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Interracial Friendship and self-discovery

Image found at: http://www.valleyadvocate.com/blogs/gallery/175/colorfulchildren.jpg

My mind has been whirring as I reflect on the interracial friendship “issue” that my daughter recently encountered at a local beach. Ugh. I definitely think that I allowed my personal baggage to interfere when I responded to the little girl’s question about whether or not my daughter was black and the little girl’s comment that my daughter’s hair was very, very short. I in no way want to burden my daughter with my issues. However, I also don’t want her burdened with other folks’ issues. I truly believe that the little girl was curious and learning how to explore difference. Yet, too many times it feels that majority folks don’t train their children on the best way to go about it. They are allowed to ask, say whatever comes to their mind because “they are just children” after all. Well, some of those questions, inquiries, comments, statements, etc. can be offensive. I think it is imperative that we as parents be the vanguard to teach our children that they will encounter people who are different than they are and that the best bet is to first develop a relationship with people without bombarding them with questions. Plus, if you really have to know, ask your Momma first! Just my opinion. What do you all think?

I love the fact that the blog is opening up conversation about this topic. One of my girlfriends from New York had this to say:

“I also wanted to share something that Part 1 reminded me of. It made me wonder when I learned the social construct of calling myself “white.” I was visiting my parents recently and found an old blue book from second grade (the contents of which were very amusing!) Anyway, one of my stories was a description of myself and I described myself as having peach skin. I’m sure that’s because I always used the Peach Crayola to color pictures of myself. It’s funny though, because it’s actually a more accurate description.


Yes, we all are on a journey of self-discovery and learning about those around us. I hope that this is a safe space for you to share your honest thoughts and opinions. Please chime in! J

  • topie

    Sue, can you explain what you mean by "that is one for the cultures"? I want to make sure I understand before I respond. Thanks again for posting your comments! 😉

  • a3dfc142-8cc3-11e0-8a41-000bcdcb471e

    Just meant that culturally there are some different standards. As I stated my family had specific norms they adhered to. There are others who would suggest that my looking them in the eye while talking to them is a matter of disrespect. I have also run into individuals who feel it is OK to talk about peoples finances. As you have stated in your next post , it is a matter of explaining to our children what we believe they should understand,how they should act and how to react to things others say. We as parents of diverse backgrounds cannot always nail everything our children may run into,we should teach them a little tolerance of others ignorance.We must also teach them to use their heads when speaking out either on their own thoughts or against someones ignorance.

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Beach bonding and interracial friendship Part 2

Photo by Hamed Masoumi / Image found at: http://change-production.s3.amazonaws.com/photos/wordpress_copies/race/2010/08/blackwhitefriends.jpg

This past weekend, my daughter and I had some fabulous bonding time at the beach. Plus, I was happy to see my daughter making a new friend at the beach. As I mentioned in my last blog (http://tropie7189.blogspot.com/2011/07/beach-bonding-and-interracial.html), all was going well until my daughter’s new friend whispered, “Are you black?” We addressed that and I thought the conversation between the two of them would return to sea snails, sand and cartwheels. Not quite.

My daughter recently got beautiful cornrows in her hair and I put them into a little bun in order to protect them at the beach. Like most girls, my daughter loves to play in hair patting her bun, taking the bun down and putting it back up again. My daughter was in the process of taking down her bun at the beach when her new friend, within earshot of my daughter, leaned in and said to me, “Her hair is really, REALLY short”. Oh my goodness. I tried my best not to grit on the little girl (sorry, that is IN there and I had to work to suppress it) and said, “Actually, her hair is quite long and very, very curly.” I hate the fact that I felt compelled to add in the fact that my daughter’s hair is long. Ugh, there I go again falling into the myth that length is a proxy for beauty (http://tropie7189.blogspot.com/2011/06/long-hair-myth-thanks-frenchie.html). But, it’s true. My daughter has a head full of long, thick, kinky hair and I bristled when the little girl referred to it as “really, really short”. Images of pickaninnies and headscarfed mamies floated through my head. Gosh, this stuff is potent.

I think that the two incidents (asking if my daughter was Black and then stating that her hair was really, really short) compounded and made racial identity highly salient to me. However, I might have responded differently if my daughter hadn’t been there. I might have asked questions rather than making comments. However, my own internal issues coupled with my protective Mommy nature kicked in and I felt that I needed to defend my daughter. How would you all have handled this?

  • bliv

    I can totally understand the protective instinct! But I also feel for the other little girl being totally baffled by a new experience. You can pretty much picture what her community looks like, can't you? Sad.I remember when I first learned about race as a little girl–I remember asking that same question almost of my older brother's best friend, William: Why do they call you black? You don't look black? I was lucky that their reaction was laughter and an explanation that made it clear that it was a label and not a descriptor, etc. I can imagine that your daughter's friend has been socialized much like your daughter has (unfortunately)–that long, sleek hair is "ideal". When a mother at the church I went to as a child cut her daughter's hair really short to match her own, all the little girls were shocked because they didn't want anyone to TOUCH their hair length. Had to be like Barbie's hair. Long and straight. Unless you put curls into it. All about control. No matter that it was absolutely adorable to see the short hair cuts on little ones. 🙂 I think it's sad that we still have this strange "samson-like" affection for long hair on women as if it's a mark of femininity. Anyhow, kudos for documenting these encounters. Very interesting. 🙂

  • topie

    Hi there Bliv! Yes, I think I messed up on this one. While I calmed myself, I did respond out of emotion a bit. Thank you so much for talking about your experience with your brother's best friend. Yes, it is good that that they responded with laughter. Question for you, is there ever a time when laughter is NOT an appropriate response? When might other responses (what could they be) be more appropriate? I think I get fatigued when I think that I should laugh in situations where I feel like people should really REALLY know better (especially in work settings). In fact, it seems like the flubs, goofs, insensitive comments are often coming from majority group members rather than the other way around. I guess I just want folks to take sensitivity training so that I don't have to bear the brunt of their curiosity, ignorance, etc. But, when dealing with children laughter probably is the best policy. You raise a great point about socialized ideals. I do think that my husband and I are raising our daughter to realize that her kinky, coily hair is absolutely gorgeous and brilliant in its ability to be styled in a million ways. However, it's inevitable that she also receive messaging about straight "sleek" hair. also love your thoughts about "Samson-like" affection for long hair on women as a mark of femininity. Such a great point! Please come back and comment often. Love your perspective. Thanks!

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Beach bonding and interracial friendship

My daughter and I had an AMAZING time at the beach: white sand, clear water, sand dunes. Wow, we had an absolute ball. All was going well. My daughter even met a few friends to play with at the beach. One of them, a little girl (can’t remember her name) was thrilled that my daughter is a cartwheel enthusiast and the two of them somersaulted down the beach. Under my watchful eye, they also cavorted in the water and were having a fabulous time. Until. Until.

The two girls were stomach down lying next to my beach blanket. My ears perked up when I heard the little girl whisper, “Are you black?” My daughter looked at her and said something like, “No, I’m brown. Does that look black to you?” holding up her arm for review. The other little girl looked baffled. Her tone of voice had sounded like she’d come upon some great secret, this brown little girl next to her was an alien! But wait, if she’s not black, is she really an alien? Her face looked dejected.

Some of you may wonder why we train our children to say that they’re brown. Of course, we are also very proud and knowledgeable of our Black heritage, exposing our children to history and current events as much as we can. However, we want our children to know: 1) that race is a social construct and 2) there are BILLIONS of brown people around the world and we are part of that Diaspora. I believe that people’s conception of race start in scenarios just like this one. I was grateful that my daughter understood that her skin does not define who she is. But wait, the day held one more surprise as the little girl turned to my daughter and made one more comment, this time about her hair.

P.S.: Here’s an interesting article I came across on interracial friendships by Nadra Kareem Nittle (8/7/10) on news.change.org: http://news.change.org/stories/what-are-the-barriers-to-interracial-friendships.

Curious to know what you think about our beach experience and the article.

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