Category Archives: The Only Stupid Question

Was It The Same Learning Experience For The Black Kids?

A while ago, I helped chaperone my son’s school field trip to the Pasadena Museum of History (or, as I call it: A Celebration of Caucasians)…

We walk into an opulent mansion to find walls slathered in pricelessly framed oil paintings of smirking White people. We are instructed not to touch anything because it’s all too precious for our grungy hands. We stop in front of a painting of a White woman whose expression communicates “Nanny nanny boo boo.”

“Study the portrait. What does it tell you about the subject?” our guide clasps his hands behind his back, and waits for the children to share observations. My first impulse is to turn around and walk out. My second impulse is to tell the truth: “I see an overfed show-off who wants us to know what she has, and wish we could have it.” My third impulse, the winner, is to physically bite my tongue.

We White people don’t like to disturb the “peace” (I put peace in quotes because there is no peace when the screams are silent). So, even though my son is being dragged, for the third year in a row, through this oppressive museum devoid of any representation of people who look like him (yet is named Pasadena Museum of History) I keep my mouth shut. I stay quiet while they emphasize art and beauty, but surround us with depictions of White people. I shouldn’t make a fuss, right?

No surprise, the children are bored to tears, and struggle to focus. They chatter amongst themselves, and it’s hard for us chaperones to keep them quiet. Until a White mother turns to my son and some of his classmates, bends down into their faces, and screams at them like they just pooped on a doily. A hush falls over the group. The guide eventually clears his throat, and we proceed.

I don’t like that. Why did she pick the Black kids to scold? Why was she so angry with them? I know why. But I don’t want to know why. I don’t want to be witnessing implicit bias digging yet another chink into my son’s self esteem. But I am.

I’m already overwhelmed by the offensiveness of this racism holdover of a museum, and now I’m seeing real-time bias. My Caucasian head is spinning.

Throughout the tour, this mother calmly corrects the non-Black children, and unleashes her wrath onto the Black children. At one point, she even spews venom at my son for quietly discussing two paintings they are supposed to be looking at. I guess she can’t fathom two Black children noting the differences in realism and paint strokes.

She grabs my son by the arm twice. And I do nothing. Nothing. I do not help my son.

And I hate myself for it.

After school, I try to start a conversation with my son about the focus and contents of the museum. But he launches into a description of being yelled at, and grabbed. I don’t know if he remembers what he saw inside the museum, because his attention was diverted to being harshly reprimanded most of the time.

So, the White kids went home a little bored, but having seen people who look like them dripping in diamonds and lace. They saw art, they learned how to look at the art, they drew pictures, the saw dresses, crowns, and photographs of people who looked like them at the Tournament of Roses Parade.

The Black children went home frustrated and confused. They saw no representation of people who looked like them (unless they happened to spy 3 or 4 tiny photos (1st Black Rose Queen 1984)). They saw the same old White people dripping in luxury, and dangling it in front of us through oil paintings. They were distracted when they were repeatedly scolded for discovering an antique bicycle or discussing the differences in two paintings. They remember fighting back tears when they could no longer bear being emotionally hammered in front of their classmates. At least one of them remembers his wrist hurting after an adult grabbed him with too much force.

The Black children have to push through so much, and even emotionally recover before they can get to the learning experience of the trip. The White kids simply visited a museum and saw some paintings.

And the damage is solidified when I don’t know how to awaken the White mother to her biased behavior in a way that sparks discussion rather than rage. And the White mother doesn’t know how to receive the information that her behavior was unacceptable without threatening to sue me for defamation of character. Not to mention, I have no idea how to approach the school about scheduling tours at museums that reflect the students they are trying to reach.

How are we adults going to fix this and make it right? It’s an emergency. It’s happening every day at every school in every city in every state in our country. Making this right matters for all of us. Our country is badly broken, and it will eventually die if we (myself explicitly included) continue to prevent some of our most precious citizens from spreading their wings and thriving.

Am I A Hypocritical Racist?

One hardship in being a White mother of a Black child is that when your child isn’t with you, bigots mistake you for one of their own. A few months ago, a woman whispered “Black” while describing her coworker. As if his rich chocolate skin was a trespass we should discreetly pity together.

I’m prepared for the stupid things strangers say. It’s the friendly fire that knocks me down.

Tesla Tits (not her real name) is a mother I know. Hell, she’s a mother we all know. Her 2.8 children make the best grades at the best private schools. She’s adorable and gorgeous at the same time. Her kids send timely thank you notes after their birthday parties. And when your kid wants a play date with hers, you shoot him a jaded smirk and say, “Yeah, you and everyone else.”

Recently, at a sporting event, Tesla Tits struck up a conversation with me…

Tesla Tits: “I expose my kids to everything. My uncle lives in public housing, and we have lunch with him every few months. I mean, I literally expose them to everything. Nothing phases them.”

Me: (wondering why I seemed like the right person for this conversation) “Ummm…”

Tesla Tits: “The other day, I took my kids and some of their friends to a roller skating rink. We walk in, and OMG, everyone was Black!”

Me: “Cool!”

Tesla Tits: (puzzled glance) “My kids’ friends were like, ‘Oh my God!’ Right? Because they don’t have any diversity in their life. It was crazy. My kids didn’t care though. Because I expose them to everything.”

Me: *blink*

I let the conversation hit a wall of silence. But, to be honest, 99% of the silence came from an inability to think of anything polite to say. I just stood there offended, stunned, hurt. I’m mad at myself for not taking a grander stand. And, I’m simultaneously scared to post this and hurt anyone’s feelings.

How is a lack of exposure to poor people a legitimate explanation for fear of Black people? How is a lack of exposure to anything a legitimate explanation for fear of Black people? Why is it ever reasonable to walk into a room filled with people who look like my son, and say “Oh my God”?

I feel like I want to set my friend’s Trina Turk flip flops on fire. I’m so tired of the overt, MAGA racism that’s been unleashed. But I’m still really sick of the inadvertent slips I used to consider progress. Those slips aren’t progress, they are indicators of a huge problem that people are carefully hiding. They are hiding it not just from us, but from themselves. And nobody is allowed to talk about it. And nobody is going to do anything about it. And it’s not getting fixed. And I’m sick of it.

But, if I really want to be the change I want to see in this world, I have to lean into friendships with people like Tesla Tits. Shouldn’t I show those people the grace I demand people show me when I mess up?

I mean yeah, but it’s more comfortable to be angry from a soap box. The jokes are funnier. But change is only going to happen through compassion. And who better to show compassion in this area than a White lady from 1980’s Atlanta, GA?

Ugh.

I guess I choose option B: don’t set the flip flops on fire.

How Deep Is Too Deep?

Jimmy the clown

Got shot from downtown

He went to his bed to lie down

Then he died

Then Jimmy the Clown wore a frown

This seems very heavy to me, especially since it came out of a 9 year old.

Luc is the strongest, bravest, most perseverant child I have ever known. I am proud and honored to get to be his mom. I would do anything for him. And I have. And I will continue to. I love this kid so much. I am so lucky.

So, Adoption Huh?

I realized curious onlookers hear roughly 13% of the conversation after they ask “So, adoption huh?” The other 87% of the diaogue is in my head. Hammy, the mentally unstable hamster who runs my brain wheel, internally berates me for weeks after these exchanges. He scolds me for over-sharing, under-sharing, and my lack of boundaries. He also scolds me for my top bun penchant, but that’s another story.

Between sets tonight, my swim coach (who I adore) asked if I adopted my son, and how long he’s been home. Casual adoption questions translate to asking for a sound bite on the most impactful event of my life. Between swim sets during Masters practice. In the cereal aisle at Trader Joe’s. While waiting for a table at Islands. On the elevator at Days Inn. Ya know?

I feel Hammy’s beady black eyes glaring disappointment into my soul as soon as the curious onlooker scratches their nose and says “So, um…” The nose tickle is the onlooker’s body screaming what their brain knows: “It isn’t your right to know the answers! Live with the curiosity! It won’t kill you! Or Google! What about Google?!” The scratch pushes away the physical alert, and we’re off.

Curious Onlooker: “Is that your son? / Did you adopt your son? / When did you get him? / Etc. (so many openers)”

Cue Hammy’s glare of disgusted anticipation. He’s certain I’ll flub this.

Me: “(Uncomfortable reply, over-compensating attempt to hide my discomfort and hurt feelings.)”

Hammy: “Allison, you are a spineless waste of vocal chords.”

Curious Onlooker: “(Emboldened, increasingly intrusive line of questioning.)”

Hammy: “When are you going to draw the line and define some boundaries? No, I’m kidding. I know you’re a soggy chicken-nipple who’ll keep answering until this gaping hole of manners is done with you.”

Me: “(Humorous attempt to deflect and distract.)”

Hammy: “Oh, she’s got jokes! Isn’t she hilarious while she’s trying to be likable at the expense of her son’s privacy?!”

Curious Onlooker: “(Probing question about Luc’s birth family.)”

Me: “(Brief answer followed by watch glance, and comment about the late hour.)”

Hammy: “Allison. You have a funny way of pronouncing, ‘None of your damn business, Rust-Juice-For-Brains!'”

Curious Onlooker: “(Question with the term “Luc’s real mother.)”

Me: “(Shaky voice correction about who Luc’s ‘real mother’ is (hint: it’s me).)”

Hammy: “Poor Luc doesn’t realize he has sandwich spread for a mother.”

Eventually, I find a way out of the conversation. But for the rest of my life, Hammy finds precious moments to remind me of my mistakes. He’s convinced me the majority of Luc’s future need for therapy stems from my incompetence. And, the hardest part is he’s partially right. My friends hug me, and tell me it’s rubbish. But it isn’t.

I guess what I really want to say (Hammy: “And could have saved us all a lot of time by saying it earlier.”) is those questions are intrusive. It’s not easy to figure out the right time to ask or answer them. But it’s not hard to figure out the wrong time. And I’m clearly inept at answering in a healthy way–

Hammy: “You have the spinal cord of a jellyfish. Get to the point, Allison.”

I wish people would take a few seconds to think about how their questions will make Luc and me feel. And have they have earned enough trust in our relationship to ask them in the first place?

If the mystery is a distraction when people are around us, maybe the bigger question to answer is why.

Hammy: “That was excruciating.”

When Can I Say Nope?

Sometimes I just can’t. I know that’s a t-shirt, but really I don’t feel like I can write about the enormous pile of poop that life is sometimes. It’s so hard that it is entertaining to watch from outside. Few people want to be in it with us though.

The situations we face are often unpleasant, scary, frustrating, and intimidating. And when they are, I have to put on my “War Music” playlist, roll up my sleeves, swallow the tears, and “fight.”

Today I’m navigating wanting to keep an honest blog, but also feeling like it’s none of anyone’s damn business what I’m going through as a mom, or what Luc is going through as a young Black male in this messed up, ignorant, racist, backwards world.

You know what? I love you for reading this blog. And I’m thankful. But today it’s just none of your business. I’m sorry. Is that okay?

FYI: Current “War Music” Playlist…

Sound of Da Police by KRS-One

Lose Yourself by Eminem

You Can’t Stop Me by Andy Mineo

Electric Pow Wow Drum by A Tribe Called Red

Say I Won’t by Lacrae

Conqueror by Estelle

New Man Theme by Mr. Lif

Am I Raising A Victim?

White friends and family often ask me if I’m creating a self-fulfilling prophesy by teaching my son about racism.

  • Do I create a self-fulfilling prophesy when I teach my son about road safety? Perhaps I nurture a victim mindset by discussing looking both ways before crossing the street.
  • Do I create self-fulfilling prophesy when I teach my son about cavities? Perhaps I nurture a victim mindset by discussing oral hygiene.
  • Do I create a self-fulfilling prophesy when I teach my son about expiration dates? Perhaps I nurture a victim mindset by discussing food poisoning.
  • Do I create a self-fulfilling prophesy when I teach my son about splinters? Perhaps I nurture a victim mindset when I teach my son about wood grains.
  • Do I create a self-fulfilling prophesy when I teach my son about bad movies? Perhaps I nurture a victim mindset by discussing plot holes.

It sounds like blaming the victim. Nobody invites car accidents, cavities, food poisoning, splinters, or bad movies. We all accept that they exist. The more we understand those unpleasant realities, the more empowered we are to protect our bodies and our minds.

Why Are Kids So Fantastic?

I am so lucky to get to work at the pool teaching 3rd graders to swim. I got this job almost 2 months ago, and I can’t believe I get to work with amazing kids, in the pool, teaching something I love (swimming), AND I get paid!

There is a very cool grant that provides the following for every single 3rd grader enrolled in public school in the city: for three weeks they are bused to the pool, given swimsuits that match the instructors’ suits, provided towels, and taught to swim for 1 hour. We also teach them some water polo and a little diving.

The above pic was inspired by one of my recent students. He was TERRIFIED of the diving board. Most kids are terrified of the board when they get up there. But this kid attacked his fear. He clenched his fists, gritted his teeth, and shouted “THUHREEEE, TWWWOOO, OOOOOONNE, BIG JUMP!” And he did that every time he jumped. He never once honored his fear.

I know how he feels. I took a diving class a few weeks ago. The instructor greeted us with, “First, we conquer your fear of heights. Jump off the 5 meter board. Twice.” The 5m doesn’t look so tall until you’re standing on it. I was earnestly concerned I would soil myself both times I jumped.

The next day, I watched my student conquer the same (or greater) level of fear over, and over, and over, and over. He must have jumped ten times. I am still so impressed.

Today, that session ended. I had to say good-bye to this very cool kid. And I had to say good-bye to 10 other students who stole my heart too. Ugh. The only bad part of the job is the final hug.

Why Does Whitey Take Up So Much Convo Space?

My son and I enjoyed a fro-yo in a small courtyard area after school today. A Black woman and a White woman sat at a small table next to us. The White woman talked and talked and talked and talked and talked. Eventually, I noticed my son watching the pair. I whispered to him, “That White lady is talking a lot, isn’t she?”

I’ve noticed this before. Whenever I sit near a White person and a Black person who are out together, the White person monopolizes the dialogue. The Black person quietly nods, and slips in short affirming exclamations. I wondered if my son noticed the same thing. Without even pausing for thought, he nodded.

Luc: “She should stop talking. The Black lady wants to say something.”

Me: “Do you think the White lady will stop talking so she can say it?”

Luc: (sighs like he’s 70 years old) “She should turn off her engine.”

Me: “Engine?”

Luc: (pointing at his mouth) “Yangyangyangyangyang…”

Luc & Me: (peels of laughter)

Can We Change The National Anthem?

The poem of a racist slave owner was put to the tune of a British drinking song, and adopted as the United States National Anthem in 1931. Changing it might say, “Hi people who are Black. We are changing our national anthem to something that doesn’t celebrate the murder of your/our ancestors. Because, really it’s the rock bottom least we can do.”