23 August 2007

Taking on the Man

Okay y'all, wish me luck. Today is the big day when my fledgling parents' group meets with the school district superintendent and his minions. We've been working our asses off for this meeting. It's a grassroots group. It started off with a few of us sharing our stories, and realizing how many stories were out there, and how many "isolated incidents" were not isolated incidents at all, but a reflection of a systemic lack of awareness of the issues that students of color deal with every day. The more parents we spoke with, the more commonalities emerged.

Each parent thought it was "just them". In each case, the child was seen as the "issue". The commonalities were too blatant to ignore, though, and the kids are the ones internalizing this shit. It's amazing what's been going on with these kids! None of us knew the big picture until we started digging and talking to other parents, hearing their stories.

Anyway, it's been been me and three other women organizing this. This is on top of us all being single moms/aunt to teenagers and working. Yeah. Monday we put four hours in. Yesterday, three more. I spent the weekend doing a power point presentation. Last night I wrote the summary after the airport, got to bed about 0230, then got up to go with the son to freshman orientation at the high school.

Orientation -- please. I was expecting to get some actual information, but the "parents' activity" was coffee and muffins in the staff lounge. What? I don't have time for chatting over muffins, are you kidding me? Where's the friggin' information? I got pressured to sign up for the opening BBQ, some bake sale, some other fundraiser, some ticket selling thing -- hello, been there, done that, working single mom now, thank you. I don't have time to bake for my family, let alone some function. I also got hear about where so-and-so had bought her cute bag; how Sally was SO devastated about not making cheer, and she was better than that other girl anyway; how so-and-so misses her husband so much and doesn't know HOW she'll survive with him being gone for a week on business! She doesn't work. Please. You can't handle a week without your man and you don't even go to work? Buck up, honey, you'll live, I promise. I was out of there in five minutes.

I do digress. This was supposed to be a quickie. And you all know how good I am at brevity. (Stop the fake coughing JP, I see you.)

Anyway, today's the meeting, I ditched the orientation and am going over my summary. How I got stuck with the damn summary I have no idea. Well, yes I do. Let the white girl do it, she's less of a threat to white men in power, they'll listen to her. Which is sadly true. "If a white person notices racism, then it must actually be true, because they don't have 'ulterior motives' or a 'chip on their shoulders'."

It "goes down easier" coming from another white person; this has been documented. Which is ridiculous, because really, I'm not the one who has the innate understanding/experience to explain this shit. But, I've seen how it works: person of color starts a dialogue about his/her experience with racism; white person's sphincter immediately tightens, s/he goes on the defensive, secretly thinking that the PoC has "pulled the race card" and is "too sensitive"; white person either clams up and nods with a tight smile, or attempts to explain to the PoC why they have not actually experienced racism, they have in fact simply misunderstood, or been overly sensitive.

I really hate when white folks try to tell folks of color what racism is and isn't.

Okay, y'all, I know I'm on about this stuff a lot. I know some of you may be like,

Damn, Cowbell, lighten up, can't we all just get along? I never see this stuff going on. Pull the racism stick out of your ass and get back to writing about how your mom wants you to marry a preacher!

I know it sounds soapboxy to those who don't have to live with it or see it going on. I realize this.

You all think I just woke up one day and say, hey, I'm going to all of a sudden get a stick up my ass about racism and white privilege! That would be fun! No, it's not fun at all. What happened is that I see the effect on my kids, subtle and blatant. Particularly since my son has been hit with the puberty stick -- folks' perception of him has changed before my eyes, which breaks my heart and pisses me the fuck off. (He's good, he's kind, he's a kid for godssake, don't be scared of him, he's not going to steal your stupid greeting-card-store knick-knacks, bitch.) I see the bullshit in the media. I hear the comments. I see how it is subtly woven through our institutions. And when I talk to other parents, I hear stories worse than mine. Much worse.

My kids are kids of color, but the reality is that they are riding the coat tails of my white privilege. A teacher may make an assumption about my son, may send him out of the classroom while smiling at his white buddy who was also talking in class. To my son. When I show up to talk about it, the look of relief is plain to see, ("Oh, YOU'RE Mom! Whew!" Because I will "understand", I will not "be difficult".) On the phone, the administrators may not want to put my son in advanced classes, may not want to answer my questions about why I didn't receive the application packet in the mail. When I walk in though, when they see me, suddenly he is of the caliber to qualify for these classes.

Their perception of his home life, his support, his ability is suddenly different.

On the other hand, boy do they value his ass on the football field, the wrestling mat, the track. They are sending my son a message about where he is valued, where he is expected to excel.

My experience in the school principal's office is much different than the experience of my friends of color. Which is bullshit.

Goddamn but I do digress. Sorry.

Anyway, I'm doing the summary, in order to avoid the clenched-sphincter phenomenon brought on by "playing the race card." Well, these boys don't know it, but I'm about to pull the white card on their asses. I am going to connect with them on their level. I am going to talk about how, as white people, we are not born with an awareness of this. I was not born knowing about this. I floated along for years, blissfully unaware of what other people were living every day. I had to learn it. It was my responsibility to learn about it, in order to effectively parent my children. And the district has that same responsibility to educate themselves, because our children are their students. It's their school too, and they deserve to be appreciated and valued for who they are, not for how effectively they can assimilate into the dominant culture to avoid problems. Not for how well they learn to suppress that shit.

Anyway, they think they can "relate" better to me, okay, I'm expecting something from them. So we'll see how it goes. It's been a lot of work, and the damn overhead projector had best be working right.

[Climbs down off soapbox.] I really do suck at brevity, don't I?


  1. I'm going to buy you a cape. A bright purple Super Mom cape. With silver trim. Because I know how you like silvery things.
    Also, I enjoy a nice Mocha Brevity from Starbucks, on occasion.

  2. I do love silvery things, and purply things, so that cape would kick ass. It has to be the blue-purple though, not the pinky-purple, OK?

    Can you have it here before 2?

    (hey, this is a pretty brief comment.)

  3. You might suck at brevity, but you excel at other things, Super-Mommery being only the first among many.

    You are officially my MOST AWESOME PERSON OF THE DAY. I love this, and am sending blogfriend Al over here to read this immediately.

  4. Quakerjono23 August, 2007

    Kick that ass! Take those names! Go on and on as long as you like because it's quality.

  5. UPDATE: We just got back, and I'm on my way to "debrief" with margaritas. But we done good -- way better result than we even expected, I'll update later.

    Red -- thanks for the props; that goes perfectly with your totally non-sexual crush. This is right along w/ your line of work, so it means a lot coming from you.

    QJ: We did, baby, we DID! now, for that margarita...

  6. All props were deserved, I assure you. You totally know what you're talking about; it's clear. And if you'll allow a little soapboxery from me -- the SYSTEM made you a better messenger for this particular message. And the only thing you can do to make changes to the system is SPREAD it. In my line of work, I had to overcome lots of guilt about being white and weirdness about the fact that the white men (who really needed to hear this stuff) heard more coming from me than from my non-white, non-male colleagues. It totally SUCKS; I get it -- but look at it this way. Life has handed you a megaphone; it'd be a shame if you didn't use it whenever you can -- y'know? You ... totally ... rock.

  7. Dude,
    i kind of love you!

  8. O.K. you're totally freaking awesome. Damn!!

  9. Brevity is over-rated.
    (more clapping)

  10. This is so cool! enjoy your margharita, you deserve it.

  11. Don't forget my non-sexual crush as well. You constantly amaze me with your integrity, righteous anger, Intelligence, bravery, and willingness to follow through on your beliefs. I've said it before, and will say it again, you are an awesome mother, and your kids are very fortunate to have you fighting in their corner. I am so angry, and sorry, that your kids have had to put up with so much bullshit! I am glad you have decided to share the issues they have faced though, and am also glad you are not brief. Your writing is clarifying, on point, and well reasoned. I love reading you!

    Kisses, hugs, and props to you my friend!

  12. Has anyone told you lately how awesome you are? ;-)

    I'm hoping there will be details of this ass-kicking to follow. That information could be really helpful for other parents dealing with the same kinds of things.

  13. Red: exactly. The system has made it that way. It shouldn't be, but that's reality. It makes me uncomfortable, but whatever -- suck it up and drive on, because people of color have to feel a hell of a lot more uncomfortable than that. I think it's part of the role/responsibility in being a white ally: not to get in there and take over, but to work however you're most effective within the group.

    It does suck though, to arrive at the restaurant after, my 3 fellow group leaders already there (2 African American women, 1 Latina) discussing how noticeable the positive reaction was when Cowbell presented her parts of the presentation. Except they don't call me Cowbell.

    I mean, it's with them it's ok, because we all understand that reality, and they know I'm not going to be offended by that pissing them off, but still, it really sucks.

    But hey, like you said, whatever works.

    Monica: that made me smile, especially b/c whenever I see your profile pic next to a comment, it looks like you're doing some funky disco move. Plus, I love that I'm not the only one who calls other chicks "dude".

    Melody: Hi, welcome to the asylum! I am as freaked out by your sewing skillz as I am by Lorraine's skillz in the kitchen.

    Lorraine: (curtsey curtsey curtsy)

    Allan: I sure as hell hope so.

    Jokerine: (love the name) Welcome! The margarita was fantastic. I was too damn tired to have more than 1 though.

    RG: Thank you. The Hat is working on some sort of superhero cape for me. A sparkly one.

    Tater: Well, I guess we have proven QuakerJono's past theory of the whole e-crush thing then, eh? Thanks for the cyber hugs and props. They mean a lot, coming from one of my totally nonsexual e-crushes, ha!

    Belle: Well *ahem* yes, but not exactly in these, um, circumstances... (cyber eyebrow wiggle) ;-) Yes, details to follow.

  14. PS to Lorraine: I thought I saw a typo with my curtsey/curtsy deal, looked it up and BOTH spellings are correct. How lucky is that?

  15. I'm trying to look tough in my pic! disco moves INDEED. Time to get a new faux-toe... photo :)

  16. Monica: NO! I love that one! And you DO look tough ... when it's regular-sized. It's just when it's tiny in the comments that it looks like you're getting your Saturday Night Fever on. And I'm probably the only one who thought that anyway, b/c I'm weird like that.


I've got a fever ...