Thursday, August 21, 2008

Dear Barack Obama, Let's Have a Sleepover!

When I was about ten years old, I had a friend who lived down the street from me. Her name was Uganda and she had an incalculable number of siblings. I loved hanging out with her big family and yet I always had this weird sense of NOT belonging. This "sense" was really just my mother Deb and her quaint way of reminding me that I was white and Uganda was black. Anytime I was drawn to a person of color, Deb would make it perfectly clear that even though we were not racists, we should stick to our own kind (that's white trash, don't ya know). When Uganda's little brother kissed me on a dare, I was immediately sick with worry that my mother might have seen me and then I felt guilty for feeling sick about the kiss. It was an awful way to grow up and I count myself extremely lucky that I knew better, despite all the efforts of the "adults" around me. I tried for a long time to incorporate Uganda into my social life, but I was thwarted by Deb at every turn. I knew that I was fighting a losing battle when she gave me this explanation for refusing a sleepover with Uganda:
"She'll ruin our pillows."
Had I been more of a smart ass (like I am now), I might have suggested that Uganda could bring her own bed linens, but I was too disillusioned to reply. I didn't make friends easily as a child (I still don't) and I was hurt by mother's lack of awareness and sensitivity, not just for sweet little Uganda, but for her own socially inept child. It was just one more demerit on Deb's ever growing list of parental infractions.
I still struggle with the confusing racial messages of my childhood. I think most people do. It is the very thing that prevents us from all coming together. Some folks are aware of the quiet bias that exists in their family, but many don't realize that they have been conditioned to behave like they do. Knowing is half the battle. Admitting to the subtle racism gets it out there where it can eventually dissipate on the breeze.
Now, my politically savvy little Violet is deeply enamored of Barack Obama. We've been watching a lot of MSNBC (because of the Olympics) and every time she sees him, she shouts, "That Beropp Obaba!" Everyday that I encourage her affections gets us another day closer to the world that Dr. King dreamed about. I really do think it is that simple. I am not going to point out to her that the good senator happens to be black. It is irrelevant. This is how I will do my part to change the world. I swell with pride every time Violet says his name (I also giggle a little because it's so stinkin' cute). Just like my husband valiantly hides his EXTREME fear of spiders for Violet's benefit, I will continue to ignore Mom's voice in the back of my head. Oh yes, there will be multicultural sleepovers at the Heathen Family house! I guarantee it.

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