Sometimes as a parent I forget to talk to my children. I can blame my old school upbringing—children should be seen and not heard and only answer when spoken to, or I could blame it on a lack of patience. Maybe it’s a nebulous mixture of those things…plus, sometimes I just can’t find the words suitable for children that accurately describe the feelings I have.
About a month ago a good friend of mine was doing a bit of spring cleaning and had some clothes she thought would fit my girls. We went through the items late one night after I’d worked more than my share of hours in the day, and my second born picked up a Paul Frank t-shirt with his famous ‘Julius’ the monkey prominently displayed on the chest.
I adamantly told her no, she couldn’t keep it. Of course, she asked why and I said…
“Because, I said so.”
This could have been a teachable moment–a history lesson of sorts, but, I was tired and the not-suitable-for-children-thoughts are all I had in my parenting toolbox at the moment.
Fast forward to this morning, my daughter brought up the shirt and questioned why I had such a problem with it. This time I sat her down in an after-school special kind of way and explained my personal feelings on the doll and its image.
I watch a lot of classic films. My favorite thing to do on a Sunday morning is to curl up with an old movie and a cup of tea. I just adore movies from the earlier part of the 20th century. ‘His Girl Friday’, ‘All About Eve’, ‘Carmen Jones’, and ‘Imitation of Life’… the list is endless. Watching classy ladies and suave men strut around in well-fitted suits, speaking in long sophisticated sentences just makes me happy.
However, I’m not so naive, nor do I wax poetic about what that time really looked like for my grandparents and other people of color living in the United States.
Minstrel shows full of mammy caricatures; big-lipped, black faced dancing darkies were put on display to entertain the majority population.
Talented men and women were reduced to buffoonery and slapstick shows that did nothing but perpetuate the stereotype that blacks were dumb, wild animals that needed to be caged and tamed.
Maybe it’s a stretch for some, but for me, everytime I look at Julius, with his wide bright red smile, dark skin and big lips, all I see is a modern throwback to what was once an acceptable image to represent people I descend from.
For my daughter’s sake, I weaved gently through history pointing out the times Black people were commonly referred to as monkeys, coons, apes, etc and how this image reminds me of that. I told her that it was hard for me to look at that image and not see racism. That it actually makes me sad to see it on a child as they run and play…
She said, ‘oh, I get it. That makes sense.’
And that was it. That was all she needed and I could have done that a month ago. Instead, I made it seem like such a hard conversation, which in turn hurt her feelings because of my lack of an explanation.
This doesn’t mean I won’t ever use the “because, I said so” line again. Because, sometimes they have to do things simply because I said so– It’s a perk of the job title. However, now that the girls are getting older I will take more time to explain to them why I feel the way I do, and why I react so strongly to certain situations.
The real moral of the story is that my dialogue and thought process is so much better in the morning and when laced with caffeine.
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