A Video….And A Conversation On Race

A friend of mine posted the above video. She also posted the following.

I’m interested in the opinions of all races on this matter. Please let’s not start a negative debate or race war… I only wish to hear opinions as to what you feel the cause of this could be because it seriously hurts my heart to think children (of any race) would feel this way.
My question:
Would this be the response of any child from any race from how they are raised (what they see and hear from their parents/close circles either directed at them or towards others)?
Or is this the result of what society, the general population, television, magazines, etc. somehow imply (almost in the same way girls/women are “raised” by society feel they aren’t beautiful if they aren’t super models)?
Is it a mix of everything?
Other thoughts on it?
How can we fix it?

So, first, let me encourage you to go and watch the NBC special that this short segment is from. They have it on their website in four 20 minute segments.

NBC News: A Conversation About Race

I find this video, and discussion,  exceptionally intriguing. Perhaps because I have biracial daughters. I’ve had several conversations with them about race, and I think they were about 8 years old until they were directly called niggers to their face, and I had to have a big heart to heart with them about race, and particularly, about being black in America, a conversation that their German born mother simply cannot begin to have with them.

This video also took me back to something that happened while the three of us were sitting in a restaurant.  We were sitting in a booth, and a woman not far from us was motioning towards my daughter Celia, which she noticed, and brought to my attention.  When I looked the lady said “I’m sorry…I was just motioning to my mom to look at her eyes, they are so beautiful.  Celia has green eyes, and long, curly, beautiful light brown hair, and yes, she is very beautiful.  She said thank you, and I said thank you, and I immediately, consciously, pulled her and her sister Aimee into a brief conversation on how lucky I was to have two beautiful daughters. Now Aimee, she has what I would consider dominant African American features.  She has long, gorgeous hair…but darker skin than Celia, and brown eyes.  As a baby, she actually looked exactly like I did as a baby, which Celia looked totally white….but she has gotten darker over time, and I would say kind of sticks out as being a “biracial” child…if she weren’t assumed to be possibly Mexican or Puerto Rican.  The sad fact, as I know it, is that as they get older, they will have to deal with the baggage that comes with their racial differences.  People will always be fascinated with Celia’s green eyes…and her hair, which is so naturally curly that an Afro is so natural for her…and this will extend to the company that they are invited, the boys they will attract, and the like.  I know, that there will be kids who will more willingly be friends with Celia than Aimee, because Celia isn’t “really” black.

These are the things I think of when I think of race in America. My biracial daughters who are entering into a mine field.  I think of the tears that they’ve already shed, and the many more which are to come, simply because of the shade of their skin.

I think that is why I find this video so intriguing, and yet, so saddening.  The kids in this video already know the truth:  That “white is right” and being black…well, being black isn’t the hippest thing in the world.  I think the time in which we live in now…this is by far the coolest time in history to be black, and yet…it isn’t.  Events like #McKinney and #Ferguson tell us that, being black…it could be detrimental to your health.  When black police officers see you, they see a threat.  Black men all have the potential to be death dealers to police..and black women…well, your best chance at fame is to be a singer, or a video hoe…and in either case, you’re much more likely to be successful if you ooze sexuality and shake your ass.

So, allow me to address the aforementioned questions separately, for clarity’s sake.

  • Would this be the response of any child from any race from how they are raised (what they see and hear from their parents/close circles either directed at them or towards others)?

Will children from multiples races and backgrounds all think that the bad doll is ugly and bad?  Well, let’s find out!

Here are variations of this study, done in multiple settings, with children of various races, by various testers.  The first video starts with the 90 second segment that you’ve already seen, but goes on from there.
What we find is that children across various races, and we can only assume are various backgrounds, both geographic and economic, all predominantly found the white figure to be pretty, and nice.  I found it so very interesting that even the black kids knew that the white doll was pretty, and nicer than the black doll, or the black kid. So yes, we know that these views are consistent across the spectrum of racial backgrounds.

  • Or is this the result of what society, the general population, television, magazines, etc. somehow imply (almost in the same way girls/women are “raised” by society feel they aren’t beautiful if they aren’t super models)?

So where do these views come from? Wow!  I literally think I could write a dissertation on that question…but I won’t.  I will try to keep this as short as I can.  But I think there are several factors, from my perspective, that goes into this.

  1. Parents attempt to ignore race.  I love parents who tell me that they’re raising “colorblind” children.  Oh yeah?  That’s fabulous. Raising colorblind children in a technicolor world…let me know how that works out for you.  Rather than attempt to “not see race,”  parents need to be realistic with their kids, and talk race.  Race is not going anywhere. So, we need to talk with children about the issues surrounding race, and let them know that intelligence and attractiveness is not based on the color of ones skin.  Children will draw conclusions from cues both spoken and unspoken to create narratives to explain their realities.  That includes white children who never see a black face (Mom and dad don’t hang out with black people, so we must avoid those people) and black children who only see negative depictions of blacks in the news and media.  I think a key here is diversity.  It astounds me…people who have no diversity in their lives.  I have friends from various strands of life: White, Black, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Jewish, Christian, Wiccan, heterosexual, homosexual.  I value diversity, and I think you only need spend a little time with me for that to show.  Should we force diversity into our social lives?  Well…maybe.  Maybe you should get out of your box and find something, and some people, that are different.
  2. Historically, white has always been better. That goes back to the days of slavery.  If you were really dark, you were in the field.  If you were of a lighter complexion, you got to work in the house, which was dynamically a better situation.  In addition, it bears to mention that you were probably of a lighter complexion because your father was a slave owner, and so on, and so on.  We live in the United States of Amnesia, and we can barely remember last week, but I can remember as a kid that on TV, there weren’t many black faces to be found.  Those that were, usually weren’t in the bet positions.  Some of the most memorable “black shows” of my childhood featured poor black people “Good Times” “What’s Happening” and even a junk man and his son “Sanford & Son”. The only exception I can think of off the top of my head was “The Jeffersons”.  And then came the Cosby Show.  Not only was it a good show, but it was revoutionary: A well to do black family.  A black doctor and a black lawyer?  What?!?!?!  Up until that time, it was relatively unheard of, and if I recall correctly, it was quite possibly the only African American led series of that time with that success. Beyond that, even within the black community, there has often been a premium on having light skin, or having “good hair”.  I remember as a kind hating my big lips and being so jealous of my brother for his hazel eyes.  I knew that his light eyes and light skin made him more desirable…closer to white I suppose.
  3. Many children know that the system doesn’t care about them, and they equate it to the color of their skin.  I find that children are extremely perceptive.  Young black kids, I mean really young, know that they don’t get all of the things that kids in affluent neighborhoods get.  Their schools aren’t as good, their neighborhoods don’t have as many amentities, etc.  Much like I said before, their minds draw narratives to explain that reality, and the most glaring difference between them and those kids over there, is the color of their skin.  That perception can truly become a part of their self concept.  I was fortunate enough to have a father who was willing to talk with me openly about race.  He grew up in Mississippi, a notoriously racist state, in one of the worst times in history to live in Mississippi short of during slavery.  He would tell me stories about how you couldn’t talk to the white kids in town, but the whites didn’t really mess with his family, because it was so big, and my grandmother, Big Mama, was pretty fearless.  However, he also had white friends.  While I don’t recall him saying “A persons skin color doesn’t matter as to who they are as a person” he would often talk to me about “character” and being a good person, and figuring out what someone is about, and not being afraid to discard those people who are not worth your time, which goes back to point #1.

I could spend days talking about this.  I’ve consciously attempted to keep socio-economic conditions and educational discrepancies and all that jazz out of it, but all of that has a bearing on this conversation.

  • Other thoughts on it?
    How can we fix it?

Other thoughts?  Well, I wanna slap people who think racism is over.  I wanna slap people who say we need to forget about race.  As Professor Dyson pointed out, that’s like asking someone to forget about the Constitution or The Declaration of Independence.  This country was founded on the backs of slaves, both African and Native American.  The fates of each are equal to a genocide.  Forget it?  No.  Are we past it?  No.

As an educated, highly intelligent black male, I see variants of racism on the regular.  Racism in 2015 is subtle.  It’s in the fact that I was walking down the street the other day, and 4 women wanted to take a picture.  They asked the white male walking in front of me to take a picture, and he completely ignored them.  I strolled on by, and then noticed that they asked the white male right behind me.  Oh yeah?  Obviously, I don’t know how to take a photo.  Very suspect.

So how do we fix the issues presented in these videos.  With education…and with love.  And by accepting…each other.  I also think a huge part for parents is by being brave enough, and strong enough, to reject pop culture.  I’ll say this loud and proud:

There ain’t shit on TV nowadays that children need to see.  It’s all trash.  Anything of value can be found on Netflix.

I find my life is so much better since I stopped readily and regularly watching cable tv, which was about 5 years ago. Now that I have to consciously think about what I watch, rather than just flicking channels, I watch much less bullshit.  I hang my head in shame to think that I was a fervent “Flavor of Love” and “Rock of Love”  watcher.  Watching people do horrendous things for 15 minutes of fame.  Blah.  Even worse though, is that most parents don’t even know what their kids are watching or tv, or what lessons and messages they are pulling from it.  And don’t even get me started on the internet.  I was talking to a friend the other day who was dismayed that her 12 year old daughter relayed to her that her friends watched pornography.  Now, I’m a teacher.  That’s not news to me, but of all the parents who read this, I’d assume at least 75% of you are saying “My child would never do that!”  Well guess what?  The polls tells us different.  If you are blind to these facts, then guess what…it’s time to wake up.

On another note.  I have biases.  I’m sure I have some resentment.  I know my life would have been different if I was white.  But, I”m ok with that.  I made my struggle my strength, and here I am.  It is what it is. I embrace people as they are, and I try to look past my biases, and irrelevant things like skin color, to find a greater truth about a persons character and spirit.

Imagine if that became the norm.

Imagine all the people
Living life in peace
~ John Lennon

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2 thoughts on “A Video….And A Conversation On Race

  1. First of all, I was uncomfortable with how they posed the requests for an answer, insinuating that there was a bad or good, ugly or pretty, dumb or smart. I will have more to say after I watch all the recommended videos.

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    • When you watch all the videos, you’ll see that some children respond in the fashion you are insinuating to: they say that they are all good, or all pretty, etc. But, the truth is that many people don’t think that way, or at least don’t raise their children to have that perspective on things. My favorite is the blond girl whom puts a positive to everything that looks like her, and a negative to everything different. Her mother didn’t espouse racist or prejudice views in her interview, but the proof is in the pudding that the child has definite perspectives on people, and those will “color” how she moves through life.

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