Archive for July, 2012

Blitzen asked me last night, crying her little worried heart out.  Sigh.  I knew what she meant but I asked her some clarifying questions.

Me, “Blitzen, I need a little more information, honey.  Why are you so upset?”

Blitzen, “Sob, sniffle, because you are white and I am american.”

Me, trying to keep a straight face and not 1) laugh 2) cry, “Do you mean that I am white and you are African-American?”

Blitzen, “Yes, we’re not the same culture so we can’t be in the same family.”

Me, “We can be in the same family.  People in the same family don’t need to look the same – some can have blue eyes or green or brown or different colored hair or skin.  It doesn’t matter that we don’t look the same.”  Now, this is a really complex issue and I am oversimplifying in this conversation with Blitzen.  I know that people notice that we are not the same and I know that she sees it.  And I am certain that it is really a mind fuck (excuse my language) for a little kid who simply wants to belong to somebody / some family and wants everyone else to know that she BELONGS.

Blitzen, “It does matter.  People will try to tear us apart.”

Me, “Blitzen, look, our friends M and C have different colored skin and they are married and they have a beautiful baby, F.  And it is all ok.”  I brought up this example because we had just a lovely playdate with this particular multi-racial family.

Blitzen, “But F is both their cultures.”

Me, to self – This conversation is really hard and she has got me, F does have both their cultures.  What to say, what to say.

So, naturally, I started talking about the Irish potato famine.

Blitzen, “What culture are you?”

Me, “Well, I guess you could say that I am Irish.”  And I am, a lot but not totally.  My mother’s family is Irish and very proud of it.  So I talked about when my great, great grandparents came to New York.  And I talked a little about poverty and immigration and well, believe it or not, it calmed her down.  Because Blitzen is a really curious kid and she likes to learn new things.

Segue to the next portion of evening where Andrew gives Blitzen her medication and she is responsible for doling out a chewable, dinosaur shaped vitamin for everyone.  We take our ‘meds’ as a family and Blitzen says to Andrew, who had not been privy to our crying culture conversation, “Do you know there is an island, where all the poor people had to eat potatoes but then the potatoes stopped growing so they all moved to the United States?  That is Carrie’s culture.”

Next time, I’ll tell her a little more.  I certainly know that being Irish is about a whole heck of lot more than potatoes.  And I know that this big, complicated, scary thing called ‘culture’ is about a lot more than looking alike.

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“Can you like people of another color?” Blitzen asked.

I turned to my go-to response for the many instances when I’m not quite sure what we’re talking about: “What do you think?”

“I think people of other colors can like each other.  They just can’t marry each other.”

I start to get it.  We just spent a week meeting lots of loved ones, all of whom were white.  Those who are married married other white folks.  “Hmmm.  Interesting.  We know some people who are different colors who married each other, right?  Like D & V?”

I was eager for conversation.  Blitzen was unconvinced but willing to concede the point and change subjects, probably hoping to sidestep listening to me say absurd things about issues around race.

I can’t blame the girl for tuning out the things I say about race.  Her favorite way to access information is through visual observation.  Here are a few of the things I suspect she notices.

1)  Whenever we go somewhere fun or special — Sea World, holiday parties, airplane trips — nearly everyone is white.

2)  When we introduce her to family, the people we love, they are all white.  Other than Blitzen and her sisters, every single person in a framed photo in our home is white.  None of the people we see sleeping in Marcus Garvey Park each day are white.

3)  Blitzen’s school is 100% kids of color.  It’s in a building with a school that is predominately white.  The white kids have the first two floors; Blitzen and her friends walk to the fifth floor.  The white kids have colorful walls, hands-on projects and lots of field trips.  Blitzen and her friends have behavior sheets and kids being physically restrained in the halls.

The list could go on for a long time, and every point deserves a full post, if not a dissertation and protests in the streets.  For now, I’m simply noticing Blitzen noticing that I’m not a reliable narrator when I merrily suggest that anyone can like and marry anyone they want to and that the race we’ve been assigned is not destiny.

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