Monday, August 15, 2011

Race is Always a Parenting Issue

[originally posted at The Good Men Project]

Last week, The Good Men Project started a conversation about race by publishing 8 articles from diverse points of view over the course of the week. However, the site launched the series last Monday with four pieces, all approaching the topic from a black/white perspective and written by black and white writers. I wrote the following response in partial reaction to the disappointing but unsurprising couching of America's continuing race problem in monochromatic terms, and it was published the next day, after, as it turns out, Daddy Dialectic's own Rad Dad Tomás Moniz' "Beautiful on All Sides," reprinted from Rad Dad: Dispatches from the Frontiers of Fatherhood (buy your copy now!).

It seems that whenever a new conversation about race in America is started, no matter the good intentions, the starting point is always the same. The American historical experience and conception of race is grounded in the opposition of blackness and whiteness, two categories socially constructed over time in ways that have served to define “the other” as “not us” and “us” as “not them” at the same time as preserving power and privilege for one “us” over the “not us.” Thus, it’s no surprise that The Good Men Project’s call for a new conversation about race, and its intersection with what it means to be “good men,” begins with four personal, deeply felt, and honest essays that nevertheless fail to acknowledge that when we talk about race in 2011, it’s no longer enough, if it ever was, to color the dialogue in only black and white.

When I am called to put a racial or ethnic label on myself, I call myself, among other things at other times, a multiracial Asian American. I am also the stay-at-home father of two multiethnic Asian American daughters. Short version of the long story, three of my four paternal great-grandparents were Austrian Jews and all my maternal great-grandparents were from Japan (yes, my family was in camp), and I’m from LA, married to a woman who came from the Philippines when she was one. What does it all mean, and what does it matter? It means that I am a father of color of children of color in a United States in which multiracial by no means equals post-racial, and it matters a hell of a lot.

When I was a newbie SAHD in a new town, I started blogging. But before I was a dad, I was a college activist on race and diversity issues, an ethnic studies major, and a social studies teacher at a diverse, urban LA-area public high school not unlike the one I had attended myself. Issues of race and social justice were intimately intertwined with my journey as a new father—how could they not be? And so, besides writing about the archetypal SAHD-out-of-water experiences and the daily routine of diapers and naps, I co-founded a group blog for Asian American dads and joined a nascent blog whose blunt name needed no explanation, Anti-Racist Parent, which has since been renamed Love Isn’t Enough.

Countless times, I’d encounter commenters asking, “I thought this was a parenting blog! Why are you always talking about this race stuff?” For a parent of color, navigating race and racism is a parenting issue. Already, as one of the few Asian Americans at her school, my six-year-old has come home asking me why classmates insist she’s Chinese or ask her where she’s really from. And I know that it will be far too easy for my smart, personable girl who also happens to be really shy in large groups and with authority figures to get lost in the stereotype of the quiet Asian girl, and that it’s my job to monitor, teach, and intervene.

Race may be a social construction, but it continues to have real consequences upon people’s lived experiences. I know that my experiences as a biracial Asian American boy growing up in the Los Angeles of the ‘70s, ‘80s and early ‘90s (I graduated from high school just a few scant months after the National Guard used our blacktop as a staging area) will be very different from my daughters’ experiences as multiethnic Asian American girls growing up in a more conservative, more homogeneous Central Valley in the early 21st century. But I know that having a biracial black man in the White House and mixed folks a Hollywood trend doesn’t equal the end of racism, and that colorblindness leaves us unable to see, and that sometimes it isn’t enough to just love our children and hope for the best but that we must equip them with the lessons of our past, the tools with which they can shape their world, and our guidance with which they can learn to do so.

This conversation isn’t a new one, and it’s not one with an end in sight. And that’s okay. Because we don’t have this conversation for our own sakes. But as we move forward, we need to make sure that more and different voices telling more and different stories are heard, because in those different stories we will find the common experiences that bind us and learn what we don’t know we don’t know. Only then can the conversation include everyone, and move forward.

1 comment: said...

This post stuck close to home for me. With German and Irish ancestry I'm about as white as white can get. My wife is Chinese, the first person in her family born here. Living in Brooklyn race and culture is everywhere, but the Black/White paradigm pervades everything. One thing that the poster didn't mention, so I don't know if it is true for him, is that the Chinese, and asians I know, have sided in this paradigm. They have sided with the Whites against the Blacks.

I, and other parents I deal with, have been working against this. I have gone out of my way to find places and things that, by their own existence, question this paradigm. The martial arts school I send my girls to has a White owner/Master Sensei, the primary Sensei is Black, my girls instructior is Russian/White. There is a good mix of students. I don't have to rant on about race, though sometimes I do, I just let experience contradict racism.