Monday, February 27, 2012

Jesus in the Qur'an and in my Cousin's Living Room

Saturday evening, The German, VanGoghGirl, and I went to a family fun night for the General Lafayette descendants. After we left the restaurant, VanGoghGirl and I went to an impromptu "girl's night" at the house of one of my distantly related cousins (I think her mother is my grandmother's sister). We had a great time! We didn't get home until 4a.m.

Anyway, while I was there, some were talking about how difficult it was going to be to get up for church the next morning after staying out so late. One cousin said that she wasn't actually going to a Christian church the next day; she was visiting a mosque with one of her coworkers.

I was very happy to see that no one said anything critical or ignorant in response. There are two entirely Muslim households in our family, but neither live in our city, so most folks don't know about them. We're a rather tolerant family; I think it's in large part because our multi-ethnic/multi-racial identity makes us more inclined to embrace diversity than to reject it.

Out of curiosity, I asked her what made her decide to visit a mosque. She said that she's been feeling really disillusioned with Christianity for a while and she really liked that, from what she's seen so far, everything in Islam seems to revolve around doing things for God's sake and not to impress people. I was pretty pleased to hear that. I don't know her coworker, but it's obvious that this person was setting a very good example and living her faith at their workplace. It's frustrating when I see an individual from a marginalized community behave in a way that makes life harder for everyone else in the group.

She said that she wasn't really sure about whether she was interested in becoming a Muslim, though. It might have been a bit nosy, but I asked her what made her feel that way, because she seemed a little uneasy. She confided that she was worried because she found out that Muslims only view Jesus as a prophet. That made me feel really glad that I'd asked.

I explained that what Muslims mean by "prophet" isn't exactly the same as what a Christian means when they use this term. In Islam, a prophet isn't just some guy who says true stuff about God. I think that the Muslim use of the term "prophet" corresponds most closely with (the Catholic title) "Saint". I told her that Jesus isn't viewed as "just" a prophet, either. His role is unique and asked her if she knew that Jesus is the only person in the Qur'an who is referred to as the Messiah. She didn't know and a few others in the room also expressed surprise upon hearing this. Seeing their reaction brought back fond memories for me. I half disbelieved it when a class mate in college first told me this. When I researched it for myself and found that it was the truth, my mind was absolutely blown.

VanGoghGirl was right there next to me and she chimed in, by telling our cousin that being a Muslim wouldn't mean that she was just ditching the God in the Bible, because Muslims and Christians worship the same God. The biggest difference between the two religions was just how you worship God.

I was very pleased by my child's contribution to the conversation. Like many parents, I often wonder how much attention she's paid to what I've tried to teach her about the world around her. She could have left the room or put on her Mp3 player and ignored us. Instead, she showed a great deal of wisdom by discerning the root of my cousin's hesitation and then making an effort to dispel one of the most common misconceptions held by people from Christian backgrounds.

As a parent, I expend a lot of effort trying to make the most out of every moment that can be used to teach her something. However, on Saturday night, I got the opportunity to see her creating her own teachable moment. I couldn't have been prouder of her than I was at that moment.

Friday, February 24, 2012

My Perspective and Experience with Children Having Cell Phones

After reading the article "Preteens and cell phones: my change of heart", I wanted to commend the author's husband for helping their daughter find a constructive way of voicing her opinion and trying to persuade her parents to reconsider. Instead of whining and begging, she presented rational arguments. Even if it didn't change their mind, I think she should be encouraged and praised for behaving so maturely.

As parents of a teen, my husband and I have had to deal with this issue. We decided to get a "family" cell phone that we could allow her to take with her when she was out with friends or going to soccer practice. This solved the issue of convenience without creating a situation where she might develop the texting addiction that was already causing problems for some of the other kids in her middle school.

We didn't give her a cell phone of her own until she was in high school. My husband and I carefully selected the kind of phone and phone plan she'd have. Since my husband is a techie, he opened up her phone and disabled the camera on it. There is A LOT of pressure on girls to sext and we didn't want her to have to deal with that right away. We told her that we'd re-evaluate things in a year. If she showed that she could use her phone responsibly, then we'd consider getting her a phone with more features. We also told her that she would have to leave her cell phone in our room at night. She was so happy to finally have a phone that she didn't balk about our restrictions.

I'm proud of how she's taken on this responsibility/opportunity. She had heard friends talk about how they accidentally--a parent would probably call it carelessness--racked up huge cell phone bills from texting so much. She came to me and told me that she researched alternatives to that and she found a program she could download to her phone that would allow her to text through the internet. She said it would allow us to select a cheaper cell phone plan that doesn't include texting without losing any of the features she now had. We checked out the program and she was absolutely right. That impressed us. We're always talking to her about the importance of frugality and it was encouraging to see her making an effort to save (us) money.

Now, we've developed a sort of system where she inherits our old phone whenever my husband or I get a new one. When I got the Iphone 4. She inherited my old Iphone 3g. Even though it's not the newest one, it's not obsolete and it does everything WE need it to do for her. She's happy with our system, because by the time she gets a phone from us, there are already lots of cool applications available for them.

I'm glad that we stood our ground. I think it's good for children to learn to delay personal gratification. No child should grow up receiving everything they ask for, as soon as they ask for it. As a family that--thanks be to God--can afford to give our only child everything she needs and much of what she wants, we think it's important to prevent her from growing up to be one of those adults who were overindulged as children and walk around expecting the world to cater to their every whim. We were able to use the cell phone issue as an opportunity to reinforce that lesson, instead of trying to "keep up with the Jones" and give her something just because most of her peers already had one.

If only the rest of parenting was as easily dealt with... :)

My Daughter's Natural Hair Joys

My daughter took my phone tonight and posted this picture of herself on my facebook wall. She captioned it to show how much she loves her hair. "Oh lawd, these curls are ridiculous".

She has never had a "relaxer" in her hair. Down here, it's de rigueur for "Creole" girls to wear their hair straight and long, even if that's not how their hair is naturally. If a girl has what would be considered "light-skin", then she should have the straight(er) hair that accentuates the European part of her heritage. I can't even count how many times people have told me or my daughter that "she'd be so pretty with straight hair".

Hearing that makes me angry and disgusted, because of the implications of that assertion. It's still remarkable to me that there are so many people who ignore the way it makes little girls feel when they hear that kind of criticism disguised as a compliment. Even in 2012, Creole society reeks of so much class privilege that I refused to even refer to myself as Creole until the past couple of years.

I had to chemically alter my hair all the way until I reached college. My mother said that afros were too radical for a Christian to wear. Yes, I do realize how silly that may sound, but her reasoning was that Christians should not seek to draw attention to themselves. Trying to stand out was akin to attempting to reject and upset the purported "oneness" of the church body.

My mom finally consented to my desire for synthetic braids. After a year and a half of that, I tried wearing my hair in an afro, but it was so drastically different from how I was used to looking, I quickly got a relaxer put in my hair again. The societal messages were strong enough to make me want to relax my hair again, even though nobody was directly demanding me to do it.

I had a teeny weeny afro when I was going through chemotherapy and most of my long tresses fell out. My mom took it harder than I did. I liked it. When it grew back, I did get relaxers again. However, I've never been the kind of girl who likes fussing with my hair, so I went natural again a few years ago. It's a lot easier to deal with. I don't need to sleep with hair rollers or bother with curling irons. I can put a little pomade or mousse or hair lotion in it and I'm finished. Sometimes, I'll put a headband on it to add some color.

Before my daughter was born, I made up my mind that I wasn't going to put her through the endless routine of sitting at the hair salon for hours every week, just to make her hair conform to societal expectations. I was determined to teach her to love herself just as the Creator made her. I was often pressured to relax it, but I managed to resist it. That was probably my first real independent decision as an adult.

In elementary school, she was the only girl of color who didn't have relaxed hair. She had a few girls do cruel things like pour milk in her hair and call her "nappy-headed". It only takes a couple of bullies to make a kid's life really miserable.

During her middle school years, I remember an incident where she was at a sleep-over and called me up crying her little heart out. The girls were playing in each other's hair and one white girl who she THOUGHT was her close friend made a nasty little comment about how my daughter's hair would break her flat-iron and that it wasn't meant for "that kind of hair". Nobody stood up or voiced any problem with the comment. She was the only girl of color at the party and it made her feel really horrible and alienated from the girls. I wanted to scoop her up, immediately, but she wanted to stick it out and try to enjoy herself.

That's more than any little girl should have to endure. The teasing and bigotry that she experienced were the only things that made me question whether this endeavor was really something worth sticking with.

When my daughter got accepted to the big fancy high school here, there were about a half a dozen girls there who also wore their hair naturally. When she reached tenth grade, a bunch of other girls told my daughter that they were about to do it, too. It's now considered pretty fashionable among that hoity-toity crowd. Go figure! If you wait long enough, every style will become fashionable again.

I'm a bit of a natural hair advocate now. I feel very strongly about my decision to look like the Creator made me. It means that there are certain jobs I could never get hired to perform. White America still isn't ready to fully accept the features of people of color as a part of what's "normal". However, I think that choosing this road through life has made me stronger and helped me make my daughter stronger than most children her age.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Traveling While Black

This evening I read an article in Ebony about "Why Black Youth Must Travel". It interested me, because of how much I love studying cultures and languages from around the world.

I'm a bit disappointed that the author didn't address how the travel disparity is significantly affected by safety issues associated with being a person of color. Let's face it. If something happens while you're traveling the world and you don't look like Natalee Holloway, you can forget about contacting the consulate or your representative in Congress. You're on your own and you'd better have enough money to pay for whatever it will take to get you out of trouble and back safe at home.

We're also far more likely to receive a negative reception in many parts of the world, especially Europe. We're not exactly the desired market that tourism departments are hoping to attract.

These things can make travel a much less appealing idea for those who, though young, are already hip to the reality that the "black tax" extends beyond the borders of the USA. As a middle-class parent, I'd love to see my child travel overseas. It's not a matter of availability of funds, for us. I'm just not going to use my funds to send my precious, queer (young) woman of color alone into a world that is especially predatory towards people like her.

I like the idea of travel and do it as much as I can. However, I'm a realist and I know what a difference it makes for having a white husband by my side when I do it. My contribution to today's black youth will travel overseas when we can do it as a family

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Legacy of Black Greatness and Endurance

Photo Description: President Obama is walking down the halls of a government building wearing a suit and tie and his right hand is in his pants pocket. He is accompanied by two black male professionals who are also wearing suits. To his left, there is a balustrade. In front of the balustrade, there's a black man wearing a janitor's uniform and latex gloves as he empties and replaces the trash bags in the building. President Obama has taken a couple of steps toward the janitor and his left hand is extended as he shares a fist-bump with the janitors' gloved right hand, before he moves along. The janitor is smiling at the President. Obama's lips are slightly pursed into a serious-looking (but respectful) facial expression.

This picture affected me to my core. I'm not even sure I can articulate why that is, really.

Seeing this black man, who is now the President of one of the most powerful nations in the world, take the time to acknowledge and show this man respect in such an identifiably black manner makes my heart burst with pride. It reminds me of the pictures from the black power salute at the 1968 Olympics.

It brings tears to my eyes as I think about all of the generations of black people who have worked, doing hard labor and menial jobs for little or no pay. They endured centuries of inhumane treatment in order for us to finally have the opportunity to see black exceptionalism, black excellence, black intelligentsia on display for the world to see and be forced to recognize, even in the upper echelons of this white-dominated country.

For me, the aleatory moment captured in this photo symbolizes Obama's unabashed connectedness to the entire community of American people of color and shows an appreciation for the oft-ignored working class black people that made it possible for him to be where he is now. This photo gives me a really visceral feeling of pride in what our community has produced, despite centuries of marginalization, oppression, and--dare I say it--slavery.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Transnational/Transracial Adoption and Fetishization

On the "Yo, Is This Racist?" tumblr, someone was seeking advice about how to deal with a friend who was fetishizing the Korean child that she was getting from a transnational adoption. On Facebook, someone responded that, when the agency saw how she was acting like she was getting a new toy, they wouldn't allow her to adopt. I had to laugh at that.

These international adoption agencies wouldn't stop her from adopting. That's what they are there for: To make it possible for privileged people to buy a walking, talking toy.

I can't have any more children--I have one--so my hubby and I wanted to adopt. Our state wouldn't allow us to adopt from those in the foster system, because I have cancer, so we started looking for an international agency in order to expand our family.

The agencies that I contacted sent me packets with the estimated cost to adopt babies from different areas. Anyone who says these folks aren't selling children is either ignorant or a heartless liar. Some of them even offer a reduced cost (i.e. discounts) for adopting older kids. In the world of international adoption, any child over 4 years old is past the baby stage and, therefore, are less desirable to most potential adopters.

Once you tell them which country you want to adopt from, they send you pictures of the available children. You let them know which one you're interested in and then you start paying all the fees it will take to get you through the process.

In a few months' time, you can be the proud owner of a new and exotic toy. You can treat your new toy like a teacup poodle. Rename it. Dress it up in cute clothes. Bring it with you in stores and parks so that everyone can see how cute it is. Compare it with the ones your friends bought. If you get bored with that one, you can buy another one from the same agency at a discounted price. You can get one from the same place so that you have a matching pair or you can get one from another country to add some diversity to your collection.

I did badly want another child. I still do. However, I couldn't deny that the whole process of picking and paying for a child repulsed me. I tried to tell myself that I could minimize the harm that transnational adoptions cause. The vast majority of transnational adopters are white. Unlike the vast majority of adopters, I specifically wanted an African child (Ethiopia is where most transnational agencies get children for those who wanted one from an African country), above the baby stage. The child wouldn't be the only person of color in our family. Instead of languishing in an orphanage, I could give some child the kind of privileged life that most children around the world don't experience. I could make sure that they got to retain their religion and heritage and language, because I was just that open-minded and flexible. Wasn't that enough to justify enduring the ugly aspects of this process?

Then, I read the blogs of some transnational adoptees. Several expressed the view that they consider themselves as being kidnapped or abducted. It wasn't just a few people that could be written off as disgruntled adults. Well, some potential adopters do write them off in that way, but I just couldn't do it. Even though it wasn't what I wanted to hear, their perspectives convinced me that there was no such thing as an ethical transnational adoption.

I'd rather be satisfied with the child that I have, than to be the cause of another child's misery. I can sometimes behave selfishly, but that was beyond what I could justify doing to someone.