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than eyes or feet. More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart. For this is the prize."

(Morrison, Toni. Beloved. New York: Plume Books, 1988. 88-89.)

6 comments:

Tammy Bomboy said...

Oh Rachel, How eloquent you write! I feel your passion in every word. What children say to other children can affect them for throughout their lives. i still remember th girl in 6th grade who told me my clothes clashed...little did she know my parents had no extra money for clothes shopping for me and so I wore whatever they could manage to buy at Sears while they were paying for my Mom's chemotherapy. Anyway, we Adults (I speak for myself here) are no better and should watch our tongues "As little pictures have big ears" as my mom would say about what children should over hear. I am my daughter's biggest advocate so of course I would say yes write a letter to the editor!!! Will it help---probably not, but it would make you feel a whole lot better getting it off your chest. To be honest as a white person, I absolutely love & covet the braids of African American women & children...maybe that was what the kids were trying to say about your Baby Girl's hair, but clearly it came out all too wrong. It's a shame because now she'll never want to wear her hair down again to school.

Reboloke said...

Your children are both beautiful. It breaks my heart when I hear kids making mean comments about other people's looks like that, but about all you can do is keep reminding your kids that they're really beautiful and wonderful people, no matter what other kids say.

Not that long ago I found a song which kind of speaks to this issue that I thought you might like to listen to (and possibly share with your kids): http://listen.grooveshark.com/#/song/Ugly/7508801

Rodney Adam Lyde said...

If it were me and I wrote as well as you, I'd probably put off the letter to the newspaper until I wrote a letter/or a series a letters to my children reaffirming how wonderful, beautiful and perfect they are; while encouraging and rehearsing some authentic responses. Then I probably write a didactic kind of letter and publish the letters

RJ said...

I very much enjoy your blog and ache with you as a parent. My girls are now very grown - 33 and 30 - but I still recall the times they were riddiculed and mocked - or taunted. I think reboloke is right, however, there is a toughening that they need to cultivate and the best I could do was to reassure them both that they were beautiful and beloved.

Once, while my oldest daughter was not quite two, we were in Golden Gate Park in SF. She was attempting to climb up a steep jungle gym and I found myself moving to help her when I felt the hand of another on my shoulder. It was a woman of about 60 (I am close to that now) who said, "Wait... give her space. She's going to have to figure this out someday for herself. What's the worst that could happen? She would fall and cry.. and you comfort her?"

So... I waited.. and she didn't fall - then - and on and on it goes. Blessings to you and thank you for writing.

Karen said...

I miss you, Rachel!!! You are such a good, loving mother...Your kids are so blessed to have you...You feel the hurt that your children experience so intensely that, yes, I think that you should write a letter to your paper...your words may give comfort and support to another parent out there...and perhaps change a few minds in the process...

Nean said...

Rachel~

I barely know your children. I barely know you, but I cringe every time I hear stories like this ~ coupled with (often within 24 hours) a comment by someone somewhere about race issues being dead in our country.

I still remember the first time I met my best friend. She told me her name and without thinking, I said, "Is that an ethnic name?" Both she and my husband stared at me for a minute before it dawned on me that my new friend was Thai... and of course her name was also Thai.

I don't see people's ethnicity when I look at them. I see beautiful faces of God. I celebrate people's backgrounds and cultures, but to me, they are all people.

Remind your children everyday that they are made in God's image, and that is graceful and lovely. I love RJ's story and Rodney's suggestion. The best thing we can do for our children as parents is to counter those voices that tear them down, and teaching them how to respond in humility and understanding.

~Nean