Jul 29, 2012

2012 Olympic Fever!

The whole family watched the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics, and we're tuning in daily to watch as many events as we can. Archery, Basketball, Swimming, Gymnastics...they're all so exciting to watch, but the real highlights are when my kids have the opportunity to learn about the many different nations that participate. It's such a showcase of diversity and multiculturalism! We love looking at the colors of flags and uniforms, listening to each national anthem play, and observing how the fans cheer for their teams. The touching stories that are shared in each event capture our hearts and we find ourselves rooting for athletes from around the world.  It's a fun time!

Learning about new cultures is one of my favorite parts of the Olympics, which is why I really enjoyed a post from MarocMama.com with recipes from around the world. Amanda is participating in Eat the World 2012 Food Olympics. Check out her post here and enjoy a look at foods from around the world!
Eat the World 2012 Food Olympics
From MarocMama.com:
The Olympic opening ceremonies are tonight!  In honor of celebrating this great world event I decided to host a food Olympics.  Below you’ll find recipes from all over the world.  Make a few and get in the Olympic spirit!!  If you would like to contribute a recipe representing your nation of origin or simply a national dish you love please join up in the linky at the bottom of the post.
READ MORE at marocmama.com

Jul 22, 2012

Bad Kids

I heard another story about that kid last week. All school year he's been nothing but trouble. He was caught red-handed in the pantry, breaking into cabinets filled with supplies for the after school program. Soon after, he was caught with fifty dollars that he'd stolen from a teacher's desk. 

Last winter I watched him play basketball, calling the boys on the opponent's team, "bitch" (and that is the least foul of his words.) I've seen him get angry and throw things: his desk, a chair, wild punches,  tantrums. He is nothing but trouble. The families in our neighborhood have tried to welcome him into our homes to help him, but we've all been burned too many times. He's stolen multiple video games and gaming systems from us, been rude, eaten our food, never given thanks. He curses and cusses in front of the really little kids. He is just bad news. 

Kids like him are in our neighborhoods and classrooms across the country. They sit with our kids and expose them to all kinds of filth and foulness. They should just get kicked out of school. Suspended. Expelled. They need to be kept away from our kids. Our kids need to be protected. They don't need to be exposed to such anger and violence. Those kids are headed straight for prison, anyway. There's nothing we can do. They're just bad kids. 

When you see him, you can just tell. He's angry. He doesn't have a future because he can't control that anger. He doesn't know the difference between right and wrong. In a lot of ways, that kid is scary. Such anger is hard to control. A loose cannon. You never know what he's going to do and that unpredictability is frightening. He could be a psycho gang-banging drug-dealing killer some day. What a bad kid.

Except...all of that is what we see on the outside.  All of that is the external circumstantial evidence. What's going on in there? Really? Who is that kid?

When you talk to him, if you are patient, and you try to crack through the hard shell to get to the soft innards, then you find out that he is hungry. Dad left. Mom doesn't have a job. He's hungry. His only meal is the free lunch offered at school every day and since he is a growing boy of 11 years, it is just not enough. The pantry he got caught breaking into is filled to the brim with food for breakfast and snack at the after school program. He just wants to eat.

The $50 he took from the teacher's desk? He was caught with it at the grocery store, trying to buy food for his little sister. She is home all day without food, too young to go to school and get the free lunch.

The video games and gaming systems he took--he's not playing with them. His one-bedroom apartment doesn't even have a TV. He's been taking them to the gaming store in the strip mall by the grocery store. He sells them there and takes the cash next door to buy food.

He is 11 years old and he is too young to get a job, but he is the sole provider of sustenance for his family. He walks around the neighborhood and sees his classmates riding their bikes, playing in their yards, hanging out and playing football. They don't have to worry about eating. They don't have a daddy who left them. They don't have a mom who is so depressed about losing her job and her husband that she can't get up off the floor of their apartment. They don't have to worry about the eviction notice that just got stuck to their front door. They don't have to worry... and it makes him angry. He is so angry he can feel the rage just rising up from his toes...to his fists...to his head. Just one person says something wrong and he will show them how it feels to hurt like he hurts. Just one thing. Go ahead, say it you mofo. Say it. 

Sometimes they say it at school. Sometimes in the middle of a football game on the corner. Sometimes they don't even say anything anyone could really consider an insult, when it comes right down to it. They just say something that reminds him about what they have that he does not. They remind him that he has to find something, some way to feed his little sister again tomorrow. They remind him that he likes his teacher and he wishes he could learn, but eating is more important right now. They remind him that if he steals at school again he might get sent away to some place for bad kids where you get to spend the night. In a way, it might be okay--probably more food than at home, and no eviction notice on the door. But who will feed his sister then?

Angry. So angry. No eleven year old should have to live like that. I'd be angry too.

There really is a kid like that in my neighborhood. Kids just like him really have been in my classroom. Parents of other kids really have said, "he needs to be kicked out," sent away, banished--to protect our kids. Somehow, though, I wish they could see the big picture, the whole picture...who that kid is both inside and out. Because when you really know him, it's hard to believe that anyone can say he's a bad kid. He's in a bad situation and making some bad choices...but he is not a bad kid. He's doing what he can to survive.

And if he's not bad, then you have to wonder about every single human being who does something bad. Are they really a bad person? or are they in bad situations making bad choices, stemming from a life filled with pain and hurt and anger? Are there any bad kids, really?

In the wake of the Aurora, Colorado shootings...this is something I have really been thinking about a lot lately. 

Is anyone really, truly bad? 

Jul 15, 2012

Crashing Dreams: Parenting in Reality

Image via Gangway Advertising. The chances of being an NBA All Star whose picture gets displayed on the side of a building are about two in a million. 

Last week I had one of those horrible parenting moments...the ones where you wonder whether or not you've scarred your child for life, knowing that someday there will be a therapist listening to her blame her mother for long-term issues stemming from that day of that moment when she said something awful.

Maybe it wasn't that bad. Maybe it didn't scar her for life. Maybe it was a valuable lesson.

Yeah, right.

Am I just talking myself out of the significance of it all? Did I crash her dream or give her a needed reminder of the realities of life? I guess only time will tell.

What did I say? Well...some words just bubbled out that I'd been thinking about for a long time. My thoughts are all jumbled up because of sports--sports in my house, sports in the news, sports sports sports everywhere. Add that to the fact that my eyes are always seeing the influence of race on society (once your eyes are open it is impossible to close them) and you have a recipe for pre-teen dream crashing.

Here's the gist:

My son plays a lot of sports. As a preschooler he wanted to grow up to be a superhero, but when he realized that there weren't really web-slinging mutants in real life he decided to go for the next best thing: being a professional athlete. In the United States, professional athletes are iconic heroes, showing their guts on the field and living in glory after the game. From age 3-7 he played soccer and studied the Japanese martial arts of Aikido and Shinkendo. At 5 he started tee ball, which morphed into full-fledged baseball (this season he signed up for one team, but was invited to play on two others.) At age 7 he started flag football and now has two years of full-contact tackle under his belt. He's played basketball every season for the past 5 years. This past year he played on two teams during one season, meaning he had a game or practice every single day of the week. Every writing assignment he does for school is about sports. Every book he reads is about sports. You know that phrase "for the love of the game"? That sums up his life's passion so far. He loves to play. And it doesn't matter which game--he loves them all.

As a parent and an informed citizen, I know that the chances of him becoming a professional athlete are  pretty slim. A report put out by the NCAA lists the probability of high school and college athletes going pro, and the numbers are dismal. The NCAA report for men's basketball shows that only 3.2% of high school players make it to the NCAA, and of those only 1.2% make it to the NBA. In real numbers, the report says that in 2011 there were over half a million high school basketball players. Of those, only 48 made it to the NBA Draft after playing in college. The stats are like that across all sports--the chances of going pro are slim to none. Yet everywhere, young boys dream the dream of being a professional athlete. Young boys of color are particularly drawn to the dream of being a professional athlete because the media doesn't really give them many other images of themselves to consider. How many professional men of color do you see in the media who aren't athletes? As a result, boys of color dream about a better life--wealth, fame, and giving back to the community--through sports. My son is no exception to that rule.

He works hard at sports. He practices, exercises, lives, eats, and breathes sports. He is hard-working and talented, but I have always told him that while he's dreaming about going pro he also needs to dream a back-up plan. "In order to be a college athlete, you have to be a college student. So what do you think you might like to study?" We've talked about Sports Medicine, coaching, training, and Sports Law and he knows that there are lots of other opportunities to earn a living in the world of sports that occur off the field. His dream of being a professional athlete has always been tempered with a dose of reality.

So, when his sister started talking about being a professional tennis player I thought it would be a good idea to have a similar chat...

Except I didn't remember to keep in mind that my daughter is a completely different kid than her brother. She has a wide variety of interests and is always trying something new--from art and basketball to acting, softball, and playing the viola. She is a very well-rounded individual so far, who I am sure will be a very intelligent and well-rounded adult. In fact, when she was little her daycare provider predicted that she would be the first woman President of the United States, and our family often reminds her of that fact because it really could come true! She is just that smart, creative, (and gifted in the art of argument--which is both a blessing and a curse in our house.)

Image Credit: Flickr/mrlaugh
Tennis is something she tried years ago and didn't really like because "it's too hot and sweaty." After that first session of lessons, she opted for princess dance camps, acting classes, or art camps during the summer instead. This year, she decided to try tennis again. On the second day of lessons, she announced that she was going pro so that she could travel the world and be a tennis player just like Venus Williams.

When my daughter decided that going pro like Venus Williams was her goal, I instantly wondered why. She has never watched tennis on TV, never read about tennis, and only played for 6 weeks as a first grader! Why is this now her dream?

First thought: my daughter idolizes her older brother and a couple of months ago admitted that her interest in sports is largely due to his interest in sports. Could this just be an attempt to imitate her brother? One thing that's different, though, is she doesn't have the same opportunity to see professional athletes who look like her on TV as he does. They just don't show a lot of women's sports on TV.  

Second thought: what type of professional women do they show on TV?  What  role models for women of color are out there in the media for my daughter to see? 

Really-- think about it. When I did, I realized that she has one main source to see women of color in the media: music videos starring scantily clad singers and dancers.

There is of course, Michelle Obama. She is the First Lady: sophisticated, intelligent, polished, socially active. But she is the wife of the President. It doesn't really compare to what I've been trying to tell my daughter: "YOU can BE the President!" Don't have to be the "wife of " anyone...you can be the President.

All this swirled through my mind, along with all the stats about how slim the chances are for any athlete to make it to the elite level. I told my daughter, "You are so good at so many things! I'm glad you like tennis, but remember that it's really hard to be a professional tennis player."

"Don't try to talk me out of it, Mommy. You're just being negative."

Ugh. Here is where I  inserted foot in mouth. "I'm not trying to be negative, I just want you to be realistic. People who are professional athletes spend a lot of time practicing and they work really hard. Not to mention that tennis is an expensive sport to learn, and we really can't afford to get you the kinds of lessons you'll need to play at the professional level. When Venus and Serena were your age, their family moved to a new town so that they could study in an elite tennis academy. We can't do anything like that! Can't you just play for fun and think about what else you can do when you grow up?"

At that point the tears started falling. The voice turned into a shriek. "You're ruining my dream, Mommy! Why can't I just dream?"

Indeed, why can't she? I felt sooooo badly then. Evil Mom. I wanted to slink down to hide in a hole in the ground.

After a little while, I apologized to her. I told her the truth, which is that as her mom I don't want her to get hurt. I don't want her to dream about something that is so far out of reach--like a career in professional tennis--when she is so talented and smart in so many other areas and could be successful in something more attainable. Realistically, you might ask--is being President more attainable than being a professional tennis player? I don't know. But I know where her talents are--in reasoning, argument, tenacity, creative thinking, and her ability to communicate. Those talents can take her much closer to being President than they can to being the next Venus Williams.

It all backfired, though. Trying to call attention to her talents in an attempt prevent any hurt she might feel if she fails to become the next Venus Williams... well, that's what hurt her. My attempt to save her from hurt is what caused her a lot of pain.

We both felt terrible. We both shed some tears. I worried, and still do, that I scarred her for life.

Thankfully, we  made up later that afternoon. We went to bed on good terms and woke up the next day to get ready for tennis lessons. I tried not to talk about it, but worried that after our previous conversation she wouldn't want to go back to tennis at all. So I asked her, "Are you okay with tennis now?"

She said in a rather low-key way, "Yeah. I think it's a good idea to just play tennis for fun now."

I don't know whether she is crushed and defeated, scarred for life, or just more firmly trenched in reality. It feels to me like she lost some innocence, though. And I might need to visit a therapist myself to get over the guilt I feel for being the one to take that innocence away.

After her lesson (maybe to appease my guilt?) I told her that if she really wanted to pursue a career in tennis I will support her. We will look for scholarships and try to find a teacher who can work with her in the winter. It will mean some sacrifices--like giving up other activities so that we can pay for tennis; but we can do it if she really wants to. I meant it, too. Whatever it takes, we can do it.

Her response? "Mommmmmmy.....I already told you! I just wanna play tennis for fun!"


What do you think? Should we let our children dream big, no matter how unrealistic? Or should we temper their dreams with some reality? I wish I knew the right answer. I really do...

Jul 1, 2012

What is Racism?

It started with Martha from momsoap who guest posted here and then went on to write another post that was picked up by BlogHer, "Have I Become Racist Against White People?"  I wondered--is that really even possible? Then I started thinking about how many white people accuse any other white person who writes about racism of being a "reverse racist." My little blog isn't so high profile that I get those kinds of comments often, but it has happened. And the thing that always goes through my mind is that the commenters really don't know what racism is.

I read some posts from my friend Chantilly over at BiculturalMom.com about the Un-Fair Campaign that explain the difference between prejudice, discrimination and racism:

Is it as simple as one person not liking another person because of skin color??  
NO.  That is prejudice.  
Is Racism the act of an individual preventing someone from getting a job or accessing other opportunities based on their prejudice??  
NO.  That is discrimination.
While both prejudice and discrimination play into the system, RACISM is something much BIGGER…it’s a system of unearned privilege and racial supremacy established through colonization and slavery.  It is a system of control that has a deep rooted history in the Americas…a history that I hope to share with you more completely very soon.  It’s a caste system…and it’s many other things too…but it’s not as simple and singular as many may think.  It’s not about saying, “I don’t like X, Y, Z race.”  It’s about something MUCH BIGGER than that.

Chantilly also pointed out this post from Spillerena that begins to explain white privilege:

I’m going to be honest and admit that up until a few years ago, I had no idea what privilege really was. I had heard the term thrown around before, but I never really understood it. I didn’t understand how being white gave me an “unfair advantage” over other people. I didn’t consider myself racist, and like most people in the world, I had a whole boatload of issues and problems that I felt made me far from privileged. My childhood was less than idyllic and I had to work hard to succeed. I suppose I subscribed somewhat to the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality. 

Read more here in the post "On Being White and Privileged."

Soon after reading Spillerena, I came across a post in my Reader feed from the New Orleans Food & Farm Network. A few things really struck me about the piece, "Undoing Racism in the New Orleans Food System":

  • How many people know that there is racism in the food system--in New Orleans, or anywhere for that matter?

  • Reading about racism in the food system on a blog featuring agriculture reminded me of an interview from The Sun magazine with Dr. Robert Bullard, who according to Michelle McCrary of Is That Your Child? is known to many as the "founder of environmental justice."

The Sun article describes Bullard's motivation,  "of the 9 million U.S. citizens who live within two miles of a hazardous-waste facility, more than half are minorities. 'The people who live closest are oftentimes the most vulnerable populations with the fewest resources,' Bullard says. He has made it his life’s work to help them."

When you look at what racism means in the context of food systems and the environment it kind of changes the usual perspective. As Chantilly pointed out in her post, what we normally think of as racism is really prejudice or discrimination. The definition offered in "Undoing Racism in the New Orleans Food System" really is eye-opening and leaves little room for doubt as to what systemic racism really is. The author says:

"I have been lucky enough to learn a great many things from a former classmate of mine, geographer Ruthie Gilmore. And she has given us a great definition of racism. She defines racism as 'the state-sanctioned and/or extralegal production and exploitation of group-differentiated vulnerabilities to premature death, in distinct yet densely interconnected political geographies' " (Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California).

Let's put that in some more common language: racism is a government-sanctioned system and/or an illegal means of making and exploiting the differences between people who live in the same political/geographic area result in premature death.

That's right. According to this definition, the consequences of true racism are premature death. Calling someone a name is mean, but does it cause premature death? Not hiring someone based on their skin color--could that lead to premature death? That definition from Ruthie Gilmore really puts things in perspective. Cries of "reverse racism" don't quite have as much weight when you use premature death as the definitive measure of true racism. Much of what we traditionally see as racism is blatant. But true racism isn't always as blatant as a KKK member burning a cross or a young white teen murdering an innocent black man by driving over him in a truck. Premature death can be caused by a society's production of goods or exploitation of people just because they are different from the majority.

There's a Harvard study that spells out what we all need to do to lengthen our lives (in other words--to prevent premature death.) It includes things like eating right,  exercising both your mind and your body, and getting fresh air. If you choose not to do these things you are putting yourself at risk. But what if society makes it very difficult for you to choose otherwise?


  • From the U.S. Census Bureau report on poverty: For children identified as Black the poverty rate was 38.2 percent (4.0 million), twice as high as the rate for White children and the highest poverty rate among the race and ethnic groups presented in this report (Figure 3). It is hard to eat right when you can’t afford to buy food.
  • Despite a higher poverty rate, marketing campaigns for fast food focus primarily on people of color. That's right: people of color have less money, but fast food and junk food retailers want them to spend what little they have on their products. This is a long tradition--check out this 1976 McDonald's ad via The Grio:

It's hard to eat right when you don't have much money and society bombards you with ads encouraging you to spend what you do have "Lovin' It"or "Havin' it Your Way."

According to the Rudd Center study, African-American children and teens see at least 50 percent more fast food ads than their white peers. That is, African-American children see nearly twice as many calories as white children see in fast food TV advertisements each day.  Read more here on The Grio.

According to The President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition:

  • Nearly 40% of African American and Hispanic youth are overweight or obese, compared with 29% of white youth
  • If current trends continue, by 2030, 86.3% of adults will be overweight or obese. African American women (96.9%) and Mexican American men (91.1%) would be most affected.       Read more here.
Exercise helps reduce obesity, but going to the gym costs money. Okay, some exercise is free--walking, for example. But if you live in an urban area, finding a safe place to walk can be difficult. A study from the CDC says that only 1 in 5 households has access to a park or recreation center within a half-mile.

According to government reports about education it's harder for people of color to exercise their minds, too. More white students are proficient on assessment tests than students of color. More students of color are kicked out of school for disciplinary reasons than white students (and it's hard to exercise your mind if you're regularly suspended from school.)

Check out this excerpt from the interview with Robert Bullard in The Sun:

Cowell: What types of environmental hazards do you see most often in low-income and African American communities? Bullard: It’s mostly waste. Everybody produces waste regardless of class or race, but not everybody has to live near where the waste is dumped. We did a study of commercial hazardous-waste facilities and found that more than half of the residents living within a two-mile radius of these facilities were people of color. When you look at two or more of these facilities in close proximity, that number jumps to 69 percent, and it’s likely that there aren’t just two or three but four or five in a single area. When smelters, refineries, and chemical plants are located near schools, the students attending those schools are predominantly low income and minority. And if you live in a community of color, you are two and a half times more likely to live near a polluting facility. That’s part of the reason why zip codes and neighborhoods are consistent, powerful predictors of people’s health.

Your zip code determines your access to clean air, and that zip code is largely determined by your income. Income level directly correlates to skin color. More people of color are in poverty than are white people (see US Census on poverty link above.)

OKAY, so to be healthy and live longer lives we human beings need to eat right, to exercise our bodies and minds, and to get fresh air. Our society makes each of these things more difficult for people of color than it does for white people. That means that people of color are at risk of premature death due to a system of injustice. THAT is RACISM.


How do you combat this system of racism? First, acknowledge that it is real. Second, talk about it. Third, call it when you see it... then toss it out and replace it with something new.  

Food justice movements are trying to do just that. Check this out from the Social Justice Learning Institute--young, urban people of color building a community garden and going door to door to share it with their community. 


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