On conversations about racism when the word racism itself is pretty terrible

Americanah passage

Many people I have talked to about racism — in all the many ways conversations about racism can happen — have been so frustrated by the word itself that it derails the possibilities opened by the conversation right away.

I see that this is one of the sticky, uncomfortable things about discussing racism: when the person who needs to or wants to talk about it takes such issue with the word itself that the conversation grinds to a halt, or is derailed by definitions of words.

This is discouraging to both parties, I think.

Defining words is important. Defining and understanding words is one of the ways we can understand the culture we live in. Understanding the meaning of the words we use is a very helpful way to trace the footholds of patriarchy, racism, white supremacy, injustice, and misogyny in our lived experiences, and helps us to re-frame our thoughts and re-orient ourselves to live as people who do not perpetuate harmfulness.

I understand that the word racism, because it comes from the word ‘race’, is a problematic word in many ways. One of the reasons it exists in our cultural lexicon is that scientists and philosophers, more than a hundred years ago, decided that they had proof that people of any color other than white were a distinctly different race, and that each race had its own distinct set of advantages and disadvantages.

As white people with all the privilege they wanted to hold closely, they assigned each non-white people group categories that show up now in the structure of our societies. First Nations people were savages, blacks from Africa were best suited for hard labor, and so on. I won’t go into all of what I learned right now because it hurt my heart so much to read it. One of the most disturbing things that I discovered while reading about these beliefs about race (I read parts of The Myth of Race, an amazing book, densely populated with many scholarly references) is that Hitler’s war against the Jewish people was directly informed by this erroneous research and the myriad papers and books that were published in that time period.

We know now that there is no such thing as separate races of humans alive today.

We are all one race, biologically the same under the pigmentation of our skin. I was privileged to hear Jane Elliott speak recently — the teacher who did the Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes experiment with her class back in 1968 (beginning the day after Dr. King was killed) — and she told us that she really hates using the word ‘race’ because it reinforces the idea that there are separate races of people delineated by color.

However, the world we live in right now is not yet ready to understand this. It takes a profound shift in thinking to believe that there is only one race of humans, and then to allow that belief to change your perception of the world, your understanding of your choices, and the words you use when you speak. Those of us who have embarked on this kind of profound shift have experienced it in different kinds of ways, at different times in our lives, and there is always some degree of difficulty.

And so, until we can have more and more conversations about why it is that there is a pervading cultural belief in several human races, we will need to use that word when speaking about it, when pointing it out, when discussing it. This is because those people who most need us to point things out, to discuss them, to bring awareness to them, and to remain in the conversation even when we are most uncomfortable, are the ones whose understanding of racism comes from this toxic, pervading cultural belief.

One day, love will win.

One day, we will live in a culture that has healed from the wounds and the blood and tears and pain of cultural, systemic racism. Until that day, we must work with the tools we have available to us, even when those tools were built out of the parts of our culture we are working to dismantle.

EDIT: My longsuffering, wonderful friend Alexis has pointed out to me that to some readers, this post may sound a lot like ‘I don’t see color’. I want to be totally clear that this is not what I mean here, in case it does sound like that to anyone. The reason I believe we need to continue using words like racism is that people of color exist, and they are treated differently because of it (hello, motherfucking systemic racism and white supremacy); but aside from how terribly POC are treated, my friends who are differently pigmented than I are proud of their identity, and I’d be a shit friend if I pretended we are all bland-flavored and vanilla-colored and that this is the future I hope for.

Thanks, Alexis. You keep me one step away from accidental idiocy a lot, and I appreciate you a fucking ton for it. <3

Things I’ve learned this weekend about teenagers

FOUR TEENAGERS OMG

This weekend, there are two extra teenagers here in my house.

I know. I know. This is madness.

They’re spending the night, which is a Thing Unto Itself, since they are not little kids who will fall dead asleep at around 10:37pm after too much popcorn and ice cream.

Thing one: teenagers are pretty fucking awesome.

I did already know this, but I really only had first-hand knowledge of my own teenagers. Now that there are a few more teens spending lots of their non-school time at my apartment, I’m getting to know and appreciate them just like I know and appreciate my own kids.

Thing two: teenagers are messes waiting to happen.

Did you know that teenagers are a really dynamic and amazing combination of little kid plus newly minted grownup? They’re like baby elephants. Really exuberant, really excitable, and really ready to trip over the couch and land on someone’s head. Or so I was told.

Thing three: teenagers really want to be given as much space, respect, and leeway as you have, and then some.

House rules are pretty much the worst thing ever. I have to leave my room door open? WHY DO I HAVE TO DO THAT? I AM NOT DOING ANYTHING WRONG.

Thing four: teenagers are like cats.

More specifically, they are like kittens. They love you, they will probably hurt you, they are starving all the time, and if you try to interact when they want to be doing something else, BEWARE. Somebody’s feelings are gonna be hurt.

Thing five: teenagers are terrifying.

Not so much the teens themselves, really. It’s what they are capable of. They’re old enough to believe they can do anything (awesome and horrifying), and immature enough to believe they can do it totally alone, without you.

Thing six: teenagers are vulnerable.

Every mean word, every rude look, and every bullshit thing that happened at school or home or anywhere else is hashed and rehashed over and over again. What is said to them matters. Hurt feelings matter. A lot. (Be nice to your teenagers. They will appreciate it.)

Thing seven: TEENAGERS ARE FUCKING AWESOME.

Click here if you can’t see the video below.

On the choices inherent in letting your kid co-opt your electronic device

A_wee_baby_laptop___3_July_08__2015_at_0906PM

Once upon a time, someone (probably a grandparent) gave your child(ren) their own electronic device.

In my case, the device was (is?) a small laptop. Some people call them netbooks, although I don’t really know why. It’s just a tiny laptop, really. Both my older kids were given tiny laptops a few years ago for Christmas.

Your child(ren), excited beyond all reason to have their own laptop, immediately filled it up with all the Awesome Stuff they love on the internet. Video games from reputable sources, video games from non-reputable sources that were rolled from existing, older games that you used to play but are now considered ‘retro’, music from reputable sources, music from non-reputable sources that result in strongly worded emails from your ISP (I KNOW I KNOW DON’T LEAVE ME ANY COMMENTS ABOUT IT), and on and on and on.

One of my children is fastidious about their stuff and is almost inhumanly careful with their electronics. This child has never had computer issues that required Mom’s Technical Support, not even when installing that cool Facebook theme that makes everything part of the My Little Pony universe, complete with a blinky sparkly cursor.

One of my children is more adventurous than careful, and ends up needing their computer fixed numerous times. Said child’s computer has been virus scanned, cleaned, restored, and generally repaired over and over again. Their tiny laptop even had to be sent in for warranty-covered repairs when said child’s mother declared that the problems exceeded her pay grade.

I’m sure it won’t come as a surprise to you that the second child’s tiny laptop just won’t work any more.

It finally decided not to cooperate with the charger cord, which renders it basically un-usable.

Now, sometime in the last twelve months or so, my son — because this is a story about one of my sons — had lost the used smartphone I gave him; had been given and subsequently mostly broke a used iPod; and had discovered that his 3DS just doesn’t work any more either.

Effectively, my connected kid had lost all his connectivity. And you know what? I felt really bad for him.

I was (and have been) upset that he seems to have a knack for breaking his stuff, but I am pretty sure this stems from his feet-first no-looking hey-mom-look-at-me life philosophy. He’ll have to learn as he goes that disregarding best use guidelines about your technology is kind of stupid, and then decide whether or not he cares enough to be more mindful.

So I let him use my laptop, but only occasionally, and only if he asked first.

You can see where this is going.

I work a part-time day job, but with drive time and lunch breaks it’s like having a full time job four out of five days a week. On Tuesdays I’m with Mamow, but I still don’t get home until near five or so most of the time.

When I’m home, I work on my client work, which is why this website got its most recent facelift on a Sunday afternoon. This doesn’t leave me very much time for gaming, even though I have a list of games on Steam that I play as often as possible.

So, since Alex doesn’t have a job other than being on summer break from school, he’s got LOTS more time to devote to gaming and Skype calls with friends and catching up with all his YouTube subscriptions.

By the time Alex was going with my sister down to Florida to visit for a couple of weeks, I had given up on being able to use it at all. I made him swear to multiple conditions and let him take it with him. I’m glad he had it, because that was the best way for me to communicate with him while he was gone. And I was frustrated that I needed to let him take it with him.

Why is it so important for him to remain connected, or more accurately, why have I been so reluctant to let him be disconnected?

I think partly (because I don’t have a fully formulated answer, right now) it’s because I know how dearly I cherish my ability to connect with my family and friends over the internet.

I feel that the internet was the best thing that happened to relationships for people who are anywhere on the introverted side of the continuum.

Not only that, but personally, the ability to speak to my children via text on Facebook chat or Skype chat or Google Hangouts has made it that much easier for us to communicate with one another. Not just about silly internet things, although I would argue that is an important highlight of internetting in general. But about hard stuff that’s hard to say aloud even when you are (ostensibly) a grown person.

The past two nights, my son Ian has messaged me on Facebook to tell me goodnight. He doesn’t normally do that, but his dad has been out of the house on both occasions, and even though the two of them are as connected as he and I are, he wasn’t able to reach his dad right away. So he got me instead, and that made him feel better.

When Alex was in Florida, my brother was sent to confinement unexpectedly and we were all thrown into a panic. The best way for Alex and I to talk it through was on Skype chat.

Before that, when my oldest Eli was in Florida for a month, the Supreme Court handed down their equal marriage decision, and Eli came out to my sister — which was incredibly brave to do. My mom is still struggling with this information, and it was really difficult for Eli during that time; but we could talk on Skype, and I regularly texted there to see how things were going, and to reassure my beloved firstborn that I’m here and that my love is as boundless as the sky.

My youngest talks to her dad on the phone, but they also have video calls on Skype when they can, since he lives so far away from her now. None of this can happen without the internet. None of this can happen without them being connected, in some way, when they want to be.

To get back to my story…

When Alex came back from Florida I sort of moped about my laptop in his possession, even though I put my grown person face on and tried to be reasonable.

But my COMPUTER. That I want to play my GAMES on. *whine*

Like all true stories, this one only ends well because I was honest about it. I told Alex that I was feeling really upset that he still had my laptop, because I wanted it, but that I knew if I took it back he would not have anything to use, and that also made me feel upset, because I didn’t want him to have nothing. And that kid, because he is a pretty amazing specimen of humanity, said, “Here mom, take it back,” and then he gave it back.

Because I save things for far too long, I still had an older computer tower that didn’t seem to be working. I told him he could have it. It took us an ENTIRE DAY (curse you, operating systems, in general) to load an OS that worked, but now he’s ensconced in his room with a computer, a monitor, a webcam, and a microphone, playing his video games and watching his Youtubes.

If you give your kid your electronics, you’ll pay for it. Literally.

I don’t remember when I bought that computer, but I did have to pay for it. My out of pocket cost for this weekend includes a mouse and a wireless USB adapter, plus a keyboard and mouse for Ian and a keyboard for me, because somehow three of us were trying to use one keyboard and two mice and make it work. (Spoiler: it doesn’t work.)