‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character’
Martin Luther King Jr.
Something that has been happening with G in the last few weeks got me thinking about self-identification and got me to revisit my own past struggle with my diverse identities. Basically (not) G thinks he is a black boy. And not in the cheesy Vanilla ice ice baby but as a boy with ebony skin and curly hair…My Manga faced boy sees himself as the 6th member of the Jacksons Five. Indeed, in all the books, IPad games, etc. if there is an illustration of a black boy, G points at the little boy and assertively claims: ‘it’s me, it’s G!!!‘ Every single time!
My initial reaction was: ‘Oh fuck, he is really really color blind’ (Note: he is struggling to identify primary colors). But as I started to study his big smile while proclaiming his ‘blackness’, I realized that his odd thinking was more complex and actually more beautiful than simple color blindness. The kid may flunk his public school ‘Gifted and Talented’ program entry test but he made me proud – a lot – in the last few weeks.
He reminded me that for a long time, I could never identify myself as Asian because I grew in a predominantly white neighborhood and thought I was just the same as my then fair skinned best friend Mariel. I remember studying for hours my face in the mirror of my parents’ old wardrobe and would not ‘see’ that my eyes were slanted, my hair was blacker and thicker than anyone else in my class (bar my sister), that I did not have any nose bridge (despite pulling my nose for an hour every night in bed and if you want details: yes it hurt and yes I felt stupid doing it…crazy girl) and that there were many reasons why my name could not be Stephanie or Adele. I would not ‘see’ but I knew I was different.
He reminded me that it took me almost 2 decades to reconcile my various cultural and ethnic identities and a lot of resilience to overcome the abuse from French kids calling me ‘Chinetoque’ (French racist slur for Chinese people) and from the Lao people calling me out for being a ‘banana‘ (no comment).
Because of all this, I wanted my kids to grow up in a place like Harlem so they can see and understand things such as:
– people of different colors besides your parents can fall in love and have kids together
– or white women are not necessarily the adoptive mothers of dark skinned children but can be the nannies paid by dark skinned parents
It became a kind of obsession to promote diversity in our family life; obsession obviously rooted in my own childhood insecurities.
But my kids seem to have taken their very own journey about their understanding and experience of race and class. G showed me something really new to me. He showed me that a boy with a caucasian dad and an Asian mom sees himself as a proud and happy black boy. And I will blast anyone who try to correct him and force him into boxes. I will blast them – Manga style.
What do you see when you look yourself in the mirror?
PS: meanwhile my daughter P is adamant she lives in the ‘Park’, I am at loss about what she means by this…I shall investigate and report to you soon 🙂