Friday, May 12, 2006

Teach Your Children Well

So... I feel like I haven't posted a "real" entry in a while. I don't know. I've been working A LOT, and since I try to avoid talking about work.... not much to say. Except that I found out that the homeless couple I spoke of here once before, the one I wanted to do a long project with, are using again. They're back on crack. I'm so sad for them.

Anyway, Shannon was talking on her blog last week about how Gaby married two of her Barbies during imaginary play. She was speaking generally about teaching tolerance and raising her daughter to be conscious of social issues. She's said before that talking about difference in terms of skin color is pretty easy for them because they're a biracial family, but sexual orientation is a tougher topic for a preschooler. So where do you start?

I posted this long comment over there, but I'm thinking you might like it, too.

"I have a very clear memory of an outing with my dad to the local Sportsmen's Club where he occasionally shoots targets and gallon jugs of water with his Civil War era rifles for fun.

I was about 5, wearing big blue headphones to muffle the noise of the gun shots. I was sitting behind him, playing with the stones around the place where the people with guns stand while they're shooting. There were a lot of metal casings on the ground from the various different kinds of bullets people use.

I was entertaining myself by sorting them into little piles and making up words for the different kinds. I was kind of babbling to myself, calling them things like "jigger" and "pigger" and "migger." My dad finished his round and pulled off both of our headphones.

We were going to go look at the cows in the stream by the Amish farm next to the Sportmen's Club before heading back to the car. I told him all about my little piles of metal casings and what I had named them- the jiggers, et al- and I had named one pile "the N-words." I had NO idea what that word meant. I had never heard it before. It was just a logical progression for me alphabetically. He swooped down to my level and told me in NO uncertain terms that I was NEVER to use that word, EVER. I started to cry, actually, so he took me out for ice cream and tried to explain it all in terms of vanilla, chocolate and soft serve swirl ice cream.

We talked about the Civil War, and the guns my dad collects, and why people fought to end slavery. And we ate ice cream.

As I got older, my parents also took my sister and I to a unity rally when the KKK marched through our town. We stopped at Civil Rights landmarks like Ebenezer Baptist Church and MLK's birthplace. We went to Stone Mountain in Georgia so we would know what Dr. King was referring to in the I have a Dream speech. (Also, we rode the cable car.)

As for teaching kids about LGBT issues, you could buy a copy of "Heather Has Two Mommies," a children's book by Leslea Newman, but it's also probably about waiting for the teachable moments. I had a friend in college who came out to his parents right before he left for his freshman year. The first thing they said was, "You know, you can experiment with same-sex relationships and not be gay" (meaning, "We know your best guy friend is your boyfriend.") And he said, "Nope, I'm really gay."

His parents looked at each other and said, "We will always love you, and frankly, we've known since you were four." As it turned out, he had asked his mom when he was 4 if it was okay to love the male teenage star of an 80s family sitcom. In that moment, his mom (not expecting what was coming from her pre-schooler) said, "It's okay to really admire someone and want to be like them when you grow up." And he said, "No, I love Male 80s Sitcom Star like you love Daddy." His mom became extremely flustered. After that, he apparently refused to watch the show or see this actor's movies. His mom felt guilty about it until he came out at age 18, and now- 9 years since his emergence from the closet- it's one of their favorite family stories."

So, in the interest of generating comments, (because LO do I love thee, comments, and YE I checked my blog and the COMMENTS, they runneth over), what do you remember about your parents teaching you about race, class, gender, sexual orientation? Do you remember learning about the "N-word?" The first time you saw a homeless person? Did someone help you understand something in a "teachable moment" that's stuck with you your whole life? Have you ever taught someone something about tolerance and saw them have an AHA! moment when what you said made sense?


Cindy W said...

Well, I'm from Mississippi, so I think my view on this is a bit different. Both of my grandparents on my dad's side used the N-word on a pretty regular basis. I know that my mom told them not use that word in front of us, not that it did much good. I grew up knowing it was a "bad" word, even though my grandparents said it.

Honestly, I think my dad is a fairly racist guy, just by virtue of being his age (70) and having lived in the South all of his life. Although most of what he says is in jest to get a rise out of his (all very liberal) children. He'll strike up a conversation at dinner, like, "you know, Hitler wasn't really that bad a guy, it was just the people around him who made him look bad..." And then he'll chuckle into his mashed potatoes while his 3 children and his wife lose their ever-loving minds at the dinner table.

As for the gay/lesbian issue, my mom is one of 7 kids. Two of the seven are gay. (One uncle and one aunt.) It was always a non-issue in our family - we never really talked about it, it just dawned on me when I was a teenager that my aunt's friend (who was present at all of our family reunions) was more than just her friend. Duh. I don't think that it was ever really discussed, I just absorbed it somehow along the way.

Alissa said...

Yeah, I really don't remember any defining moments in this category. But I do remember playing the rhyming game, after watching a Charlie Brown special. I was rhyming everything with Chuck. I didn't understand why the adults around me starting having a discussion about what to do about it.

But as far as race/culture/etc moments... I honestly can't think of any specific defining moments. I think it was just a matter of learning from what went on around me. My dad had a boss/friend who was black, and my parents used to go out to dinner with them a lot, and we would stay at their beach house in the summer. I was the only person who played with Kurt on the playground for a long you remember that boy, who had dwarfism or some similar condition? I don't know. It was never really "an issue" that was discussed. It all just seemed normal to me. I don't think it was until college that I really understood and started thinking about race and culture and how people were treated differently for those reasons. And then I got angry and started to get involved in active discussions and activism and whatnot.

new yorker, a said...

When I was a teenager, I gained a sneaking suspicion that a second cousin and her housemate were gay, but I never really gave it much thought. It was never really discussed in my family. They lived in New Paltz and we visited them once a year or so. When I was in college, I was driving in New Paltz and saw their names on one of those Adopt-a-Highway signs. Sort of like "this stretch of road has been adopted by: Debbie and Meg" (not their names) .. then the next Adopt-a-highway sign on the next mile was "this stretch of road has been adopted by: the new paltz lesbian alliance" (not the real name).

very surreal. the signs are probably still there.