Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Self-Loathing People

About a week ago an incident happened around here that really has me upset. As my daughter was walking from the bus stop, one of the girls asked her if the rolling bookbag she was dragging along was a Hilary Duff bag. Hilary Duff is one of the latest Disney-created teen sensations. She's had her own television show and music album and now she's branching off into a line of accessories for little girls called "Duff Stuff". So anyway, after my daughter tells the girl that it is a Duff Stuff bag, the girl asks her why she got a "white girl bookbag". Before my daughter could answer, the girls says "Oh yeah, that's right. It's because YOU'RE white!" Another girl in the group tries to defend my daughter and tells Miss Smartie Pants that VanGoghGirl is not white, just light-skinned. Unwilling to let it go at that, the mean girl says "Well, she acts like she thinks she's white!"

This really hurt my daughter's feelings. However, being the kind of person that she is, she still didn't want to believe that the girl was purposely being mean to her but it bothered her all the same. My first reaction upon hearing about this was to try to help her shake it off and just get her mind off of that and onto something more positive. The next day though, while she was at school, I got the opportunity to think about it some more. There was another incident that happened around here a few weeks ago.

VanGoghGirl doesn't have chemically relaxed hair. Before she was even born, I decided that I wasn't going to go that route with my child. I just don't believe in putting all of those harsh chemicals on a child's head. Besides that, I also think that natural African-American hair is beautiful. I have some friends who started out saying they'd keep their child's hair in it's natural state but went on to change their mind as the child's hair got a bit longer and it became more time-consuming to keep it looking nice. I think that's fine. It's a personal choice. I used to wear my hair natural but then I relaxed it and now I'm considering going natural again.

The thing is, I haven't felt the need or desire to relax my daughter's hair. Maybe I'm lucky. I'm not trying to brag but the majority of people in my family have really thick, gorgeous hair and VanGoghGirl's paternal family has really wavy hair that tends to stay healthy looking even after it's pretty long. So, my daughter happened to inherit a head that tends to have more good hair days than bad. Most of the time I braid it in five or six ponytails. Sometimes, The German's sister cornrows it for me and sometimes I even flat-iron it for a bit of variety.

Well, on this day, my daughter was going out to play and didn't have many daylight hours left before she'd have to come back in again. So, I simply brushed and combed it and put it in some ponytails but I didn't braid them. She hadn't been outside for long when she came back inside. I asked her what happened and she said that one of the girls had told her, "I wouldn't let my child come outside with her hair looking like that." It was the same girl that went on to make the comments about my daughter supposedly thinking she's white. Uh, I just have to wonder what this girl thinks her hair would look like if her mother hadn't been frying it to pieces with curling irons since she was old enough to walk. My daughter's hair is healthy, shiny, long, and wavy compared to that girl's limp, broken-ended, and dull mess held together by a half-bottles' worth of hair spray. I know that might sound harsh but I'm sorry, this kid is old enough to know better. There's nobody forcing her to set out to hurt other's feelings. The sad thing is that my daughter thinks the girl is really pretty but evidently this girl doesn't feel beautiful at all. But that's no reason to try and make VanGoghGirl feel bad.

This girl had been one of the nicest girls in the neighborhood but all of a sudden she's really changed. She doesn't really live over here but her grandparents live right beneath me and we all get along just great. Her grandfather is a Muslim and we often sit and talk about race and politics and all the problems commonly faced by and caused by "our people" (blacks). He's extremely intelligent and he really loves trying to talk to the children in the neighborhood about respecting themselves and their elders. The mean girl even has a great mom. Last year her mom told her she could pick three girls and invite them to a slumber party. When the girl asked VanGoghGirl to be one of the girls, I wasn't surprised because they have played together for years.

Somewhere along the way, this girl seems to have developed some real self-hatred. VanGoghGirl doesn't carry all of the baggage about skin-color that so many blacks hold onto even in this day and age. I'd like to keep it that way but it seems that black people are making that really difficult. Of course, this is nothing new. People used to throw rocks at my mother and her sisters on their way home from school along with calling them the same "White girl!" name-calling crap that black people are so quick to dish out. The sad thing is that now, decades later, black people are still doing the same old thing.

How in the world can you teach a child to be proud of being an African-American when they see these same people behaving in a manner that no one should be proud of? I swear, no racism is worse than that which black people will experience at the hands of other blacks. The German and I were discussing this a couple of months ago after he read an article and shared it with me. A white social worker tried to attend the National Association of Black Social Workers annual convention but was refused entry. I'd think that black people would be glad that someone who works with a lot of black clients actually cared enough about them to try and gain some insight into their situation but no, not these jerks. As usual, we had to go and show that we can be just as discriminatory and ignorant as the sort of white people that "we" complain about. Good grief! Even David Duke lets black people attend his NAAWP rallies.

I was just going to put all of this stuff with my daughter behind me when I happened to tell The German's sister about it when she asked how VanGoghGirl has been doing. She really went ballistic! She felt like it was a much bigger deal than I initially did. She told me that I really need to tell that kid something because I have no idea how much those comments might have an effect on my daughter. She said, "That girl might have been having a good day and then hear that and go in her room and cry! That could totally upset her day and change how she looks at herself for a long time!"

I must admit that I felt rather sheepish after listening to her. I had tried to teach VanGoghGirl to just write such incidents off as signs of other's envy which are best ignored. I felt that all of the positive messages that we give her about body image would make her pretty immune to the stupid comments that people occasionally make. The German and I have spent hundreds of dollars on books and dolls that feature characters that look like her in the hopes that she'd see herself as having a place in this society where she could feel beautiful and valued. Now it seems that all of that won't have done a bit of good because just a little hatred goes a lot further than all the love in the world.

I think The German's sister recognized that before I did. If I had been thinking, I probably wouldn't have told her about what had been going on. After I did tell her, I could see that this was clearly a situation that she could relate to. The German has told me how he was picked on about the same sort of things and how those messages still affect him to this day. Him and his sister's anger have shown me what can result even when you have a mother that shielded you from a lot. If I don't do the best I can to help my daughter deal with this, she could grow up as maladjusted as a lot of other girls I know. Either they hate their body and repeatedly engage in relationships where they are abused or they see their body as the only thing in the world that will get them attention. As usual, I can see all of the problems but finding my way to the solution is going to take a lot of time.

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