Over the couple of years I have been blogging, I have had the honor to become acquainted with and learn much from Lisa Owen. She blogs beautifully and bravely at My So Called Glamorous Life: The Adventures of a Domestic Engineer. I have enjoyed her posts on everything from the delicious food she cooks, the books she reads, to her adventures raising kids.
But I especially love it when Lisa writes about race. For she gives me a glimpse into what it is like to be a black woman living in the south.
Before I read Lisa’s blog and twitter feeds I had no idea people got profiled and followed by security guards in stores. Or how much time and effort it took to keep up her daughter’s hair (Yes Lisa, white people are fascinated with black hair. Not only because it is so different, but because it can do so many things white hair cannot. Coming from one who has had basically the same haircut since she was 16, I guess I’m a little jealous!)
When I decided to do a series on race in February, I knew I wanted Lisa’s voice in the conversation (BTW, she is having her own Black History month conversation over at her own site. Check it out!)
So without further ado, I give you Lisa:
Race and ethnicity are hard subjects to talk about and contrary to popular belief, they are not the same thing. Race generally refers to genetics, while ethnicity is cultural. Race is determined by if you are or are not a descendant of Africa. Ethnicity relates to what area in the world you and your ancestors come from. While both of these things affect physical appearance, neither of these things is inherently negative. Since this is the case, why then is it so difficult to discuss? At the very mention of the word or concept of race/ethnicity there’s tension, defensiveness, accusations and bitterness. It’s a hard discussion to have and I applaud anyone, like Dena, who dares to have a meaningful conversation. Thank you, Dena, for letting me chime in.
In light of recent events (like Ferguson) I think that we can all agree that Americans need to continue the conversation about race.
As an African-American parent I can’t avoid it. Starting with the talks years ago that I had to have with my now adult sons about how to respond if you’re ever stopped by the police; to the increasing questions put to my 7 and 8 year-old-girls about their hair, their freckles, their hair, do they tan and more about their hair. I have to discuss race and ethnicity to help them understand some of the pervasive attitudes that come their way.
It gets heavy.
My girls have a face full of freckles, much like me and my mother and my grandfather and so on. They are completely adorable (I’m not being biased, they really are)! Recently, my 8 – year – old told me that one of her friends commented that some other girls at school said that she (my daughter) must have drawn those dots on her face because “Black people don’t have freckles.” I could tell you many, many stories about things that Black people allegedly do and don’t have. They are all, without exception, wrong and illustrate the dangers of stereotyping. My daughter was confused and somewhat hurt (“Why would I draw those on my face, mom?”) and I said to her:
“Sweetheart, look at my face. What do you see?”
“Look at your sister and brother? What do you see?”
“And Grandma, your aunt and uncles?”
“So what does that tell you?”
“That African-Americans do have freckles, but why would they say that?”
“Because she really doesn’t know any better. Next time, you’ll have to educate her.”
Such a seemingly innocent and simple thing as freckles, but the unilateral exclusion made her feel like “other”. Something used to make her feel isolated, like “You cannot be like me.”
Do I think it was intentional? No, but it really doesn’t matter because the damage is the same. Not to mention, that it is not only damaging to the recipient, but it’s also damaging for anyone to live in ignorance. Yes, we must talk, but we must also do more.
We must venture outside of our own neighborhoods and broaden our social circles. We must purposely seek knowledge about people and cultures outside of our own. Why is it in a country that is so big and so diverse, we only seek out those that look like us? And for goodness sakes, if what you think you know about other cultures comes predominantly from television or social media, TURN IT OFF! Nothing is better than face to face, personal interaction. Be curious, but seek answers. Don’t make assumptions. Be bold enough to stop negative comments and conversations even if it’s from people that you love. Be steadfast and unmovable in your commitment to find peace and racial harmony.
As ugly as things have gotten on the streets of our towns and cities, I remain hopeful. I am encouraged by people like Dena who speak up. I am encouraged by people who take to the streets to protest injustice and seek change. I am encouraged by the generation of children like mine who have kind hearts and no preconceived notion that they are supposed to mistrust and dislike one another because they don’t know that skin color matters.
Be encouraged, my brothers and sisters, and make change.
Lisa Owen is a writer and blogger at My So Called Glamorous Life: The Adventures of a Domestic Engineer (www.mysocalledglamlife.com) and she has been a featured blogger on Blogher.com, Project Underblog, and in the supplemental materials for The Princess Problem (available at Rebecca Hains.com). She is a mother/step-mother in a blended family with five children ages 6 to 23. Lisa has a B.S. in Journalism from Southern Illinois University and spent 15 years working as a corporate/transactional paralegal for law firms and corporations before becoming a SAHM and pursuing her passion for writing.