A little what if…goes a long way

Recently a friend was over for a play date with her two kids. On the way home from the park she told me the story of a young Black girl who was adopted by dear friends of her parents twenty some years ago, in a near by state. The young woman was the only child of color in her neighborhood, and her school all her life. Her family had no friends of color, and did precious little to expose their daughter to people of any color at all, as far as the story teller knew. As the girl grew up, she began her own research wherever she could find answers, which was for the most part on television. By 19 she had run away from home, in search of a more authentic Black experience, according to the friend. It has been years since she has heard any news of the young woman from the family.

Even if this story is missing 90% of the truth, and sharing only 10% of it, the outcome did not really surprise me at all. I sat with that story, grieved for the girl, and the family. I immediately wondered how that story might or might not apply to the experience my sons were having. Then I let myself try to imagine being raised by parents of color in a non white community. I tried to imagine what it would be like, if there were no white people in my neighborhood or school, or in 98% of the movies I saw, or music I listened to. I imagined only going to a Black/ person of color dentist, and doctor, and once in a great while meeting another white kid at a play group, or on a soccer team.  I imagined what it would be like if everyone assumed her and I would naturally want to be friends because of how much we were suddenly alike. I tried to picture my family acting out their very well intentioned “white traditional customs” to help me feel seen or taken into consideration.

Then I imagined my family noticing all of that, and doing their very best to make friends who looked like me, with kids who looked like me too, and not just having a few books on the shelf, and one white doll. I let myself feel the relief in knowing I was not always going to be the other, the exception, the one who “is not really white, because we see her as one of us!” I imagined how I might feel so worried to ask them for what I perceived I needed in case it seemed like to do so was in someway a negation of all the “good” and “loving”  they were providing me. Not that I would even know what it is I needed to begin with, but if I did…

I tried to picture arriving at college years later, and being roommates with another white person, but really not understanding certain “givens” that all other white people might just assume I would know, or do, or talk about. Givens around customs, hair care, celebrations, religion, food, art, and so forth.

That little five minute journey opened me up even more to what I need to be doing more of, and more of. Sammy did not choose to be placed in this family.  I chose to honor his place in this world to the best of my ability, when his first mom, his birth mom, his only mom until I showed up placed him in my arms. The more I learn, experience and grow, the more able I am to provide him with an experience that allows him to be as fully realized as possible in this world he has been placed in. That is my duty to him, and Marcel.

I just know that for me anyway, I tend to learn more, when I can imagine myself in the other person’s shoes. Or, at least try to.

Loving all of that BROWN and then some

At the supermarket the other morning, Marcel and I had the following exchange.

Marcel: Mommy when people look at me do they see my brown skin or my white skin?
Me: What would you like them to see?
Marcel: My brown skin of course!
Me: I love you so much, and I love your brown skin.
Marcel: Because I love my brown skin so much too, that is what people will see first!

To me the magnificence of this exchange is manifold. Obviously Marcel is not only thinking about his own racial identity, but he is articulating it beautifully, and clearly confident in his own assessment of himself and his world. Over the last few months he has been more and more interested in talking about who in the family is more brown or less brown and why. My big drive has been to let him know how rich and gorgeous his brother’s color is, and how Marcel’s creamier brown skin is also enviable and lovely.  Marcel is also trying to understand on some level how Sammy came from Tea’s tummy (Sam’s first mom) and how Marcel came from mine, and they are brothers and we are a forever family. Throw the donor in there, and you have a lot for a four year old to grab on to.

At first Marcel was not “seeing” himself as brown too, and was much more sure he looked just like me. So the exchange above tells me that my work to balance out his perception has been landing. This is also a result of the increased time outdoors, and Marcel’s corresponding darkening color, which I keep calling attention to in an enviable way.  The kid loves a little competition. I was pleased that I answered his first question, with a question, because it allowed for me to uncover a little more deeply his thinking, today.

Of course the real celebration in the exchange is how he equates self acceptance, and love for who you are as the reason others would be drawn towards that thing about you too.

I have a feeling a certain remarkable set of teachers he works with have more to do with that strength in himself than me. As always I have a lot to learn from my kids for sure.

Alvin Ailey’s REVELATIONS from Alvin Ailey on Vimeo.

Robert Battle’s TAKADEME from Alvin Ailey on Vimeo.

 

On a similar note, last week Shrek sent Sammy and I to see the performance of a lifetime: The Alvin Ailey Dance Theater. Although I had looked into getting tickets weeks before, the price was out of my reach for the whole family (not having kids prices at these events still puts me in a twist) so I grieved it, and let it go. Then Shrek suggested I take Sammy by himself, and found great seats at a reduced rate (he just finds a way, always).  So Sam and I got decked out and went on our date, while Shrek and Marcel went to the movies.

The moment the first brown skinned male dancer came on stage Sam’s eyes were the size of apples.  He looked up at me and whispered; “Mom there are men?!?” When I smiled and shook my head, he followed with; “BROWN ones?!?”  He sat in his seat CAPTIVATED for the entire show. The slower pieces, and the hip hop ones, the spiritual ones, and the New Orleans ones. He was RIGHT THERE (OK the mints purchased at intermission helped). Then, all the way home he danced. DANCED. (We live close enough to walk to see the performance–city living has it’s advantages!) And my favorite part? How after he came home he pranced about the house, in just his pajama bottoms with no shirt-just like the dancers. It was as if suddenly his beautiful brown skin, fit, muscley and growing body was transformed into those remarkably striking, powerful, elegant, athletic  and BROWN dancers too.  This morning, he walked into the room, took of his shirt and began to eat breakfast. OK Alvin, shirts on at the table buddy, I said. Oh come on! He retorted, smiling.

Minor qualm: where were all the boys in the audience? Brown boys and white boys? What a powerful example of masculine grace and beauty. I realize that I had my specific reasons to get to that show and yes the tickets were prohibitive in cost. But for all the brown and white skinned girls in that audience, I am sure as many boys would have been transfixed as Sammy was.  What keeps other parents of boys from getting their sons to an event like that? Is dance theater still that gender regulated in our mainstream culture? If ever there was an opportunity to change that, it would be a show of this caliber on so many levels.

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Do you have some loving on your BROWN stories you;d like to share here? Your brown could be another color, or ethnicity of course. Your story could be about gender, sexuality, or just some way that you witnessed growth in yourself or your family that you’d like to put out there for the world to see!  We need more and more chances to do that! Have a great week, and thanks to my new followers on facebook, twitter and here.

Wearing a hoodie and sweatpants or…

Wearing exactly what Trayvon was wearing, as he was described by his killer on the 911 call.

I wasn’t going to post this picture of my son, because it felt so intimate somehow. So innocent, sweet, and like I needed to protect it.

Then in my grief and confusion this week upon learning about another parent’s loss of their innocent, sweet, and hoodie wearing little boy, who they can no longer protect, I realized it was the least I could and should do, because their son Trayvon is my son Sam.

If you haven’t already signed the petition, or acted in some way to bring justice to the young man, who looked just like Sammy, only he was ten years older, and armed with a bag of candy for his little brother when he was shot dead, please do so here.

Love Isn’t Enough has a special Trayvon edition here.

Because Trayvon is ALL OF OUR SONS.

I lay awake at night praying that my sons will know what to do, when someone asks them what they are doing there, or in this car, or on that sidewalk with a tone they must recognize immediately as needing to know in a particular kind of way or else.  How will I, the white mama have any idea how to raise them to know what a white man might intend to do to them if they don’t know the right way to act, or else.

Trayvon was just seventeen years old, walking to the store to buy his little brother some candy,  talking to his friend on the phone, visiting his father in a gated community in Florida. His killer, a community watchman, has had no charges brought against him, after admitting to shooting and killing Trayvon 24 days ago.

Please join us in keeping national attention on the injustice. Please join me, in doing our part as parents of Trayvons everywhere to insist that a child is a child, is a child. A child is our responsibility to protect.

3/25/2012 I am adding a link to this post at Rage Against the Mini Van titled “Required Reading on the killing of Trayvon Martin

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My deepest sorrow reaches out to his parents, and as well to the parents of the Jewish children, and the family of the Jewish father shot in Toulouse, France Monday, another blatant act of racism and hatred. It is all unfathomable.

On workshops, suitcases, and holding on

The workshop that I presented; “I can talk about race in the classroom” was by all accounts a big success today. The post workshop reflections were 95% positive–which says as much about the audience as the presenter really. The educators were open, willing, and very present! I was prepared, passionate, and speaking from a place of truth. That is always a great combination. I’ll try to write more about the experience, and the work, when time allows. But the suitcases are trumping the keyboard here. Continue reading “On workshops, suitcases, and holding on”

100 great days (ways) to bring Black History into the elementary schools

100 days with a spin!

I am all for celebrating math in school. I am all for celebrating school. I am just even more for finding ways to celebrate Black History today, and everyday.  So when Sam’s teacher sent home a blank piece of poster board with the instructions to create your own way to celebrate the #100 in honor of the approaching 100th day of school I realized we had hit the jackpot! I asked Sam who his favorite brown skinned athlete was–because he had already decided he wanted to do something about sports: Jackie Robinson! Continue reading “100 great days (ways) to bring Black History into the elementary schools”

I can talk about race (in the classroom)

Barbie Basics-My Muse for tomorrow

About halfway through my presentation called; “I can see race (in the classroom)”  tomorrow I am going to hold up this Black Barbie, still in her box. I plan to ask the 50-75 teachers in the audience to tell me what message they think it would convey to their Black (and all) students if they had grown up playing with her along with the more common blonde and white version. (No, we are not talking about gender, or the messed up proportions that the Barbie exhibits….this time.)  I am going to introduce this doll by telling them what one of my Black students said when I told her I bought it for my kids. She looked so confused. I explained that I wanted to get her because she was so beautiful. What message do you think they took in when I chose this one over the other versions on the shelf? Continue reading “I can talk about race (in the classroom)”

Mama C Safe Space Radio: A forum for Courageous Conversations

Although I haven’t listened to it yet (something about listening to my own voice on the radio..) I wanted to pass along the link to the interview with me on Safe Space Radio “a live forum for courageous conversations”  last week. The topic: inter-racial adoption.  Here is the summary from Dr. Anne-the show’s host:

An interview with public school teacher, poet and blogger, Catherine Anderson about adopting her son Sam. Catherine describes her decision to adopt and how she thought she understood racism before parenting. She describes her experience of those “grocery store moments”  when she has to respond to other people’s surprise and inappropriate comments in front of her son.  She speaks movingly about her relationship with Sam’s birth mom and how strong the pull is to keep proving to her that she is doing a good job.  She describes the ways that she talks to Sam about race, and the ways that she, as a white woman, feels she can and cannot prepare him to be a black man in Maine.  Catherine reads her beautiful poem, Black Enough to open and close the interview.

It was a hard interview for me going into it, because I knew that I was offering myself up as the slide for the transracial parenting race related microscope-something I am more and more comfortable doing for the most part. I remember wondering afterwords “was there any content in that half hour?” But in retrospect that is because I was evaluating my own story as story teller as a memory in the setting of microphones, engineers and a powerhouse of a host.  My goal was to put myself out there in a way that might allow someone else to do the same, in their own journey. Enjoy my interview with Dr. Anne.  When I have the ability to listen to it, I’ll come back and offer a little more meat to what it feels like to me to hear the exchange. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you–because that is who I was talking to.

In the big light (Mama C is interviewed)

Marcel waiting for the photographer/ Mama C and the Boys

An interview with Mama C is online at Psychology Today. The piece feels like an arrival on many levels: personal voice, competency on a subject, and clarity of my beliefs and values. It is a well crafted piece that will reach a very large audience. I began blogging three and half years ago. I feel wildly grateful (and hot and sticky in my 99 degree house)  to my readers, to the medium, and to my own determination and hard work.