Media Monday

Council on Contemporary Families Releases “Unconventional Wisdom” on Family Diversity

One of the most unconventional findings was that “the darker an African American or Latino student rated his own skin tone, the higher his academic performance, academic confidence, and social acceptance.” This relates directly to the discussion we were just having about colorism, and whether what the teenagers in the video were saying accurately reflected what they thought about skin color and beauty. I’m tempted to want to spin these results to so that they can co-exist with the teenagers reflections being accurate, but I can also see how these can represent conflicting findings.


Minority Children Four Times More Likely to Start Poor, Stay Poor

“In Singapore, the government deposits small amounts of money into an account for each child born, Shanks said. That money can be withdrawn to cover costs such as extra tutoring for children or higher education for young adults. Or it can sit, earn interest and become the sort of nest egg or emergency fund the child’s future family may need. As a result, almost all families in Singapore–regardless of income–own their own homes.”

Yet in this country we act as if people with assets – homes, stocks, etc. – aren’t doing the same thing for their children and grandchildren. When you start life off with a nest egg, even a modest one, the monetary laws of compound interest make it so that the money grows, without you doing a single solitary thing to earn it – no bootstrapping necessary. But for poor black children? We act like their situation actually has something to do with their or their parents’ character, not with historical, systematic denial of the opportunity to build wealth according to race.

“Right now, 12 percent of white children live in poverty compared to 33 percent of Latino kids and 36 percent of black children.” And you think we live in a post-racial world?


Racial Politics: The “Business” of Domestic Private Adoption

On a related note, over at LIE there is an article about money and black babies and adoption. Black babies usually “cost less” in private adoptions because there are more of them than white babies and they are harder to place than white babies. They are harder to place because there are more white adoptive parents than black adoptive parents, and the norm is to match babies within the race. I say this is related to the post above because, as one commenter says, perhaps much of why there are more black babies is due to the poverty that many black mothers find themselves in when it is time to give birth. In any case, transracial adoption is on the rise, for even at “rates” as low as $4,000 for a black baby, compared to nearly $40,000 for a white baby, getting a black baby is a deal. White adoptive parents come to “prefer” a black baby once they realize how much better the black baby fits into their budget. But its a secondary consideration; the White adoptive parents “settle” for the black baby, only after having taken the price of the child into account. Fucked up, right?

peep this: in case you thought we were post-racial

There really isn’t much to say, as the video speaks for itself. Colorism in the black community is as much a symptom of racism as is white privilege; both stem from a belief that the whiter, the better. While we can applaud that more black faces are being heralded as beautiful, the truth is that lighter skinned black women with longer, less nappy hair is considered to be more beautiful than darker-skinned black women with shorter and nappier hair.

If you don’t believe me, watch the video again.

The question becomes: what do we do about it? Do light-skinned black folks have some affirmative duty, like we call on white folks, to call attention to their privilege in order to denounce it? I don’t know if I “qualify” as light-skinned (that sounds so ridiculous); at various points in my life people have said yes, and others have said no. But I’ve experienced some of what these kids are talking about in the video. I remember a boy saying that he liked my knees because they weren’t dark!

Whatever my classification, I’m pretty sure, according to my sources, that my children are considered light-skinned. And they have less nappy hair (although you wouldn’t know if the way they carry on.) And I already see the privilege that is conferred on them because of it. I’ve heard the comments about their “good grade of hair” and how “beautiful” they are; I don’t remember anyone saying I was beautiful as a child. And while I can’t really stop what other people say, I’m trying hard to make sure they don’t internalize the messages; I try to have every shade of black represented in their books and toys, and talk about how gorgeous all the colors of black are. Both of their grandfathers are darker-skinned, but it doesn’t help that we aren’t particularly close to those sides of the family.

Yet on the other hand, I want to be able to tell my daughter that she’s beautiful. I want to be able to do her hair in her ponytails and say, Little A, your hair is so pretty. I hope that she understands that I am making an individual judgment about her, and that my hair being loc’d reinforces that black hair in its many configurations can be beautiful. But I also don’t want her to grow up with a complex about the whole light-skinned thing either, just like I’m sure white folks don’t want their kids to grow up with a complex about being white.

Ya feel me?

Power to the Bebow

My daughter has recently become obsessed with the Reading Rainbow Theme Song. Tweeners like me know the ditty by heart, but when my toddler sings it, it sounds something more like this:

BYE-BYES *indecipherable* SKYYYYY
*indecipherable* HIIIIIIIIII
*babble* OOK!
*babble* OOK!

Fittingly for a child singing about rainbows, she’s also started learning her colors:
“What color is the sky?,” I ask.
“What color is the grass?”
“What color is your skin?”
“Yes, Baby,” I respond; “Your skin is a beautiful, beautiful, brown.”

It frustrates me that I don’t have more names for the spectrum of colors in the brown category. When pointing out the skin color of white characters in her books, I can use words like white, cream, peach, pink, rose, and tan. When the characters are black, I’m stuck with brown; maybe mahogany or cinnamon if I’m feeling really creative.* My lack of words for brown says as much about our dismissal of all things (and people) black and brown, as much as my internalization of that dismissal.

Despite the hole in my vocabulary, however, I’m trucking along anyway, determined to continue talking about skin color with her because I know the best way to raise a racist child is to avoid talking about race. I also know that in failing to talk about skin color with children, we teach them that the subject is taboo, making it difficult for them to have productive conversations about race later in life. I am reminded of this when my students, six weeks into a course on race in the public education system, still clam up at the start of class, awkwardly stumbling into language about “blacks” and “the races” only after insistent prodding by me. I am reminded of this by the guilty silence of my colleagues in response to observations at a recent faculty meting that we haven’t had a scholar of color give a talk at the school in two years. I am reminded of this by the radio silence I encountered in response to my explanation to a white peer that I picked a particular pre-school for my child because there were black dolls in the classrooms.

I am determined to raise a child who is comfortable talking about race, skin color, and it significance in our society. Although it’s likely wishful thinking, maybe her generation will revolutionize the discourse on race in our country, finally acknowledging worth and beauty in the rainbow of skin color among human beings. In the spirit of such a revolution, I say Power to the Bebow!

*The author welcomes suggestions!