Transracial Parenting »

Black folks don’t (*)

When I was growing up if I heard this phrase once, I heard it a million times, “Jews don’t buy retail.” And yet, there I was a Jewish woman who hated bargain basement stores be that Marshall’s or Filene’s with a passion. I loved to see things on display and have nice fitting rooms.

Last night, at dinner, I was speaking with friends about Tin’s swimming lesson ordeal* and they both leaned in close and said, “Black folks don’t swim, Rachel.” They also said Black folks don’t play baseball. This appeared to be known in the African American community so well they informed me that if a Black woman says she’s dating a Black baseball player, she might as well be saying she’s dating a white man.

So I was curious about this because there is something about starting any sentence of a cultural group with “we don’t” “they don’t” that makes you wonder about its veracity. So indeed, I found many interesting commentary around the notion of Black folks don’t swim, but it was usually in the form of urban myth as it relates to the individual – sort of like Jews don’t buy retail. And I loved Gerald Early’s take on why Black folks don’t play baseball, he said, because they don’t want to. And I even found a website, with a New Orleans flair, about all the things that Black folks don’t do (supposedly).

Then I was lying in bed this morning, thinking of John Howard Griffin who wrote Black Like Me and how he had been temporarily blinded in the Army helping Jews in France escape during the Nazi occupation in WWII. He used what he learned from his blindness to help others with their blindness with regards to other.

While we were finishing up dinner last night, one of my friends was speaking about a man she had dated whose skin was ebony and how he wore a copper bracelet and how she loved to see the color contrast. I had said when Tin was swimming with the African American instructor, whose skin matched his, I felt even though I had put Tin through an ordeal trying to get it right, that it had to be right to have some opportunities in his young life to touch people with skin the same color as his. Yet, this morning as I lay in bed thinking of all of these things, I wondered if with my eyes closed I would be able to tell if Tin was Black and me white and of course I wouldn’t discern a difference, no more than I discern a difference anytime we are in our mother/child bond, my concerns about our color line come from when my pale arms no longer circle his brown body.

Tin is going to grow up in and out of Black culture by default. His identity is already tied up in Africa, Croatia, Spain, Turkey, New Orleans, Gary Indiana, and he isn’t yet four years old. By the time he is sitting with his friends at a dinner table, I doubt anyone would even begin a sentence with, “Black men who were born blocks from where Michael Jackson was born, who were adopted by white gay parents, who speak Croatian and Spanish, who were raised in New Orleans, don’t (*). I’m not hoping that his world makes differences blend, but rather that they don’t divide or hold any individual back from doing what they want to do.

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*Tin’s swimming lesson ordeal:

An old neighbor of mine used to teach swimming at Southern University. When I adopted Tin, he said he would teach him to swim for free. I liked the idea that Tin would learn how to swim from an African American man and so I didn’t enroll him in other swimming lessons even though we lived on the bayou and I was always very aware that a body of water was nearby. Then the guy could never schedule Tin in and Tin proved to be fearless around water so I had to get him into lessons. We took baby swim lessons with a friend down the street and later I enrolled him in a lesson that some of his classmates were in. One of the instructors was African American and the other had been adopted, so it was a perfect tag team for him. When I went to re-enroll him I specifically asked for the African American instructor but she had changed the day she taught on, so I changed Tin from the lesson time with his friends to the one where she taught. When we arrived for the lesson, I learned she was no longer working there as she had contract meningitis. But the good news was that a Nigerian family had their son in Tin’s class, so I kept him in that time slot. Then when it came time to re-enroll him, the Nigerian family couldn’t get all their children into the time slot they needed so they weren’t returning and I specifically asked for the other African American instructor, which meant changing Tin’s time slot again. Meanwhile, each time we have gone for class and he has had to get used to new kids, new instructors, I’ve wondered if I made the right or wrong decision, but I forgive myself, because I’m trying and sometimes I’m succeeding.

by Rachel Dangermond

+ - 7 comments

July 4, 2013 - 5:32 am

Chio - Hi there Rachel! Let’s see, I always love sepcehes that actually ‘speak’ to me and of course, INSPIRE me!! To me, YOU are an inspiration. Just hearing your story at the Hospice convention…wow!! Now, speaking to a group of Seniors is probably something you could do quite easily because you are practically the same age! 🙂 For me, I think kids nowadays act as if they are so invincible, like NOTHING will ever happen to them. They don’t seem to APPRECIATE all of the gifts and blessings that they have. Perhaps a speech that points to the importance of an “attitude of gratitude” would be helpful for those on a new journey, whether it be college or a new job. 🙂 Happy Thursday!!

July 3, 2013 - 8:44 pm

Lucas - What has life after high school tahgut you that will inspire and challenge high schoolers? That is the question. You’ve got tons of material to work with!I remember wanting to hear something about what to expect from life, remember feeling a little like a deer in headlights!The good things about my high school graduation speaker – I just remember a lot of talk about vision, passion and hope. Also some talk about always remembering the work that you did to get your degree, because for some people, a high school degree is the only degree that they will earn, and they deserve to be proud of their efforts. There was a challenge to be excellent, whether at work or at school. Have you read The Four Agreements? The book is awesome, and the points are simple but profound:Be Impeccable With Your WordsDon’t Take Anything PersonallyDon’t Make AssumptionsAlways Do Your Best

April 20, 2013 - 5:01 am

Rachel Dangermond - Albert – Raising him in the south creates a whole other dynamic. If you were in California it would be no big deal for non-white people to swim, surf, ski and skateboard. I never liked the generalizations of any people but see it more in the south. It’s still distinctly black vs white in simple stereotypes.
12 hours ago via mobile · Unlike · 1

Mikki – Well written piece Rachel. I would simply urge you to limit the amount of influence these “friends” have on your son. Their statements display a level of ignorance that might be highly contagious. I’m sure they’re lovely people, but their impact on the life of a child of color should be limited. (Now let me get back to my child’s weekly swim lesson.)
12 hours ago · Edited · Unlike · 2

Rachel Dangermond Mikki – ha! In a sense I think they were trying to inform me as they are both Black of something that I was unaware of but just like a lot of things that we all grow up with/hearing/thinking, there are some things that we learned that we need to unlearn.
11 hours ago · Like · 1

Albert – When I moved to the south I noticed how black people were more likely to tell me what black people do and don’t do. The lasting effects of mental enslavement have caused many to self enslave.
10 hours ago via mobile · Unlike · 2

Mikki – It’s kinda dangerous. Because if you weren’t smart, you might actually take them at their word…and that would do a disservice to Tin. And even if there were something that “Blacks don’t do”…why not have Tin be the first!
10 hours ago · Unlike · 2

Rachel Dangermond Mikki – AMEN
10 hours ago · Like

Rachel Dangermond Albert – “But my hand was made strong / By the hand of the Almighty. / We forward in this generation / Triumphantly. … None but ourselves can free our minds.”
10 hours ago · Like · 1

April 19, 2013 - 6:25 pm

Rachel - Mark – as you well know parenting is a work in progress and many times I am going with what my gut tells me to do even though when I look at the results sometimes I cause more chaos than I solve. So your point is well taken – but from my perspective, he has a lot of that in his life. He has a lot of white people who love and care for him and who are always there for him, while in order to fully develop he needs to see as many Black role models as I can provide for him. It’s a delicate balance and as I said, one that I might not always get right, but try I must.

April 19, 2013 - 6:18 pm

Mark Folse - I’m sticking with White Men Can’t Dance as my excuse until the day I die. After our conversation yesterday about an idealized world, I have to wonder if it’s more important that your son be in the same class where he can make friends and establish a relationship with the teachers (although it sounds like they change a lot) without regard to race or any other special conditions? The hard lessons will come later, inevitably, but better he view people who treat him differently through the lens of people he knows who don’t, views those people as aberrational in a world of love and friends.

April 19, 2013 - 5:35 pm

Rachel - Exactly Audrey – saying that any group of people don’t do anything or do something is wrong headed. My mother raised me to believe that I could do or be anyone I wanted to be in life – that has stuck with me throughout. It is what I tell my child too. The color of my son’s skin is not going to be a barrier to what he wants to do as long as I can help it.

April 19, 2013 - 4:21 pm

Audrey - How annoying that people stereotype, black people choose what they want to do.. I can be described as black or mixed, I swim, scuba, ski, anything I feel like doing! Dominicans are black and play baseball so what a load of tosh! I live in a blended household and am raising multilingual and racial boys. They are also given opportunities to try anything they like..surf, horseriding, gymnastics, ballet till they find their niche!

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