6.21.2007

Content of their character

Now that Tiger Woods is a dad, golf aficionados might wonder what princess Sam’s arrival might do to her old man’s game. Baby-boomers might wonder why the couple chose to name their daughter the tomboy-chic “Sam” instead of the time-tested “Samantha”. Others may wonder if Tiger’s wife Elin’s credentials as a former nanny means she’ll still need one of her own. But as a mom who’s doing her best to raise kids who take pride in their heritage, I’m wondering how the PGA champ plans to approach his daughter when it comes to the matter of race.

My query is far from unfounded. It’s no secret that Tiger Woods has a history of dodging phone calls from the NAACP requesting his support, of laughing off fried chicken jokes made by other golfers at his expense and publicly admitting to Oprah Winfrey that he’s not black or Asian, but ”Cablinasian”, meaning Caucasian, black, Indian and Asian, (despite the fact that neither of his parents were white). By this point, his publicists know better than to return phone calls asking the American Express spokesman to speak at Black History Month events.

Either way, I hope Tiger will prepare his daughter for the fact that despite however famous a person is or how wealthy they are, race still matters in America. I hope he’ll brace Sam Alexis for the fact that there may come a time when she hears a racially tainted joke uttered at the lunch table of whatever prestigious private school he and Elin choose to send her to. Or better yet, that there may come a time when she has an experience similar to my own, some twenty-odd years ago on the schoolyard:

"Come to me, blackie!"

I was mortified as I stood there in pigtails, watching Doug Cohn beckon me with his chubby little finger. My only comeback was to tell Lise Toplin, the safety guard (oooh, a big fifth grader!), who whinily told him to "Stop being mean."

Later, Doug ended up in my eleventh grade Sociology class. Regularly, as the teacher was explaining things like propaganda and the media. I felt Doug’s eyes on me. He wasn't waiting for the right time to ask me to shine his shoes, he clearly wanted more than that. By then there’d been plenty of time for new stereotypes about black females to plant themselves I his brain. It was the good thing that sociology class was at the end of the day. That way, if I felt the urge to run right home and take a shower, I could.

I think the best way to teach children about racism is to approach it in a similar manner to how one might begin talking to one’s child about other things that may (or may not) make a parent feel a little uncomfortable to discuss, like sex and death. Both topics are big issues, but also ones that will come up in a child's life whether we want them to or not. Like the birds and the bees, I think there are some things that kids should learn from their parents before they get misinformation from somewhere else.

Not unlike the facts of life, my husband and I take each of our daughter's questions about racism as they come. Then we try to break it down to a level she can relate to, given her age (five). A preschooler might want to know things like why MLK had to fight for freedom in the first place, but the answer doesn't need to be a lecture on the atrocities of slavery or a detailed account of lynchings in the Jim Crow south. That will come later. For now, we talk about how black people weren't allowed to eat in the same restaurants as white people or drink from the same fountains. How that would make a person feel (if they weren't white)? Is that fair? Preschoolers love to talk about what is and isn't fair, so at this point, discussing race has basically been a piece of cake.

We’re also careful not to dwell on the fact that in America, our ethnic group has been considered inferior, because we don't want them to become so self-conscious of others biases that it limits their ability, as evidenced by "The Stereotype Threat". Instead, we choose to focus less on racism and more on the accomplishments of African Americans and the aspects of our culture that have been written out of standard education. We know that racism will eventually rear its ugly head; we try our best to give them the ammunition to confront it head on when it does.

Yet people of color aren't the only ones who need to understand prejudice. White children should be taught about it too, so that by the time it comes up in school, they are sensitized to the issue, not dismissive of it. And like sex, if a child has reached 9 or 10 without ever asking about it, it's probably a good idea to go ahead and have "the big talk". At that age, a fifteen-minute history lesson should do the trick (I wish Doug's parent's had done that). The last thing a parent should want is to find out that their kid was off at college participating in a (insert favorite minority group here)"costume party". Much like catching one’s daughter on a commercial for "Girls Gone Wild", that would be proof that someone dropped the ball.

The toughest part is, most parents have the birds and the bees all figured out (or let’s hope so), but many adults, of all persuasions, are ignorant about the history of race in America and how it plays into our everyday lives...from where a person decides to sit in a doctor's waiting room, to the friends they choose, to who they elect for president. Knowing that racism will affect their children at some point in life (whether it's through white privilege or bearing the brunt of direct bigotry) should encourage any parent—including those who are famous golfers—to learn as much about it as they can. So when it’s finally time for “the big talk”, they’re prepared.

This essay is dedicated to the memory of my grandfather, the late William Howard May (June 17, 1911 — June 4, 2007), who taught me to be proud of who I am and took pride in the groundbreaking success of Tiger Woods as if he’d been a grandchild of his very own.


On Friday my posts also appear as an online column for Time Out New York Kids. Visit them at Time Out New York Kids for more city-specific parenting tips and diversions. The regular column is called Not the Nanny, which pretty much answers the crazy looks I sometimes receive when I'm out and about with my rosy-cheeked son.

36 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have news for you, race matters EVERYWHERE, not just "americ". Non-whites are far better off in "america" then any other country.Frankly, people who have mixed race kids are selfish. Frankly, I'm sick of hearing thw whining.

Anonymous said...

It's sad. It's selfish when people have bi-racial children. They have children that are mixed up. People today are too busy denying the reality that people are "tribal creatures" and they get idealistic and forget about what it will do to the children.

Mrs. J said...

Wow, I had no idea such neanderthals read my blog!

Maia said...

Whoa! So sorry that such total morons are leaving comments on your blog!

On a totally different note - great essay, and just wanted to express my condolences over the loss of your grandfather. I hope you and your family are well.

Sonia said...

Thanks commentators. Whoa, didn't know that I was so mixed up. Thanks for informing me. I'll be sure to pass that on to my kids.

Great essay Mrs. J. Gives me a lot to think about for my girls. I'm sorry about your grandfather.

Rachel said...

Wow, what an ignorant, hateful comment. Dear Anonymous, if anyone shouldn't be having children, it's people like you!

Thanks for that post. We haven't talked much about race yet. So far my daughter doesn't seem to notice race at all. We do read books, hang out with people of different races, etc. I think you're absolutely right that white parents need to talk about race with their kids, but too often they don't.

Mrs. J said...

maia, sonia - Thanks for the condolences. He was such a wonderful person. Now that I have kids of my own, I look forward to instilling the values he taught me in them.

maia - I lost your email - could you resend it? there's something going on in the area the weekend that I'd like to let you know about.

lori said...

Hey Mrs. J.

We are always on the same wavelength. I just wrote about this same topic on the Meltingpot. I love your Tiger Woods intro. I think Tiger and Elin should have come to the Loving Decision Conference to see why pretending race doesn't matter is a dangerous road to travel. Celebrating our heritage is the best thing to do to combat the negative effects of racism, I think.

Peace.

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BlackLiterature said...

sorry you had a crazy person visit for this post.

Moving on!

Tiger Woods' view on race has always astounded me. He was either extremely unprepared or has been insulated for way too long. His own parents may have had some issues that were passed on to him. Who knows. I know that I lost some respect for the kid we watched from the age of 12 or so afterwards. I still claim him, but I'm not so sure he would claim me. ;-) Then again, I have some white and native american back in the background. Maybe he would claim me?!?

You wrote a great post on how pareents can protect yet prepare their kids. I plan on keeping this one for when I have children.

BlackLiterature said...

Also, it is wonderfull that your grandfather was part of your life for so long and your children had their great grandfather. It is hard to lose an "elder statesmen" in ones fmily. I am sorry for your loss.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

I hope Tiger does prepare his daughter. If not mabye she will date Connor Cruise, Tom's adopted Black son. Tom, unlike Angelina Jolie and Steve Speilberg doesn't seem to get that his son is a different ethnicity and needs to know his culture.

Keith said...

Grandpa had a long, and what seems to be beautifully proud life. I hope that you can find comfort in knowing that.

As for Tiger, I wrote off that guy years ago. He will not have a meaningful conversation on race with his kid, if he has one at all. He'll tell Sam that she is a Cablinasiannannygolfer and he'll move on. Personally, I look forward to converations on race with my kid and the day that I hand him the Autobiography of Malcolm X., Black Boy, Black Like Me, and (a little later in life) Manchild in the Promised Land...

There are few people that are capable of having a real good, positive discussion on race with their children - even if they want to. Many people miss the mark and go with the "MLK wanted all of us to love each other" approach. How do we get parents to say the right thing?

Natasha said...

Hi Mrs. J-

We have been writing side-by-side about some of the same stuff lately (especially school). Your post made me think of our school superintendent's comment that "blue, green, purple, or polka-dotted, we treat all kids the same here." While relaying this to my husband over dinner (in what I thought was a quiet voice--those kids have super-hearing) the two oldest (ages 4 & 5) of my four multiracial kids started giggling, and then laughing so loud I stopped talking. "People aren't BLUE or GREEN or POLKA-DOTTED!" they shrieked, "Everybody is brown or tan!"

My preschool kids have better language to describe color and race than the administators at the schools here. Five of the six people in our family are multiracial, and we talk about race and ancestry and heritage as part of our everyday conversations. If only we could get all the other parents on board. It's all in what you talk about at home.

Aly Cat 121 said...

Hey love, sorry about Grandpa I'm sure he will be missed.

Yeah the Tiger Woods thing is a trip. I figure he'll do what his dad Earl did, nothing. Not to mention ol' Earl had some "real" black children from his "other" marriage but no one talks about that either. So sh*t why talk about race. Just tell ya kids "it doesn't matter" like the Rock says, and call it a day. Besides, since Earl is dead, there will be no reason to explain why "grandpa is so dark?"

Aly Cat 121 said...

ohh and for the record, Tiger Woods wife is a former MODEL, not nanny. *smirkin to self*

Christopher Chambers said...

His selective race-consciousness shows he's full of crap. But what do you expect--his daddy likely infused that in him, and frankly Eldrick Sr's choice of a wife illustrated the issue. A lot of black servicemen come back with wifes from Germany, Japan, Korea, the Phillipines. Whether it's post WWII or Post-Iraq, when you get 75% of these brothers behind closed doors, they tell you the same thing: these women know how to treat a man. These women can burn inthe kitchen and don't talk back. These women know how to make love (and the German women have the addedbonus of being blonde, blue-eyed and busty). In other words, black women...nah, they don't rate. This has happened in my own family, and perhaps I'm overstating, perhaps I'm being unfair. But this theme is present, trust me. And Tiger's reticence is more disgusting than these NFL and NBA stars. You can try to chalk that off to them being from the country or the hood and thus beholden to the white man for the well being of them and their extended families. But Tiger...he didn't grow up like that. My ambivalence about him is boundless--sort of the way I'd feel if I finally have a son and he wants me to teach hiom and he idolizes me...and he also wears a feather duster up his ass and wears clothes pins on his nipples in public.

Keep It Real said...

This discussion stream is very revealing of the deep level of racial psychosis that affects us all - a very unhealthy, yet real, state of mind. For those of us who have traveled abroad, we can't help but notice, I'm sure, how different minority groups behave in public as compared to here in the U.S. In America, those of us of African descent tend to be more race conscious in the way we speak, walk and interchange, suggesting a constant battle to assert one's self worth in the eyes of the larger society, whereas in other countries such affectations are not nearly as prevalent, if at all, suggesting higher levels of self awareness and knowledge of one's history.

Any other thoughts on this matter?

Christopher Chambers said...

Yeah Keep it Real--it's because we're here, with this history and these long standing social forces, not overseas. Often its apples and oranges, or apples and bulldozers, when you compare here to the millieu in other countries.

Mrs J--help me out here...

Keep It Real said...

I agree that we've had this ugly paradigm foisted upon us. When that happens, we do what all humans do: develop coping mechanisms. I think Tiger's reticence of making big of race is partly because he'd like to believe that he can remain above the obsessive fray and partly because he'd like to be judged solely on his merits as a pro golfer. This may reflect some degree of naivety, but I think we can appreciate where he's coming from.

Mrs. J said...

lori- Great points; thanks! I'm headed to that post right now. :)

blackliterature - Thank you for your condolences. I am so touched that you want to save this post for your kids! I do the same thing when I see things that I want to discuss with them later. :)

nyc/carribean - Poor connor cruise!;) I'll never forget his daddy's comment on Oprah "he's my SON, Oprah!" - as if Cruise thought blackness was something like a handicap he had to look past.

keith - Thanks. And you're right, many do have a hard time discussing it. As you can probably tell, Mr. J and I don't — our problem knowing what to share and when so they're not completely jaded by the time they reach middle school!

natasha - I applaud you, your decisions, your perspective and outlook on life. And your kids are hilarious! How hard was it not to laugh at that comment!?

alycat - Thanks, girl. Yeah, old boy has issues and the Rock just disappoints me to the point where I don't even think he's hot anymore. Okay, I still think he's hot...just wack...does that make sense? How bout he just stops talking? lol

CAC - It's an old school trend, indeed. Ambivalence for TW is a good word to sum up my feelings about him as well. Arrogant is another one!

Mrs. J said...

Keep it real - yes, it is an ugly paradigm, but a real one, nonetheless. If you're black in America, you can't just be American (well, I guess you can try, but folks will challenge it). In other countries, black people are allowed to just be German, or Belgian or English or whatever. It's different here and if you're of here there's that understanding.

In a way, I appreciate Tiger's choice to be seen just "as a golfer"...we should all have the right to let our talents and the like define our identity...but that's just not how it works in the States...I think that's what Christopher Chambers is saying. And if a black or black/biracial person is oblivious to that, they're going to get a wake up real quick. It's self delusional. That's why it's a problem.

That and the fact that TW seems to have no sense of sense of connection to his people (the black ones, anyway) or our experience.

Keep It Real said...

You both make good points. Thanks. This is a good blog.

Mrs. J said...

Thanks. :)

BronzeBuckaroo said...

Why I am only discovering you now I do not know. So many interesting articles here that I really don't know where to begin in placing a comment.

You definitely make some great thought provoking points to wake up a lazy mind.

Laura said...

My condolences to you and your family on the passing of your grandfather.

Mrs. J said...

bronzebuckaroo - Thanks so much! Your mind is far from lazy, my friend.:) Love your archival photos and celebration of under-represented, intellectual black males.

laura - I appreciate your condolences; thank you. :)

Teendoc said...

Sorry I missed this post. Great entry, as usual, Mrs. J. And my condolences as well on the loss of your grandfather.

Christopher Chambers said...

Have you moved yet? Are you coming through the Nation's Capital?

Miss Profe said...

Re: Elin - she is a former model, for Tommy Hilfiger, I believe, and a former nanny for a golf pro. Which is how she met Tiger - on the golf circuit.

I really enjoy your blog, Mrs. J.

Liz said...

This post is just further proof that you are an amazing woman. Very well said and my condolences about your grandfather.

Mrs. J said...

Thanks so much. :)

MotherHood said...

My friend's daughter's kindergarten class was learning about MLK and racism in America. It clearly had an impact on how she viewed her classmates that were African-American. That day she told her mom all about MLK and the class, and then asked her mother very seriously: "Mommy, did you know Sharon was black?" As if being black was a thing you couldn't see, a defining quality like being Jewish or an excellent singer. Before that moment I guess, it was a quality of her friend Sharon that she "didn't see." I brought my daughter (we're both white) to our local church celebration of Martin Luther King's life. She's four. I agree with this excellent blog entirely - and I'd like to be the one to teach her about race in America before someone else does, and she starts "seeing" those around her with prejudiced eyes.

kim said...

Hey there, Lady.

I never think about Woods' public stance on his ethnicity/race/culture. I like the guy, and I claim him, both as a remarkable young person, and a dynamic Black person.

Methinks he doesn't want to "be a model" for anything other than golf, and that he's not spiritually deficient, or mentally vacuous, about the way he "reads" when people eye him.

My husband was thinking of contacting him and offering to open our door to him, so concerned (seriously; bugged me out) was he that Woods might not be prepared for the onslaught of whispers, rumors and open scoffing and pointing of fingers, should the child resemble the wife's side of the family moreso than Woods'.

I told him not to worry, I'm sure the young man has it covered - he's got major love in his life. Besides, I told the hubby, I'll run into him at the dentist's or the market (can you see it...Woods strolling for diapers, or Isomil) and have a little chat, I'm sure.

Yeeeaaah, I'm living like that. (Not! But he has been known to take a leisurely bike ride in my neighborhood, so who knows?)

Anonymous said...

I just stumbled onto your blog today and have enjoyed reading your entries and the comments. I am a white mom with two adopted boys (one white and one biracial). They are still preschoolers, but we realize the importance of teaching them about racism now. It is very interesting to read different perspectives.
Marianna

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