Kid Activists: A Mighty Job

This is a painful post for me to write, as we used to call Charlottesville our home. It is bitterly disappointing to see something so grotesque to go on in a place you love. I will just say: this shouldn’t be America. I am sorrowfully not surprised by the horrors of yesterday, because I could see it happening anywhere in the country right now. Charlottesville is a strong, diverse city; I know the people will rebuild C-ville more culturally responsive and better than ever.


 

Some think that racists come from parents teaching racism or intolerance. But science tells us that that merely the absence of teaching tolerance is enough to raise a racist. (Jennifer Richeson, 2017) Society teaches racism. Instead, we must teach our children to fight intolerance.

This post is about how to help kids understand activism and standing up for those with fewer rights than they have. These are skills I practice with my own daughter, adjusted for age. (Fellow teachers, please also talk about recent hate crimes in your classroom. For some, you might be the only voice explaining cultural competence to them.)

  1. Read, read, read: There are many books about activism for children. We like A is for Activism, by Innosanta Nagara… but there are so, so many to choose from. (See below.) The most important thing is that our children are informed. If I feel at a loss for words, or can’t describe my feelings about a certain event, there is always a book that has put it eloquently. Then I can talk about it with my daughter in an age-appropriate, authentic conversation afterward.
  2. Explain the news: Images on the news can be terrifying if unfiltered, monitor and minimize their exposure to the fallout on the tv. Try to be the first to explain an incident to your kids. If they read about it on social media, there’s the possibility that they’re getting misinformation. Start off by making sure they know you are there to keep them safe. Validate their feelings–it is completely reasonable to be frightened in the event of a tragedy. Use age-appropriate language and be sure to answer any questions they have afterward.
  3. Get your kids involved in contacting your representatives: Imagine the fun of making a video with your awesome little actor, write a card or letter together, etc. Your kid will be really into it if you make it a family event.
  4. Take your kids to a protest, or participate in a virtual march if safety could be an issue. Please make your safety and that of your child your number one priority, and never attend a protest without a safety plan. If the protest seems like it could become unsafe, skip it, but make a sign or tee-shirt, and…
  5. Give: consider encouraging your child to give some of their allowance to an organization they believe in. Often, organizations can put even $5 or $10 to good use, and it will make your kid feel amazing to know their money is going to help other people live better.
  6. Take care of yourself: Our babies learn best from watching us. They need to see us fighting the long fight. This means taking breaks from activism if we get weary. Turn off the news. Go outside or play a game. Rally. Repeat.

Suggested reading from our family friend: reading list here

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Family Style

I asked my husband what he thought was going to be seriously important to pass on to our daughter from the Chinese culture.

“Culture is fluid,” he said. “I don’t have too much attachment to culture, I feel like.”

It’s an answer he gives a lot–one I believe, in a way. He is exposed to so much raw humanity daily, that I think he thinks on deeper life-and-death terms than most of us generally do. But I also know that many aspects of his culture are rooted in his being. It’s who he is.

I let him go on…

“I like Chinese food. I like rice a lot. If we want to talk about culture, let’s talk about food,” he said, wiping down one of our daughter’s plastic dishes.

“On the [Lunar] New Year we eat dumplings. We never got our hair cut, or swept away the dirt before the New Year, so not of that really matters to me. But I like the Chinese food that my mom cooks. And my dad cooks, too.”

“What I love is eating family style. Sharing the dishes from a common bowl gives a nice sense of community. Not that yours is bad,” he adds quickly, as though he were letting me down gently. “The [American way] is probably more hygenic. Eating family style feels more like home. It feels a lot more informal than all the manners that are expected in the West. I think family shouldn’t have to be so strict. ”

“When we eat at [my parents] it feels like we’re more of a family unit, eating from the same bowl. Rather than the individual serving themselves, and having to parse it out.”

“Plus, fewer dishes,” he adds cheerily, turning back to the dishwasher he’s come to love. “Finish with that.”

 

Rejecting Colorblind Parenting

In many communities, people are really into viewing the world through a colorblind lense. That is to say, they feel they ignore the differences between people of different races and cultures. You may have heard people say, “Oh, I don’t see color.” “There is no difference between you and me, we’re the same inside.”

This is a form of racism, it is damaging to all POC, and we need to be especially sure we don’t fall into this trap.

Seeing our own babies as who they truly are, and insisting the rest of the world do the same, is the only way we can appreciate them fully, and encourage their healthy emotional development. The part of them that is another race is always there, even if you turn a blind eye to it. It negates their experiences, and can even send the signal that you believe their other culture is something to be ashamed of.

Avoiding talking about race will not end racism.

Instead, we must:

  • Teach our children through a process known as racial socialization. This means that we must give our children the awareness of their racial identity (tell them what race(s) they are), acknowledge that sometimes people may treat them differently, or in a way that makes them sad simply because of their race, and then bolster them with stories, songs and movies of his/her race(s) living their best lives.
  • Our Hapa babies flourish when we learn all we can about their other culture and embrace the language and traditions of that culture.
  • Consciously seek out friends for your child who are different from them. Find playmates of all different cultures and races to help your child experience differences as an exciting part of other friends.
  • Teach your kid that while race does matter (especially in our mixing-pot society), it is certainly not the only or even the most important thing about a person.
  • Celebrate Black History month by learning something new about Black culture every February, celebrate Asian History Month by celebrating something about your child’s heritage every May, etc. Celebrate diversity in all its forms!

Though this can be a really hard thing for some of us, especially if we were raised using a color-blind parenting style, it is worth every moment of our effort. When our children are able to be clear about how they treat others and how they expect to be treated, they have a much better chance of being treated that way!

 

It is almost irrelevant whether race is a social construction when the lived reality of race is so abundantly apparent in the lives of mixed race people.

— Minelle Mahtani, Mixed Race Amnesia

Individual Love

Sometimes it is easy to get swept up in lessons, and parables, and making sure we foster a pure sense of identity in our kids. We know how important it is, especially for our kids, who can be seen as different at first glance.

But remembering that they are individuals is the most important gift we can

give them.   Listening to their individual experiences. Fostering their individual interests. Decorating their rooms with things they personally love.

Being the representation of so much must be a beautiful burden at times. I can completely understand occasionally identifying with one of their cultures over another. But they are always, always themselves.

Provide opportunities for them to get lost in things they love… things that have nothing to do with their heritage. Fill their rooms with lego, or art supplies. Curate a mini-library for them on archeology. Let them spend days planning a garden, and then watch what they have created, flourish. They get to be themselves first.

One day, our beautiful babies’ generation will run this world.

 

The Girl Just Wants to Have Sun

But, no! Sunscreen first, ma’am!

It has been the war of the century to get everyone on board with putting sunscreen on this baby before she heads outside. We’ve quoted doctors, explained and re-explained, and chased family members out the door, applying sunscreen to the tiny one as she’s whisked away for an outing.

For some reason, this seems all too common with Hapas.

My husband (a doctor himself) never used sunscreen growing up. I, being of a more translucent complexion, always did.

ÀiShī was born with a “summer glow” I will never be able to achieve. It is deceptive to look at her skin and imaging it being damaged, when she never burns. But the melanin is not protective enough to fight sun damage. Especially until age 18, skin is vulnerable to cumulative damage from the sun’s rays. A couple bad burns before 18 significantly raise your skin cancer risk.

So we slather ÀiShī with sunscreen. It has been a difficult task to find a lotion that doesn’t cause her eczema to break out, and it is still usually best if she wash off on a day where we’ve reapplied multiple times. But our dermatologist recommended, and ÀiShī approved pick is Neutrogena Baby Pure & Free. It’s good to choose a lotion that is at least 60 SPF, but the main thing you want is a Broad Spectrum lotion, which blocks UVA and UVB rays.

*Whew, something I can write about with full confidence! I don’t have the experience of being in my daughter’s shoes, and I am certainly not any kind of authority on racial oppression. But when we come to skin that needs SPF–you’re in my wheelhouse!*

Now go get your babies some Vitamin Sea! 😉

 

Better to Write than Curse the Darkness

As a parent of a Hapa kid, I’ve found a representation desert…even more than I thought I would, I think.

Kids in Chinese books don’t look like ÀiShī. Kids in American books don’t look like ÀiShī.

There’s an embarrassing lack of books with children of multiracial families. And the few books there are, the multiracial family seems to be the plot of the book.

My husband and I were (and are) looking for books with a kid who looks just like ÀiShī, doing something freakin awesome.

White males (and, for the most part, White females) can find books and movies about someone like themselves. Many other races find characters with stories like their own, even though they often have less choice than they should. But where are the Hapa books, folks? Where are those Hapa hero/heroine movies??

My husband and I have gone to an extreme (and bitten off a little more than we can chew, maybe), and started writing a book for ÀiShī. The main character is a kid who looks just like her. Her sidekick is a Lion Dance lion. She gets into little situations that ÀiShī gets into.

I’m excited to give ÀiShī this book, but I’m also sad that we found such a paltry selection of mixed-race characters that we felt it necessary to create something.

Friends who have found some awesome Hapa books, please share below! I’m always looking to beef up ÀiShī’s book selection.


*I can’t say often enough that I have not had the experiences of a POC or a mixed-race child. What I do know is that lack of representation in literature, advertisements, and in media, has been proven in multiple studies to cause a decrease in self-esteem. (A good one to check out is the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.)*

 

Hapa Hair

 

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One thing about Hapa babies is that you never know how their hair will come out. Going along with t

he interesting hair patterns and swirls Hapas often have, the texture isunpredictable.

ÀiShī has soft, thick hair. The color is like my mom’s, and she is getting even more red highlights. Her hair gets knotty easily. I find at least three big knots each time I brush her hair. Her hair is also brittle; she had a headful of split ends before her first birthday.

The first thing that we tried was washing her hair less frequently, settling on about two washes per week. That is still working for us, but I needed to find her a new conditioner.

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After trying what felt like a thousand, but was probably more like four, we tried a sample size of Fekkai Grapeseed Oil Conditioner. Amazing for ÀiShī. Her hair was glossy and easy to brush in one wash. Like so noticeably different that our extended family commented on it.

My disclaimer at this point would be: In my experience all Hapa hair has its own challenges. What works for ÀiShī might not work for our Tiny 2 (whenever he or she comes into being), or your baby. The only constant I’ve noticed is a need for deep conditioner.

So, keep sudsing, friends! Something will work for your beautiful Hapa hair!

I felt very cross -or- All about Hapa eyes

Guest post by my husband Ming:

As a baby, we were concerned that ÀiShī’s eyes were not matching. This extended beyond the normal age for drifting and crossed eyes to have self-corrected.

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Subjective:

It seemed as if the left one was crossed. Sometimes it looked normal, sometimes it didn’t. But we were worried, nonetheless.

Thankfully, our pediatrician, the stupendous Dr. L, got us in to see a pediatric ophthalmologist.

Objective:

His office looked like his last name–Chinese. It was quaint. He was definitely charismatic, and little ÀiShī loved him! He kept her entertained with finger puppets throughout the entire exam–even giving her dilating eye drops.

Assessment/Plan:

Afterwards we learned two things:

  1. ÀiShī is going to be seriously nearsighted, like her Baba. (It’s amazing how early they can tell these things.) Plan: Glasses at about 4 yrs.
  2. ÀiShī had something called pseudostrabismus–extra skin around her nose, making one eye look crossed when it really wasn’t. A lot of Asian and Hapa babies have this; the bridge of their nose is flatter. Plan: Self-resolves as the baby grows into their face. 🙂

Return to clinic prn.