Category Archives: Race & Racism

What My Kids are Learning from Michael Jackson

Before June 25th my kids never heard of Michael Jackson. And why would they? He hasn’t put out an album in years, and he’s been mostly out of the public view for their entire lives.

They didn’t hear about his death from me. While I was aware of it from close to the moment it was confirmed publicly (since I live on the Internet, pretty much), it wasn’t something I even thought to mention to them. But they heard about it at camp and seemed to pick up on the enormous public interest and media frenzy right away. They wanted to know who he was and why he was famous.

So I pulled up Thriller on YouTube (I thought they’d be scared, but they understood it was a “movie”). They had a hard time reconciling the Michael Jackson in the Thriller video with the current version of him. Belle kept asking why he looks like a woman now. Krystal was curious about the changing color of his skin and shape of his nose.

My kids are Asian, living in a mostly Caucasian world. Even at their tender ages they’ve been targets of kids pulling their eyes into slits to make themselves look like them (News Flash: When you pull your eyes into slits you just look like you pulled your eyes into slits – you do not look Asian in the slightest. Also, you look ridiculous. And racist). Krystal in particular has said more than once that she wishes she looked like me. When she says this, she means she wishes she were not Asian. “I don’t want to be Chinese and American. I just want to be American.” This makes me sad to hear, and I hurt for her. Obviously I think she is beautiful just the way she is. I happen to think she is physically beautiful, but she is also pretty gorgeous on the inside too. But kids never want to hear that and she has dismissed my praise as “Of course you think that, you’re my mom!”

And so when they see someone like Michael Jackson deliberately changing his looks so drastically, I cringe. I cannot speak to his claim that he had a skin lightening disease. I’m not a doctor and frankly it’s not really any of my business. Regardless, his features have been radically changed through plastic surgery, and he no longer looks like the same person he was in the 80’s. I wish he had been happy with his looks. I wish that for him, since I have to think he must have had a lot of self-hatred to make the changes he did, but I also wish it selfishly, for my kids. For my kids whose looks do not fit the “norm” and who already sometimes wish they looked different. Krystal and Belle have both said about MJ that “he should just be happy with how he looks”, and I’m glad they can say that. It’s the longer term message that might seep in when no one is looking that conerns me.

Jackie is her lucky number

On the way to camp this morning, Krystal wanted to know why people thought 7 was a lucky number.

This sparked quite the discussion on superstitions surrounding the numbers 7 and 13. I shared that when I played soccer in high school I wore number 13, and I considered it “lucky” for me, and I kind of liked having it be a number that that no one else liked. I also explained that oftentimes people choose for themselves a lucky number based on their birthdate, or another number they just liked for whatever reason.

“But we don’t know when I was born,” she whined. Technically, she’s right. She has a birthday, of course, but the day we celebrate could be the anniversary of the day she was born, or it could be a day or two on either side. We’ll probably never know.

“You wore number 8 in baseball this year,” I reminded her.

“What number did I wear for soccer again?” she wanted to know.

“Number 42. Do you remember who wore that number?” When her soccer coach handed out her number last fall he made a point of saying he would call her Jackie, after Jackie Robinson.

Krystal is very interested in history, and we have read books about Rosa Parks, Abraham Lincoln and Harriet Tubman. We’ve also talked about racism, how it’s depicted in the stories we’ve read, as well as the tip of the iceberg she has experienced herself.

I reminded her who Jackie Robinson was, and why he was famous. In the purity of a child, she said, “It’s not right to decide if someone can play baseball if they are brown. If they can play, they can play! It shouldn’t matter!” And of course, she’s right.

“Number 42 is going to be my lucky number. Because I want to make sure no one has to do the racism like Jackie did,” she declared.

I swear, sometimes my heart just wants to burst.


I may be one of the last people in the country to see the movie Juno, but I finally saw it last night. My mother had told me how much she loved it, as well as my closest friend (who I feel compelled to add is both an adoptee and an adoptive mother). I had also read mini-reviews by a few others in the blogosphere who called out its appalling treatment of birth mothers, and so I went in with my antennae up on that.

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, many of my comments below may not make sense, and will contain spoilers. Read at your own peril.

First, I didn’t hate the movie. There were some things I even liked (I love “Arrested Development”, so just seeing two of those characters was a huge treat).

But. I HATED that Juno never even considered raising her baby herself. While no parent would want to hear that their 16 year old daughter was pregnant, they were good and supportive parents overall – they could have (and to my mind, should have) offered help and support to her to raise this baby. The movie does explore abortion, which Juno first considers and then decides against. As a staunch pro-choice advocate, I was pleased at the matter-of-fact way this was handled. But the automatic next option for her was adoption, with no apparent consideration for parenting. In the 21st century, I’m not sure how realistic this is, and I think the movie loses some credibility, as well as an important dimension, by not at least addressing it. From a family support standpoint, Juno’s step-mother and best friend accompanied her to her ultrasound appointment which to me underscored her family support – her stepmother held her hand and laughed with her in amazement at the images on the screen. She also dressed down the ultrasound tech who made a very inappropriate comment when she learned Juno was choosing to relinquish.

And Vanessa, an uptight divorced woman with no apparent job, is going to be a better mother than Juno?? To her own baby?? I don’t know…

Most of what I’ve read about this movie seem to paint it as pro-choice/pro-life, depending on your politics, with the adoption stuff completely ignored. To me it painted birthmothers very widely with a brush most of the world would LIKE to see – as incubators for perfect little babies for someone else.

Several other posters have commented on the racism exhibited in the film – the protester at the abortion clinic is Asian and is presented in a dorky way, the ultrasound tech is evil and Juno makes a disparaging comment about Chinese adoptions. I don’t feel qualified to address the first two, but I’d like to add my take on the Chinese adoption comment, especially because I have adopted two Chinese children myself. I did not see Juno’s comments as racist, or anti-adoption, but a flippant reflection/obvious exaggeration of what a contemporary teenager probably thinks about Chinese adoption. It was said in such a way as to be patently untrue. C’mon, shooting babies out of T-shirt cannons at sporting events? I honestly have a hard time being offended by something intended to be outrageous.

I was disturbed that Bleeker, the baby’s father, chose not to see the baby, and that this was presented as a good thing, and that Juno and Bleeker quite literally returned to “normal” life after the birth and adoption of their son. How many birth mothers do that? Not too many that I’ve been in contact with. Try none.

So there you have it. In short, my opinion would have to be that Juno is a quirky movie about an independent teenager who finds herself in an adult situation without the maturity to deal with it. Oh, and can anyone tell me why everyone was using corded phones?? I actually wondered if maybe it was intended to be set in the 80’s, but it wasn’t.

Scholarship for Life

My daughter K is named for my sister, who died of cancer when she was 17, in the fall of her senior year of high school. Our family set up a scholarship for a graduating senior who has displayed “the courage to face adversity and persevere.”. Each year the school sends me the applicants’ packets, who must write an essay describing how they meet that criteria.

Adversity for many 17 year olds is entirely relative. It’s been interesting to read the essays over the years – they range from kids with sprained ankles who couldn’t play soccer, to one kid who emancipated herself from abusive parents who was actually living on her own.

It’s also been interesting to see how the demographics of the kids has changed over the years. When my sister and I were in high school our town and school were very, very white. I cannot remember a non-Caucasian student except for the exchange students in my senior class – one from Peru and one from Mexico. This year’s crop of 12 applicants include 3 Asian students, 1 Syrian, and 1 African-American. And the reason I know this is because the adversity they describe relates to their race and/or country of origin.

My mother and step-mother would like to believe that racism no longer exists, and that my kids have nothing to worry about. Right now my kids have my white-ness as their shield in navigating the world – they are rarely without me and my privilege gives them access where it might otherwise not. But I also see the racism exhibited in my own family – the same mother who claims racism is no more, holds her purse tighter when a family with dark skin enter the fast food restaurant we’re visiting with my kids.

No conclusions here, only thoughts, observations, concerns. And the knowledge that I am not doing enough for my kids.

Experimental Interview

Come one, come all – read the first ever interview given by the one, the only, Ragtop Day!! (uh, yeah, that would be me)

Melina, over at “That Woman who speaks eighteen languages and can’t say “no” in any of them” interviewed me as part of the Great Interview Experiment that was the brainchild of Neil. Here are her questions, and my answers, but go check her out as well!
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Odds and Ends (mostly odd!)

My mother just got back from a three week trip to China. As she was recounting her trip to me, she said “I didn’t even see any Chinese people there. I think because I have Chinese grandchildren and I just don’t see them as different.”  [My two girls were born in China]  I can’t even begin to tell you how offensive I find this! While I certainly am not consciously thinking “race race race” in my daily dealings with my children, I also don’t deny it. They ARE Chinese. And no one would ever look at them and not see it! My mother scares me in that she is not willing to even acknowledge this in her own family.

On a related note, we were visiting at a family who I know casually today. K is friends with their daughter, and B and I were just hanging out for a few. I said something to B and the dad misheard me and thought I had spoken in Chinese. He said he was very impressed that I had learned Chinese. We got that cleared up (sadly, I only know a few words), but he then asked me, in all seriousness, if  B was “born knowing Chinese.” To which I replied, “were you born knowing English?”

And I just have to mention my 13-0 Patriots who showed a tremendous effort against the Steelers today. I’m still on an emotional high!

Racist Team Mascots

I am a huge sports fan. A New England sports fan. Baseball and football specifically, which means the Boston Red Sox and the New England Patriots.

As I type this, the Red Sox are in the top of the 4th inning of Game 2 of the ALCS against the Cleveland Indians. I love the Indians for the trouncing they just gave our most notrious rivals, the New York Yankees. And in fact, they have some tremendous players on their current roster: Kenny Lofton and C.C. Sabathia come to mind immediately. Of course, I hope we give them a similar trouncing on our way to the World Series, but that is all still to be seen.

But what really bothers me is the Indians team logo. I’ve only just learned its name:  Chief Wahoo, which seems to add insult. This symbol is hugely offensive to me. It is a racist charicature. I can’t understand why this symbol is still being used in the year 2007. People claim tradition, they claim it’s all in fun, that it’s just a cartoon, not worth making a big deal of. Are we still permitting the ridicule of ethnic minorities in the name of fun?

Chief Wahoo

I didn’t know the history of the name Indians. I’m only one person, but I think the history supports the name. The reasoning behind the name is honorable, and was done with respect. But the symbol/mascot insignia has got to go. Native Americans do not have beet red faces, wear feathers, have huge teeth and shifty eyes. They are not a warring people. I’m hardly the first person to make this comparison, but if we ever had a team called the Worcester Whities, the Atlantic City Jews, Springfield Jigaboos or the Hoboken Crackers, no doubt people would be lining up to sign petitions to get the names and whatever offensive mascot went along with it. Don’t all people deserve the common courtesy to not be made fun of for the core of who they are?

Not of this world

“Mommy, when I grow up, will I be from someplace else like you?” K, who is six, asked as we lay in bed this morning, just before getting up.

“What do you mean?” I asked, though I was afraid I already knew.

“I don’t want to be from China. I want to be from your world” she wailed as she buried her head in the pillow.

Hoo boy.

We had a short discussion, including how being from China is not bad and is worthy of pride. That part of her story is that she was born in China, and will always be true.  It seems at least one boy in her class has been asking her where she’s from, and even one of the teacher aids who helps out in the afternoon asked as well. She didn’t like being asked and said she wanted it to be “secret”. I tried to clarify the difference between secret and private, and agreed that she does not have to answer the question if she doesn’t want to, and may keep it private if she chooses.  I did point out that people can tell by looking at her that she is Asian, though they may not know for sure which country she originates from. I happen to know that another classmate of hers was born in Cambodia, so I reminded her not everyone in her class was born in the United States.

I will be talking with the teacher this afternoon about privacy around questions, and that K does not wish to be “on display”. I don’t know if the teacher has witnessed anything, but my dealings with her so far have been overwhelmingly positive and K adores her. I hope my feelings about her are correct, and that she will leap to be K’s advocate in all this.