Tuesday, June 21, 2011

White Person!

The boys have created some moments of racial awkwardness of late. Since I can’t drive, we do a lot of walking, which naturally involves a lot of crosswalk action on the part of us and our stroller. Of course I taught the boys to look for the walk sign, which is, as you know, a white stick figure. When they see the orange hand change to the walk sign they yell, “White person! White person!” in recklessly loud and repetitive shrieks, alerting me to the fact that I need to kick the stroller into gear. In some cases, however, it alerts me to the fact that I have two very white boys pointing and yelling, “white person!” when there are people who are not white people walking toward us or behind us or with us. This is when I say loudly, “YEP. GOOD JOB! THAT’S THE WHITE LIGHT. THE WHITE PERSON LIGHT THAT MEANS WALK," as I avoid eye contact with our fellow pedestrians.

on Capitol Hill in search of white person lights
 A good example is from our trip into DC the other day. We were on Capitol Hill and making our way to the metro stop. We were nearing an intersection, but it was actually still not very close to us, and they starting yelling about the light. "White person!" I saw that we were almost to pass a couple black girls eating on a bench. What was I supposed to do? I just grimaced inside and kept trucking, trying to flash a wry smile that says, “Please, please look at what they’re talking about so you don’t think these boys are trying to put a spell on you.” Fortunately they didn’t even really look at us as we passed.

Cal and Ava

Then there are the less-embarrassing moments when the subjects don't know they’re being racially profiled by the boys, but they actually are. Cal has a girlfriend, yes that’s right he does. Her name is Ava and she is a twin with Ethan. They live close and come over often. They are half Vietnamese and half Filipino and here is a picture of them kissing. Anytime they see a girl with a dark complexion they point and start chanting, “Ava! Ava!”at the same time. Also, it doesn’t have to be little girl. The other day on the train they were calling an Indian 20-somethings girl Ava. My first mommy friend I met when I started staying home with the boys is Korean. Anytime we see a woman or girl who looks Asian they start yelling, “Angela!”

Anyway, you get the idea.

The boys are also ageists. Anyone, male or female, who looks older than me is “Mamama!” their great grandmother. When that person overhears what the boys are calling him or her, I just pretend that “Mamama” is the boys’ grandmother rather than their very, very old great grandmother.

In a similar but much, much more delightful manner, the boys are making creative comparisons that are warming my poetic heart. I will always remember Cal’s first metaphor. It was on an airplane on the way back from Idaho this spring. He looked out at the clouds below us and said, “Clouds are pillows!” I melted. The other day, while eating chicken nuggets and French fries (Operation Beef Up Cal, fast food edition), Clark said that his French fry was a “horsey!” Cal, not to be outdone in the creative food interpretations department, held his nugget up to the light and said, “like a bear!”

This is all part of the way the boys are learning about their world, and even though it’s awkward and sometimes makes me blush, it’s interesting and entertaining. I’m guessing the uncomfortable “white person” habit won’t end anytime soon, and I’m sure for a long time they will also group people of different ages and races into categories and call them names of people they know. Maybe it won’t be too long before they stop yelling it aloud and start only thinking it. I definitely hope that seeing the world in figurative ways never ends! 

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