Chronically Colored

I have chronic illnesses. I have bipolar II, fibromyalgia, gastroparesis, and now something wonky is happening with my bladder (sorry if that is TMI). When you have chronic illnesses, you have to be chronically on it – taking care of yourself is not an option, it’s a necessity. Especially when you have other folks depending on you. But especially because you have you depending on you. You were put on the earth to do great things, and you can’t do them if you are always sick.

Sometimes I forget this. I don’t do things that are “bad,” like smoking cigarettes, or doing illicit drugs, but I do things that are “bad” for me, in my personal situation. I might have too much wine. I might not get the 9 (yes 9) hours of sleep that my body demands. I might drive my car to campus instead of riding my bike, removing the little bit of cardiovascular exercise I need to ward off the depression. I might “forget” to eat. I might be on the internet for hours instead of getting my work done. I might overcommit. I might say no and feel guilty. I might not go to church. Things that help me heal, I might not do.

Having chronic illnesses means being constantly on the watch. I have to watch myself, watch my moods, watch my habits, watch my bodily functions, watch my behaviors. Whenever I think things are okay, that I can back off, turn away, something happens and… BAM! I’m sick, on my ass, clawing my way back to the light. I have to be forever vigilant if I am to stay well.

It’s kind of like being a parent of color.

As a parent of color, we are constantly on the watch. I’m constantly listening to my children’s language, making sure no words of self-doubt or self-hate have crawled into their mind space. I’m constantly monitoring their daily interactions, wanting to be sure that the adults around them are affirming of their existence. I’m constantly aware of the children they play with, noting if issues of skin color come up, noting who they naturally veer toward, noting who they avoid and who avoids them. I can’t listen to the radio in the car, or watch BET, cause my own people are conspiring against them. I’m constantly thinking these days about the kindergarten that will happen next year, how my boy might be the only black child in his classroom, and subsequently, his sister left behind to be the only black child left in her preschool classroom.

Being “colored” is like a chronic condition. Just when you think it’s safe to be “normal,” to be a normal mom who sends her kid to school with no worries other than will she finally let go of my leg this morning….BAM!

Be vigilant.

12 thoughts on “Chronically Colored

  1. Thank you for posting this Latoya.I continue to wish only health and healing. And while I wholeheartedly agree with the idea of being vigilant in terms of race… I think being Black is a LOVELY chronic condition- like being a parent, being a woman, being a non-traditional student. I enjoy these things , in spite of the obstacles and challenges. In spite of how everyone else perceives me because of these identifiers…

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  2. I understand how and what you go thru Latoya ..it can get difficult at times being a parent of color..and to make things worst is having a diagnosis of fibromyalgia..but hang in there

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  3. I’m a black woman with no children, so perhaps that’s why I don’t get it. However I really do not see what race has to do with anything in your post. Every responsible parent black/white/latino/asian/arab would have the exact same concerns and vigilance for their children. In the statement “how my boy might be the only black child in his classroom” you could replace “black” with any number of qualifiers only arab kid/only fat kid/only kid with gay parents/only asian kid. These are all things that would illicit I would assume the same type of response from all kinds of parents who are vigilant in how their kids act with others/play with others/what they are exposed to on tv etc…
    Race just seems to be a non-issue, any responsible parent just like any person with chronic health issues has to be “forever vigilant”.

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    1. BlackChick – I doubt I will be able to change your mind about this, whether you had kids or not, but I would put parenting a child of color in a different box than other issues. But that’s because I see race as a major division in our country, I see race as a system upon which life chances are distributed, I see race and racism as being ingrained early and often in a way that other biases are not. I don’t know if you follow us on a regular basis, but if not, I encourage you to read in our archives regarding the experience of raising black and brown children and try and think if those experiences can be fairly equated to the experiences of raising other children who may be different from their classmates in one way or another. In some cases it may be so; the cases are comparable. In other ways it will not – prejudice and discrimination on the basis of race, particularly against black people, is a basic principle of our republic. It has invaded our school system since the beginning of public education and continues to be pervasive there. Countless studies will show you that disparities in education do not coincide with BMI or sexual orientation. They coincide with race, across class lines. THAT is why parents of black and brown children – the cocoamamas who write on this blog – are ever vigilant about their children. The behaviors might be the same, but the motivation and reasoning is very different.

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  4. I happened upon your blog as I was doing research for children and language…. I couldn’t help myself but post.

    My parents raised me as a free thinking individual. At no time was racism tolerated in our home and it won’t be with my children. I’ve been fortunate enough to be raised in a stable home where I no longer look at colour.

    My best friend is Black. We’ve been best friends for almost ten years. He and I will walk the streets and he’ll sometimes comment, ‘Don’t you notice how people stare?’… and I’ll shake my head. Because I don’t. In that moment when I’m with him, I’m with him and I don’t care about what other people think or do.

    I was one of the only white girls in my University Class. I think I could count three white kids compared to two hundred black kids. Why? I decided to study in English and all the white kids studied in Afrikaans (I live in South Africa).

    I remember when there was the whole racism video at University of the Free State (youtube it if you haven’t heard about it).. and there were riots and everything.

    My black guy friend came to me and said, ‘Jo, I’m walking you home. It isn’t safe.’

    I felt gutted. Why do we even see colour anymore? And honestly, until people let go of the constant struggle behind black and white and make peace with it…

    You’ll never be able to understand the friendship and love that can happen between two culturally different groups of people. What I want to achieve by posting this… Not all white people hate blacks.

    And I’m proof that black people hate whites. Because I’ve been told by black people in my country that I’m ‘a foreigner and not welcome.’ I’ve had racist remarks said about me… by people of different colours. I’m not bitter. I don’t treat other black people poorly because of this.

    When Apartheid was in full force in South Africa, my parents helped black people with living, we had many people stay with us in the course of fifteen years (My dad is a priest and we set up our hall as living place for dislocated families). We struggled with them. We were also branded as ‘traitors’ for it.

    To your child who might be the only black kid in her class. So what. I was the only white kid in my class and the black children accepted me without any sort of hate or unfeelingness.

    Be positive and pray that the same can be said for your kids. I respect what you guys are doing here and I hope I never intruded or upset anyone. =) I just wish … for once… that we would stop looking at colour and at the actual people the colour sometimes hides.

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    1. Unfortunately, the response to being the only black child in a class cannot be “so what.” Unfortunately, color shouldn’t matter; but it does. Unfortunately, black children in white classrooms are isolated and put down, disproportionately disciplined and expelled for “insubordination,” made to feel uncomfortable by their teachers and peers, and labeled as underachievers EVEN when their test scores, behavior, and parental involvement indicate that they are anything but.

      I appreciate wishes for everyone to stop looking at color, but the truth is that that is not our reality. And it’s disappointing–enraging, even–when people who are not of color, and so really have never had the experience of being in a marginalized group, ask people of color to dismiss it. The experience of raising children of color in this country is difficult in very specific and unique ways; wishing it weren’t so doesn’t help us navigate the maze of racialized education. Being “positive” does not stop teachers from assuming that your child is from the “hood.” Being positive does not stop teachers from using demeaning and dehumanizing images of black people to illustrate a math lesson. Being positive does not stop other children from isolating my child because she is of color, or asking ignorant questions about her skin tone or hair texture, or considering her less attractive because she doesn’t have blond hair and blue eyes.

      I would also add that your experience as a white child in a class of black children is hardly analogous to being the only black child in a class full of white children. For one, whether you were in apartheid south africa or in the United States, whites are in power, and to be white is the ideal. So, not only are black children likely to accept you (just because they are black does not mean they do not internalize messages of inferiority and superiority), but you can always look to government, media, and popular culture to affirm your sense of self. It is very different when you are in the minority, and your minority is criminalized and stereotyped. In that context, to be the only black child, with no other ways of affirming who you are as a person of color, can be psychologically and socially damaging in ways that are not easily undone–if ever.

      Finally, I have to admit that your tone was disturbing. Wonderful to have a conversation and exchange, but I question the ease with which you dismiss the experience of women of color. For one, you make problematic assumptions about our ability to “understand the friendship and love that can happen between two culturally different groups of people.” Just because the author points out the difficulty of dealing with race when raising her children doesn’t mean that she automatically “hates white people.” As I’m sure you know, it’s just not that simple. Moreover, the simple response of “so what” to 6 women of color who write honestly about their experiences regarding race in their lives and the lives of their children indicates not only a fundamental misunderstanding of the issues and problems that race presents, but also a failure to consider the extent to which your own privilege has affected your conceptualization of race in your life.

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    2. Jo – first, thank you for commenting. You bring a perspective that the rest of us obviously don’t have.

      Yet, as ORJ so eloquently points out, while the experience of race in apartheid south africa and that of the united states is somewhat comparable, they are totally different situations. And your experience as a numerical minority is not the same as a being a minority in the sense of being oppressed and degraded. The South African post-apartheid experience of reconciliation sounds good, but from what I hear and read, on the ground it is not as simple as saying “so what” for the blacks that live there. Same with our notion of being post-racial – in many ways its a myth.

      One cannot hide from the evidence that race and racism is not about how you feel about me or how I feel about you. And we can’t teach our children that. It’s about systems and institutions and those don’t change when you decide not to see color. Just like your best friend can’t decide not to see color – can you see the lesson in that? How his experience is different from yours not because he is choosing it to be different, but because the system is set up for his experience to be different?

      Colorblindness is dangerous – because it makes you blind to the systems of oppression, making it seem like the evidence of black people being behind, lagging behind is about personal failings rather than institutional racism. So while it seems nobel that you say you don’t see color, its truly a conservative view, rather than a liberal one. It is not progressive. It is truly a damaging view to hold. SEE COLOR!

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  5. I never meant ‘So what’ in a mean way. I meant. ‘So what’. As in… it’s not only coloured people to that it’s happening. It’s not only coloured people who are being discriminated against.

    I’m not blind to oppression or racism just because I don’t see colour. I see it. I don’t accept it but frankly… besides my every hopeful optimism and stand against it nothing will happen.

    Yet, I find it sad that you guys think this is still the only way life can be lived. Perhaps racism in the USA is more prevalent now a days but I highly doubt the a black child will be degraded at school for her skin colour. Call me naive but I’m not in the States so I cannot comprehended.

    I sense that you guys have walls up that you don’t want to put down and that’s fine.

    Regarding my friend … he is studying his Doctorate in Electrical Engineering. That situation was when we were .. 15. Now we’re 23/24 and he’s grown out of it.

    We laugh about it. Because honestly, people who are still racist, in any form or manner, are stupid. Anyway, in these cases there are no points to be proven as you said.

    I wish you all the best of luck. I also hope that you’re pleasantly surprised at the kindness and generosity of the white kids in your child’s class next year. To wait for every situation to possibly be a racist one might be a draining way to wait =)

    God bless!

    LTY: No disrespect was meant and if you can’t see that then I honestly apologize.

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    1. After posting my original response to your comments, I started worrying; I was afraid that I had read a condescending tone into a response that wasn’t really there; I worried that in my own response, I had blocked efforts to broaden the conversation.

      But I realize that I was right in the first instance. With all due respect, Jo, you are not of color; you are not dealing with children in the school system; you are not from the United States. Despite a particular educational experience, you are not even a minority in the true sense of the word; a way in which your society’s social structure is invested in your placement on the bottom. And yet, you “highly doubt” that a black child will be degraded because of their color. How is it that one can so confidently dismiss the experiences of women of color, living in the United States, many of whom are currently navigating public education for their children right now? Do you think that the authors here are maintaining a blog about what “could” happen, with no evidence that these things actually do happen?

      I’d say I’m surprised, but really I’m just sad. I’m not surprised, because this is often the experience of people of color when they try to articulate their experience being in the minority. This is also a perfect example of privilege. You don’t understand because you don’t have to; as a person who has been privileged, you cannot conceive how hostile a classroom can be to a child of color, especially when they are one of very few. It’s just discouraging when that experience of privilege is used to silence those people who have not had the same privilege; indeed, the absence of privilege is precisely why they’ve been subject to realities that are so inconceivable to the privileged. I don’t blame people for their privilege; people cannot help that into which they are born. I also realize that even as a woman of color, I am a beneficiary of quite a lot of privilege, by virtue of my class, my educational background, and my current profession. But I do blame people for an unwillingness to consider that their reality might not be the only reality. If you’re really interested in understanding, and not just insisting that our experience couldn’t possibly be right (even though you have very little, particularly in comparison to our experiences, on which to base that conclusion), consider going through the earlier posts on this blog.

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  6. How did I miss this?

    I’m highly offended by the suggestion that people “not see color”
    My beautiful brown skin and the people I got it from are very much at the core of who I am. My Blackness is what makes me who I am. I have NO desire at all for anyone to remove that from me. I have NO desire to be treated differently because of it. What I DO want is for it to be acknowledged as unique and still respected and treated equally.

    “Colorblind” talk comes from privileged White people who can afford to take that stance.. as “color” is never an issue for them. It also comes from people who wish to be shed of the burden of guilt they “suffer” from.

    Blah.

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