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A New Dolly

A friend of mine was in New Orleans for New Year’s Eve, and she said it was a blast. She came over to give my daughter a New Orleans ragdoll, which, as one might expect, is an African-American ragdoll. She has adorable cornrows with colorful bows, a dress and apron, and very black skin.
My daughter loved her immediately. While we played a round of a great boardgame that we got at the Educational Resource Center (product placement for my friend Heddi!), my daughter took votes for names and wrote them in her ideosyncratic, first-grade way of spelling. Bedy, Emillyy, Lara. (She got rather mad at me for pointing out that Lara is a name, because that’s how she spells Laura and don’t you forget it!)
Round about when her father arrived home, she’d settled on the name Porcupine-Head. I was wondering about the implications of my daughter going around telling people that she’d named her African-American doll “Porcupine-Head” (or however she spells it!), when I heard with relief her telling her father that the doll’s name was Sara. Or Sarah. Or perhaps, because as my son pointed out, my daughter does like double consonants in the names she chooses, Sarrah.
Whew, we seem to have gotten past that parenting dilemma without any hard work from me!
The great thing about my kids and racism is that when they say things that might be taken as racist, I know there’s no way that they are in fact racist. I don’t think my 21st century kids yet understand that there is this artificial construct we call race. They have grown up knowing that people have a variety of skin and hair and eye colors. They’ve never commented on multi-hued families that we meet, and don’t seem to notice when people “look different.” We are raising them in a relatively pale environment, as California environments go, but when we end up somewhere where the majority of people are Indian, or Vietnamese, or Chinese they don’t seem to notice.
They’re all just people to them. Isn’t it cool?
I never believed in that other artificial construct people like to talk about, “generations,” till my husband and I compared notes. Officially, he was born in the last year of the baby boom. Officially, I was born right at the start of Generation X. I thought that was meaningless, but I realized that it was true. For me, Vietnam and Watergate were history. I was raised mostly in the 70s, and Reagan was my first post-high school president. My husband was raised more in the sixties than the seventies, and Nixon and Vietnam were an important part of his coming of age. Our world views were shaped through a different lens. We agree on most things political, but we look at things from a slightly different point of view.
I believe that one reason that Barack Obama is about to be our president is that so many younger voters truly are “post-racial.” I don’t mean that they don’t hold racist thoughts — that’s a subject I could go into in depth but won’t. It’s part of the structure of the human brain to define “us” and “them.” It’s part of why humans have been so successful, but once we succeed, we still use it to our disadvantage.
What I mean by “post-racial” is that Obama’s race is, for many younger people, truly incidental to his person. It is just so Rainbow Coalition to care about someone’s race; the younger generation out there is more apt to care about whether he can text (he can and does) and who his favorite hiphop artists are. Baby Boomers liked to complain that Generation X was apathetic, but I think we were just transitional. We knew we were supposed to stop caring about people’s pedigrees, but it hadn’t yet been decided what we should care about in its place.
Our president, the one we brought into office, was Clinton. He was Generation X’s “whatever” president. I thought his unofficial slogan, “It’s the economy, stupid,” was so clever. Can’t quite remember why.
So, phew, I don’t have to worry about my daughter calling her doll Porcupine-Head in public. I don’t have to worry my Generation-Xy head about how I explain that she just doesn’t KNOW how that sounds. She is post-racial, I hope. I hope that when she learns about slavery, Jim Crow, and all the other ugliness in our country, it will seem alien to her.
They believed that? Really? Why?

Posted in Parenting.

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