Doing The Talk

Michel Martin, on her show Tell Me More, has a segment called the Barbarshop.  It is often a wittier take on the week’s news.  Not this weekend though.  They talked about the Trayvon Martin case from a perspective I was waiting to hear from.  All the men talked about when and how they got “The Talk.”  You know, the moment when an older Black man bestows wise words to a younger Black boy.  In other words, the speech that tells them the way he will be treated in our society by the police, storeshop owners, ordinary people.  They didn’t get into how it felt to have that talk, but all spoke about the protective nature of this moment.  These words were the creation of emotional armor for them, a way to keep them safe and on alert.

I know there is nothing in America that compares to “The Talk” all Black men must endure and pass along to the next generation.  But they are not the only community in this country that needs to have these talks.  For us Asian Americans, our history here in America is worth a good cry.  Reading about it all, I cannot deny the imperative I feel to educate my sons about how a Korean man will be viewed and treated in our society.  In my own generation, we were touched by the Vincent Chin incident, Sa-Yi-Gu and several non-newsworthy events of young Asian kids being killed and brutalized.  This doesn’t even begin to include the many stories of my own growing up in the melting pot called New York as an Asian American Catholic girl with a Jewish last name.  Sometimes I wonder if the umbrella phrase of “Asian American” is too broad for us?  Most times I feel it is our stereotypes that makes us so not worth the ink to publish.

My work is currently dominated by adolescents and young adults.  Ironic because I have been known to totally break out into a cold sweat if you put me in a room full of 14 year old girls.  After nearly five years in the company of teens, I have grown comfortable in talking about the uncomfortable, ie. drugs and sex.  With other people’s kids, I find it easy to roll into the race conversation too.  I kind of like knowing that I can talk about such provocative things with these big kids.

It is a totally different scenerio with my children, my boys.  Right now, they are so young and so happy and rather unhindered by their race.  Curiously, my big boy has found his gender privilege to be more perplexing.  He has been known to wonder aloud as to why we only see male sports on the big screen at a restaurant and thought Gnomeo and Juliet was awesome for me because, as a girl, I got to see a strong girl in the movie.

So when do I bring up the idea that they will be growing up in a society that will view them in strangly paradoxical ways – ambitious but passive, smart but not socially savvy, cute but not sexy, emasculated but sexist, funny but geeky, foreign but assimilated, Chinese, Japanese….eventually Korean?  How do I temper my own extreme experiences of racism and put them into historical perspectives for them so they can see the possibility of change?  How do I embrace their already established sense of self and not trample on it with dismal stories of past infractions done to people like us?  How do I protect them and warn them at the same time?

I end this post with three things.

  1. Here is the podcast from Tell Me More http://www.npr.org/2012/03/23/149222911/barbershop-guys-take-on-trayvon-martin
  2. Check out the Race Card Project – http://michele-norris.com/the-race-card/

And my third thing…here are my six words for the postcard project mentioned above: WE ARE ALL PEOPLE OF COLOR

What are your six words?

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