Nate's finalization Nov. 2009

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Intention Vs. Perception

This is a topic I have been thinking a lot about lately. This is how it started. A good friend of mine from high school, whom I reconnected with via Facebook, has just started the adoption process of a girl from Ethiopia. I'll call him K. He is SO excited about the prospect of adoption, and shared this in a FB post, stating he was excited to have another little brown girl in his family. He is white, his wife is black, and his wife has a daughter from a previous relationship. His first wife was from S. America, and he has 2 biological children with her. So all 3 of his current children are quite a bit darker than his own pale skin. When I read his "brown girl" comment, I knew exactly what he meant, and could feel the love he infused in those words. Another friend I'll call R (also from HS), chastised him for labeling her brown, and said color shouldn't matter, we are all Humans. Hmmmmm..... I mostly agree with R, color DOESN'T matter, we all ARE human. But K was not "labeling" his new child-to-be. He was using a loving, descriptive word. We all infuse our language with descriptive words, don't we? I can't ever call my Jacob just Jacob. He is always my sweet Jacob, my precious Jacob, my little angel, etc. I had to respond with this:

I call my boys little brown boys from time to time. Color absolutely doesn't matter, that's why it is a term of endearment. When they ask why their skin is a different color than mine, I tell them God gave them an upgrage. heritage doesn't matter either, but I still refer to my child of russian descent as my little russian. And my redhead is always my little redhead. "labels" are what you make of them. We make very little of them in our multi-cultural family. Good luck getting your little brown girl, K!

To make R's comments clear, I'll state that he is black. I was not trying to offend him, just trying to show him how it was no one's INTENTION to "label" a child, just using a descriptive word for her. R commented back with:

Well coming from Casper I experienced some of the most harsh racism being that my family was pretty much the only African American family on the east side. Sitting in social studies and having the whole class stare at me when the term negro was said! My children are bi-cultural and I am instilling in them that we are all Gods children and color doesn't matter. I call them by their name!

First, that made me laugh. I rarely call my kids by just their names. It's a bad habit I have, but I like pet names. A lot of times it is some form of their name (Luke Skywalker, Lando Calrissian, and Darth Nater are a few of my faves, along with Dylan Bob). I'd wanted to comment back to R on this topic of intention vs. perception, but felt like having this conversation on K's fb page could get out of control, so I left it alone, and K ended the discussion with a very eloquent and succinct response. But this topic has been brewing in my head ever since. I'm sure as one of a handfull of black kids in our high school (no, he wasn't the only one as he stated, but there were probably only about a dozen), R felt ill at ease when stared at by an entire class when the term Negro was said. And I obviously can't speak to the level of racism he endured. It was my perception in high school that most of the black kids were pretty much popular and well liked, But I'm sure there were exceptions. However, I don't feel like a social studies class that turned to stare at him when the term Negro was used had the intent of racism. I think that by being the only black kid in that class, that was how he perceived it. Perhaps they were looking to him for some guidance on how to react to the word? was the word used as slander against him personally? or was the word used in a historically accurate sense, as this was social studies class. I think "labeling" the whole class racist does a disservice to everyone there. I find this topic interesting, because I want to understand my own kids better, and prepare them for the future when they are sitting in some history, social studies, or even english class, and the term Negro is used. How will they react? how will they perceive the reactions of those around them? will they take the opportunity to educate others on how they should feel about the word Negro? or will they slink in their chairs, and hold a grudge against those in that class for 18+ years? I want to teach them HISTORY!! The word Negro is nothing to be offended at, when used appropriately, and is historically accurate. There is another "N" word -a slang term, you all know which one- that is highly offensive. Unfortunately, the only people I hear using that word these days, are black people. How sad. But nevertheless, I want my kids to know these words, and how to respond to the use of these words appropriately. The biggest lesson I want to teach them is to not get offended, not only when the offense is not intended, but especially when offense IS intended. The whole kindergarten sticks-n-stones theory.

This applies to the use of the word Retarded as well. When used appropriately, I don't have much of a problem with it. Unfortunately, it is rarely used appropriately these days. If you are a medical professional, using the term in a medical context, fine. The Dictionary meaning of Retard is to make slow, or to delay. So if you are telling me how you are going to stick your pre-teen son in a box in order to retard his growth, I will laugh with you. If you say the new movie out is so retarded, I'm going to take a minute to educate you. Retarded does NOT mean stupid. So when I hear the term retarded used as slang, do I get offended? nope. I know it is not most people's intent to be offensive, it is just a word they use out of ignorance and habit. I just feel sorry for the person using it, and and ask them to use a different word.

I am not big on Political correctness, as evidenced by my reticense to use the term African American instead of black. I don't call myself Welsh american, I don't call Dylan Russian American, I didn't call Jacob Native American. I am just an American. Dylan is American, and I will refer to his heritage as Russian (yes, sometimes I call him my little Russian, but never as Russian American. His immediate birth family is Russian). Jacob was American, and referred to his heritage as 1/2 Blackfoot Indian tribe (his birthmother was Blackfoot Indian). Landon and Luke and Nate are just American. Their ancestors have been in this country a LONG time. I don't find it necessary to refer to their heritage. someday, maybe we'll get to trace their roots, and see what exactly their heritage is. for now, when decribing my one of my brown sons, I will continue to use a descriptive term for them, as I would for any of my other children.

This PC term of African American irritated a college friend of mine to no end. She was black, born in Africa, raised in England, and came to US for school. So she wasn't American at all. Did she consider herself African English? no, she was just English. How about my niece? she is American. She happens to have been born in Haiti. Her heritage is Haitian. Her immediate birth family is in Haiti. Her nationality is American. My little Luke had a very reddish tint to his skin when he was a baby, and had thick, straight black hair (he didn't start getting his curls until he was a year old). He did look a bit like he was from India for a while. But it cracked me up when people would say "what is his nationality?" I knew what they meant, but he is from the nation of America! so I would say he's American. When they would stutter and say "no, I mean, Um, uh... " I usually helped them out by saying he was black. I never got offended, but I did get amused quite frequently.

So any other thoughts? to me using the term brown, or black is a descriptive word, the same as saying someone has brown eyes, or red hair, or are short, or are sweet. It is not my INTENT to offend. Your perceptions will color your life, and ultimately you are in control of how you perceive the things people say, and how you react to them.

Wow, this is what happens when I let things stew for a while before getting them off my mind.

Here are some pictures of my beautiful little brown boys, and my beautiful little white boy.

1 comment:

Sara Rose said...

Thank you!! I need to read this! I think you said what we all need to hear and hope to teach our children! I too use nicknames or actually their last names for first name," Spencer's get in the car". They know that means all of them and not friends or cousins! Thanks again!

Luke the Belly Popper

Spread the Word to End the Word