by the way

Jun. 28th, 2010 05:00 pm
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We were at McDonald's yesterday and Casper got a Happy Meal Katara, from the film they are now calling The Last Airbender. She noted that the Katara looked all wrong, not like Katara is supposed to look, including, "her skin is supposed to be more brownish." It was me who pointed out the sadly missing hair loopies.

Sadly, though, while Casper gets a House Point for Noticing Whitewashing, Dillo gets -10 points for Gender Fail. Because he pitched a fit at getting a Katara too, wanting an Aang, and said she was a "stupid girl," and mr. flea had to go exchange his Katara for a stuffed Momo (their under-3 toy).
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John Hope Franklin died today. I'd never heard of him until I came to Duke and helped him at the Reference desk. I looked up a book in our online catalog and directed him to the stacks, and, assuming him to be a community patron (he was then near 90) I asked if he needed help finding the right call number. He gently told me he thought he could handle it. As he walked off my coworker came over ans asked if I knew who that was.

Interestingly, in the tributes to him "gentle" is a recurring word, though he also was forthright in speaking out about his experiences with racism, as in when he was taken for a coat check clerk at a dinner after receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 1995.

If you've never heard of him until now, take a minute to learn at the web site duke has set up:
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Casper got her first Barbie yesterday (choosing that over Hannah Montana jibbetz for her knock-off crocs), courtesy of Grandma. She chose a black Barbie. Now, the Barbie is Halle Berry black, not Alek Wek black - I can't tell if she's got the same face mold as white Barbie (not having any other Barbie to compare) but her features are pretty caucasoid, her skin is coppery, and she has waist-length straight hair. (Also, she's got ACTUAL FEET, and much less boobage than I remember on the Barbies of my childhood, which I gather are brand-wide changes.)

Casper also got to choose her own doll in January or so, when mr. flea accidentally broke one of her little dolls, and she picked a new Polly Pocket. Interestingly, she also chose the black Polly Pocket.

I bought myself a black Sasha doll when I was 11 or 12, but I think I was already enough aware of race at that time to be all White Liberal Girl about buying myself a black doll. Casper's too young for that, I'm pretty sure. Anyway, I'm fascinated that twice in a row now she's chosen the black doll.

What about you? Multi-ethnic doll collection?
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1. I am reading Barack Obama's Dreams From My Father. Right now I'm in the section where he's learning to become a community organizer in Chicago.
2. I went to Casper's school last week.
3. The current iteration of RaceFail 2009.
4. I picked up a book called Other People's Children, by Lisa Delpit - based on a reference to it in a comment thread on Ta-Nehisi Coates' blog discussing Black English (Coates' and Michael Steele's). It was first published in 1995 (there is an updated 2006 edition but our library's copy is lost) and contains essays mostly written in the late 1980s. The author is an African American woman (about my mother's age I think) who has been a teacher and a professor at teaching colleges. She won a MacArthur in 1990 and is generally hot shit, academically. Her main topic (I am only 1/3 of the way into it) is that many poor and/or minority children (she focusses on black inner city children and Native peoples in Alaska, since those are the populations she has worked with) have a fundamental cultural difference from the culture of school (which is shaped as a middle-class, largely white culture) and talks about how this results in communication gaps, well-meaning but wrong-headed application of teaching methods that assume the children are coming from white middle class cultures, and general fail. She also isn't afraid to talk about cultural power. It's a bit dated contextually (think late 80s, multiculturalism and diversity wars) but as the reviews on Amazon point out, still very relevant.

So, so, relevant to RaceFail 2009 - really basic lessons about culture clash, well-meaning and intelligent people not respecting other cultures *even when they think they are trying to*, and talking past each other.

So, so, relevant to my thoughts about Casper's school and some of the stereotyping I am doing and did in my post about her school, even though I was worrying about some of the exact same labeling *I myself was actually doing*.

It's so, so hard and complicated to deal with cultural diversity - respecting cultures that are not my own while at the same knowing that my culture is the culture of success in our society. I am 36 and have had diverse (but not diverse enough) life experiences and I am completely at sea in dealing with the issues of poor and minority families in my kids' school. I can't imagine being the 23 year old kindergarten teacher trying to suss this all out.

One thing I do know is, someone needs to get the black and latino parents involved in having ownership and a voice in the school. Right now the PTA is basically all white, and the teachers are 95% white, and they are pretty much all middle class. And that's not a great power dynamic. But how can we fix it? How could we possibly work together? Assuming one could get the minority parents to even join the PTA.

So, so hard.
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Research studies on unconscious racial prejudice, and why being "colorblind" makes you more racist rather than less.
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What do you do about classics of children's literature that have, sometimes just incidentally, things that are racist, sexist, etc.? So far we've had to deal with this in Peter Pan (the book), which has disgustingly, to modern ears, "Ugh-How!" dialogue from the Indians. Looking ahead I see all kinds of pitfalls - "The only good Indian is a dead Indian" in the Little House books, Tintin in blackface, similar racist issues in Asterix, never mind the subtler but still problematic areas of race and class and gender in a lot of pre-1960s kids books.

Books that are both bad and racist tend no longer to be in print or available at libraries, but classics that have genuine good qualities are much tougher. Do you explain about history and people's ideas changing, and how much of that can a 5 year old take in? Assume they'll get the message from other sources in society and just let the book exist in its own universe? Sadly banish certain books from the reading list? I tried to on-the-fly tone down some of the Indian dialogue in Peter Pan (which caught me off-guard; I had either forgotten it was in the book as well as the Disney movie, or never read the book).

I mean, do I need to be worrying about class and the Sowerbys when I read Casper my beloved The Secret Garden?

What childrens' books can you think of that you love, but whose treatment of these issues doesn't stand up to scrutiny? Ideas for how to handle this?
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Last night Casper and I were watching American Idol when a Barack Obama commercial came on. She watched and the said aloud, "Barack Obama." I said, "He's running for president." She said, "But he's BROWN!" I replied something like, "Yes, so he is." Then a beat while I tried to think of something more affirming to say, and I came out with, "Daddy and I like his ideas and are thinking about voting for him."

I swear, if the kid would ask me about how babies are made, I would be just fine, but nooooo, it's got to be race and gender and class and stuff. I tried to respond to "But he's BROWN!" with the same neutral "there are all kinds of people" tone I use when she says things like, "That man is SO HAIRY!" or "Why does he have woman hair?"

I just feel so unprepared for parenthood sometimes.


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