Friday, January 8, 2016

There's this prevalent notion floating about on the Internet that we are in a "post-racial" era.  That declaring,"I'm colorblind! I don't even notice race!" is the same thing as saying, "There's no such thing as racism!"

Except a) we're not in a post-racial world, and b) if you truly "don't notice" race, then you're either deaf, dumb, and blind, or an idiot, because everybody notices if the person they're talking to is different.  Especially if the answer she gives to the question, "So where are you from?" is not what they expect it to be.

Granted, racism these days is not expressed by burning crosses and telling black people to GTFO of wherever it is they're "not supposed" to be.  Not usually, anyway.  And in Europe, it's conflated (especially now) with religious animosity against Muslims, and in the Netherlands, the yearly Zwarte Piet debacle.  I'm not going to offer any solutions; as an expat, my understanding of local politics is limited to "Well, that's dumb" and swearing at the IND every time they demand that I cough up 228 euros for an ID card that's apparently no longer valid once you get a Dutch passport.

But I can tell you what racism looks like, since a lot of people don't seem to realize that they are committing these "microaggressions" when they're "just making small talk." And honestly, I know that they're trying to be friendly, but unlike most Chinese people in Europe (I would imagine--I haven't met that many) I actually possess the vocabulary to spell out exactly what's so wrong about and why it's so horrible.

I'll give you 2 examples:

  1. Karel's friend is really big into traditional Chinese medicine and yoga and Eastern medicine.  Whatever. That's his thing. If he wants to talk a blue streak about it, well, I'm cool with that. I'm not a believer--and frankly, acupuncture is just creepy to me. And he said, "I never thought I'd have to argue for TCM with someone from China." Which is just irritating, even without taking into account that he knows me well enough to know that I grew up in the US, attended a medical school, worked in biology, and don't cook Chinese food and instead make a mean stamppot
  2. I was at the printer's, getting something printed out in preparation for a client meeting, and the guy who's helping me...actually doesn't start up with the whole "So where are you from?" line of questioning.  Nope, instead he seems surprised that kidlet speaks a mix of Dutch and English, and asks me what other languages I speak.  I tell him that we speak Dutch and English to him.  And then he asks me what my mother tongue is.  I tell him it's English (because it is). And then he asks me if I speak Chinese to kidlet.  And then he makes a comment about kidlet's big eyes, somehow completely missing the fact that kidlet's hair is definitely brown, not black, and assuming that he's Asian rather than a halfie.  (I mean, okay, kidlet definitely takes after me in terms of facial features, but how do you miss the fact that his hair is brown?  Especially when I'm right next to him for comparison? I know I'm going gray but I swear it's not that bad yet).
Do these incidents mark the end of the world? No. But here's the thing that white people don't get:  we can't talk about racism without dealing with all of the subconscious baggage that you guys have about what someone is "supposed" to be like.  And that's the thing with subconscious baggage--you can swear on your life, and even believe, that you don't see color/race, but subconsciously, things register, and slowly but surely they color the lens through which you perceive the world. And you can swear on your life that you don't hate [race] people, but hate isn't the problem. It's the thousand invisible things that you guys do that grate on our nerves, but woe be the one who says anything about it, lest she appear "too sensitive". 

But every time you do one of those things, you're feeding a machine that tells people that they are limited by the color of their skin and their ancestry, telling people like me that being born somewhere determines who I am rather than the effort I've put into making something of myself.  You're telling me that you're only interested in my story if it fits your preconceived ideas of what an Asian person is doing living in the Netherlands. You're telling me that you, whom I've just met at the bus stop and am making idle talk to while we wait, know me better than I, who spent 34 years living my life and working out all the shit in my life, do. And maybe I'm presuming--but at least I'm aware that I'm doing so--but I do think that you'd be fucking pissed if I were to do the same to you.

And yet, every time this happens, I feel bad for the person I'm talking to.  I feel like it's my job not to let them down, or at least do so gently. I mean, I get it--they don't mean to be nasty, not like the jackholes who scream, "Konichiwa" at me as they ride by on their bikes (would that eye rolls be translated into bowling balls). And being polite has always been second-nature to me.  But still--why should I have to be the only one swallowing my discomfort just so the person I'm talking to--the one who started this--doesn't have to feel bad?  

Answer: because nobody wants to be "the supersensitive" wilting flower that can't take a comment the right way. Even if it's the one making the comment who could do better.  

Monday, January 4, 2016

Yes, he's allowed to say that

As long as we're dredging up my list of parenting fails, there's this:  

Kidlet tells me, "I don't like you," at least once a day.  Sometimes many times a day.  And you know what?  I'm cool with it.

Because, if we're going to be honest, I tell him that, too.  Not quite as often, and usually when he's in the preliminary phases of pitching a fit, those moments after me putting my foot down about something but before he's totally lost control.  Because, in those moments, I don't like him.  He's yelling, getting worked up--it's a 50/50 chance whether he's able to listen.  If he is, then he can usually be talked down.  If he isn't, then it's a toddler-drama-rama all around.

Here's the thing, though:  I don't tell him, "If you do this then I'll like you again." I do tell him that I love him, frequently and on a whim.  He'll eventually work out that liking someone isn't the same as loving someone, and that just because you love someone doesn't mean they can't annoy the bejesus out of you once in a while.  

And I like to think that he's going to internalize that it's OK not to be liked.  When he tells me, "I don't like you," I tell him, "You don't have to like me.  You have to pick up your cars," or whatever it is that I asked him to do that prompts the declaration of not-liking mommy.  That it's OK to stick to your guns even if people don't like you.  That it's OK to tell people that they're being jerks.  

He doesn't have to like me when I tell him to pick up his trucks, and he doesn't have to like me when I tell him it's time for bed.  He's free to express his discontent verbally, which I think goes a long way towards not having it expressed in a screaming fit.  Because honestly, who in their right minds likes to be told where to go, what to do, what to wear, when to potty, how to do things, to keep quiet, not to yell, etc. all day?  So yeah.  He's allowed to not like me. 

Because when he comes to our bed at an ungodly hour of the morning; when he snuggles between us with a contented little sigh as he waits for me to get up; these and a thousand little things through all the days is love.  He loves us, we love him. Plain and simple.  That's always true, all the time.  Even if we don't like each other much at that moment.  

Sunday, January 3, 2016

I Give Zero F*cks

There's always a lot of talk about regulating screen time, how you shouldn't let your kid stew in front of the TV all day and so on and so forth.  And I agree with that, for the most part: watching TV all day every day is a terrible waste of time.  But playing with a tablet?  That's a little more nuanced.  Most people agree that it's impossible to keep a kid away from them, and that a strategic retreat is needed:  they set limits (30 minutes) or take them away for not doing chores or what-not.

Me?  I give zero f*cks about whether kidlet wants to spend his entire day playing with the damn iPad.  And here's why: I trust him to be smart enough to know when he's bored.  My only rules are:  1) no screens when eating (this is a family-wide thing, and it applies to Karel as well) and 2) no crying or whining when I tell him to put it away (i.e., when we need to go out, or when it's time for dinner).  If he does, then he loses the iPad for the rest of he day and the entire day thereafter.  It's a simple system that doesn't involve timers or some arbitrary limit.  And it works.  Yes, there were a few fits the first few days when he got his own iPad with new games, but after he worked out the rules for himself he's been pretty good about it and I don't have to fight with him to put it down.

I'm sure someone out there is having a heart attack reading this right now.  But here's the thing: after the first few days, when he spent close to 4 hours watching YouTube movies and playing with his apps, his using the iPad dropped, the same way it did with my phone. And now he spends maybe 30 minutes a day playing with the thing before he decides to pull out his cars or rediscover his "microbots" (hematite stones carved in a shape that resembled the microbots seen in Big Hero 6).  Or he'll ask us to fill the bathroom sink so that he can play with the water.  Or he'll get his crayons out of the closet.  Or ask me to take him to the playground.  Or...well, you get the idea: kid stuff.

Kids aren't stupid, and they'll work out when they've had enough.  Of course a new tablet, filled with fun apps, is going to absorb all of their attention, but it won't last.  It can't last--they just don't have the attention span or the ability to sit still that long.  It may take a little longer before they figure out their own limits, but there is a life beyond a tablet.  And of course you can use time with the tablet as a carrot as opposed to a stick, or set a time limit. But that doesn't teach them their own personal limits--it reinforces the idea that good things are scarce in this world so they need to have all the good things, all at once. And I know Freud has long since been discounted as a quack, but you have to wonder whether the (uniquely American) inability to moderate has something to do with this.

I wonder when we stopped listening to kids telling us what they want/need.  I mean, sure, they don't always know what's best for them, so it's up to us to make suggestions and make sure they know the rules.  But discipline isn't about teaching kids blind obedience to authority; it's about providing them with an appropriate frame in which to live their own lives. And that's the key, the "living their own lives" part, that I want for my kid.  It's not his job to make me happy.  His job is to grow up, my job is to give him what he needs to do that.  And part of that is really listening to him, accepting that sometimes that means pears and olives for breakfast instead of oatmeal, or taking him to the HEMA for a lunch date, just because.

I'm an atheist, but I do have faith:  that kidlet knows himself, and that as long as we continue to provide him with a bedrock of unconditional love and mutual respect, he'll turn out all right.  I wonder when people lost this faith--and what it will take for them to find it again.