The Kansas City Star posted an article this week about Michele Norris, co-host of National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered,” who has written a memoir called The Grace Of Silence. Norris unearthed two truths about her family. Her father had been shot in the leg in Birmingham, Ala., by a white police officer in 1946, and her grandmother had worked for Quaker Oats as a traveling Aunt Jemima in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Norris’ book came out about the same time the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported Ernest Withers, a civil rights photographer, also had been an FBI informant. Both stories made me think about how history is told, especially when it involves race. Withers’ family had no idea the man who had unfettered access to the civil rights movement and its leaders also provided information about the movement to the FBI. I am further intrigued because I know there is a strong possibility I will learn a family secret or two as I delve into race and family as I report and write my memoir.
I may have to pick up Norris’ book. Has anyone read it?
I love Etsy and have made several purchases from the sellers there. Just for fun, I searched the site for the term biracial. The picture above is one of about a dozen entries I found. I contacted The Green Appetite and asked her for the story behind her art. Below is part of her response. Enjoy.
I sat one day at my sewing table and pondered on what to make. I wanted to make something that isn’t already out there but that people would appreciate. (So goes a lot of us etsyiens) Now, I can’t really tell you what brought me to create my first couple but after I made it, my mind started turning somersaults. I realized that there are a lot of couples out there who may have trouble with their relationships or marriages because biracial relationships are still to this day very negative in the minds of so many people. They have to deal with the negativity that comes from friends and family. I, myself, haven’t had to deal with the issue, but I know of people who have and it wasn’t pretty, if you know what I mean. So I thought that this would be a way to brighten someone’s day.
Well, I’m not, for two reasons.
First, I believe many, if not all, of those perceptions, labels, and categories will disappear as more and more children like Simone and Nadia grow up. They won’t matter and will lose their pull and their relevance.
I understand why some people want to keep such distinctions. They have prospered from them. Putting people in little boxes provides some level of comfort. I’m over here; you’re over there. It’s always been done that way, and it works for them. If you can’t put people into corners, it changes the race game. We’re all right here. It makes it more difficult to discriminate. I think that’s one of the reasons why some people are so uncomfortable with the term “biracial.” It doesn’t fit into any of the nation’s preconceived boxes about race.
Second, if I have my way, Simone and Nadia won’t care what others think or say about them. They will know themselves and their history and will shrug when someone tries to put them in a box. If they and other children don’t give power to such classifications, the classifications will no longer matter.
The most common compliment the girls receive is how beautiful they are. Strangers don’t say what beautiful black children or white children or Asian children or Hispanic children. They just call them beautiful. That gives me a bit of hope.
What do you think?
I consider myself a no nonsense parent. That means I steer clear of gimmicks.
But the Box Tops For Education people are pretty smart. They draw in the teachers, who tell their students, who bug their parents. Brilliant.
Each one is worth ten cents. Get enough people collecting them over a period of time and there’s no telling how much money you can raise. So, when the push for Box Tops came, I checked around and found we buy a number of things with Box Tops. I figured I would cut them out and send them to school. One time. It was my little offer to help. Then came the response: “Send more Box Tops.”
Next thing I know, my kid is shouting at the top of her lungs in the dairy section of the local discount store, “Double Box Tops! Double Box Tops!” Before I realize what I am doing, I reach for said item and put it in the grocery cart. Brilliant.
Sure, it’s something I buy occasionally, but did I really need it? Of course, I did. The kid needs the Box Tops to give to the teacher so that the school can turn them in and make money. Brilliant.
Those little tiny pieces of paper now have their own paper clip and a spot in a kitchen drawer. So much for being a no nonsense parent.
I’m sure I’m not the only who got sucked in. How did your child’s school get you to do something you said you wouldn’t?
I have stocked up on Darcy’s Botanicals Madagascar Vanilla Styling Creme to help prepare for the cool weather heading our way. I will use it as a butter to seal in moisture for Simone and me. It provides much-needed oils without the oily feel, including organic palm, castor and jojoba oils. Nadia’s fine strands will not require anything quite as heavy. A leave-in conditioner will help protect her hair from the cold dry air.
I’ve been thinking about all of the new products, Web sites and communities created for curly hair. I love that curlies like me finally have more choices and support for our hair. Still, I strive for simplicity.
Author Teri LaFlesh told me to braid my hair at night, and it has made a big difference. The single strand knots are gone, and my hair has inched past my shoulders. It was such a simple change and didn’t require me to buy anything. That is just one of the reasons why I love Teri’s method.
The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. When I was a kid I didn’t sleep on satin pillowcases or wear a sleep cap. My mother kept my hair in braids, except for special occasions, and I slept with it like that. My hair thrived then and it’s thriving now.
Taking care of curly hair is not rocket science. Consider the messenger and what he is trying to sell when hair care advice is offered. Keep the regimen simple and enjoy your curls.
What’s your simple curl regimen?
First, I should say how excited, overwhelmed and even a bit scared I am to be the first-ever Passion Project winner. I am excited for the obvious reasons. Winning this contest will at the very least get me closer to publication. I am overwhelmed because I have a lot of work to do, and I am scared because everyone is watching.
I have been a student of the craft for nearly two decades. I have read, written and read some more. Yet, the agent and the book deal have eluded me. I knew I was doing something wrong; I just couldn’t figure it out. Or maybe I did and needed someone to show me.
When I heard about the Passion Project on SheWrites.com, I thought it could be the boost I needed to land an agent and possibly a book deal. I feel one step closer to that reality after talking with Christina Baker Kline about my proposal.
She wanted to know how she could help. I had written a few notes about some items I wanted to touch on, mainly comments from agents who had turned down my project. “I like the concept, but I cannot offer representation,” many wrote. “It’s a magazine article, not a full-length book,” a few told me. “You’re not an expert because your children haven’t gone through puberty,” one said.
It was enough to make me stop writing. I am addressing the expert matter by interviewing black mothers, attending and participating in conferences on the mixed experience and by creating an online survey of mothers raising biracial children.
My mistake, and I suspect it is common, is that I didn’t address those issues in my proposal. Christina likened it to hiding under the bed with my eyes closed. Just because I didn’t mention the cracks doesn’t mean they aren’t there, she said. She urged me to anticipate criticism, deflect it, and defuse it.
For example, I should address the magazine versus book question head on. RAISING SIMONE AND NADIA is a much richer and deeper story and could never be addressed in 5,000 words. Then I need to support the premise with examples from my book. I also need to frame the book as a five-year experience and invoke successful memoirs that have a small timeframe. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls is just one example. My homework is to come up with a few more.
In my quest to show how different my book is from those already in print, I didn’t spend enough time talking about my book in my proposal.
I need to frame it as a journey of a mother who deals with some uncomfortable truths in the years leading up to a groundbreaking moment in this nation’s history. I need to let agents know I have several strong characters, am willing to write raw prose about a taboo subject and provide them with solid statistics about the book’s audience. In other words, I need to tell them why my book is new and groundbreaking and not expect them to hunt for it and come to that conclusion on their own.
Thank you, Christina. I have a lot of work to do.
Reader Asks: I am black and my husband is white. My family and his family is very accepting and color is not an issue with them. My son who is 5 came out a pretty “latte” skin color and hair, kinda a mix of my husband and I, but my daughter came out more like the frothy milk on top, lol. With blue eyes and blonde hair to match. Both my kids are strikingly beautiful. We get several comments every where we go. I guess my question is how do you explain to kids how one child looks more like one side of the family and visa versa? And how do you deal with the looks from people who wonder where you got this child from when I am not with my husband? lol!
Honeysmoke Says: I will take the easy question first. You don’t owe an explanation of any kind to people on the street. Don’t worry about them. Keep on doing what you are doing. I’ve also found that acknowledging someone’s gaze often puts an end to the stare-fest. Stare back at someone, and most folks will turn away. If they approach you, it’s fine to be polite. But you don’t have to indulge their curiosity.
Turn to family photos and picture books of children all over the world to help explain differences between siblings. Family photos have the power to help explain mommy and daddy’s traits, as you point out a little of both of you in your children. Check out One World, One Day, which shows children of various skin tones from around the world, and Mixed: Portraits of Multiracial Kids, for pictures of American children who have parents of varied racial and ethnic backgrounds. Questions about skin tone will continue as your children grow up. Take their lead and answer their questions frankly and honesty, and everything should be fine.
Folks asking insensitive questions? Let me respond. Not sure how to handle family and friends? I’ll tell you how. Need a little support? I am here to help. Click on the contact button above and ask away.
theGrio.com posted an article this week about talking to biracial and multiracial children about race. Simone and Nadia haven’t asked anything lately, which means I am due a question any minute now. The article is chocked-full of advice. I bet, though, there are some parents here who can share their own experience. So, I am asking, how have you addressed questions your children have posed about race?