I’m not racist, but …
The minute you hear a person start off with that phrase, you pretty much know that the rest of their sentence indeed will be offensive — at best. You practically can set your watch to it.
But then there are those times when a person says that offensive/racist thing, and you want to gently shove a sock in their mouth while you school them on why they should never repeat what they just said. For me, those moments usually involve a well-meaning (albeit ignorant) parent, and they are talking about something that pertains to their child. Because, like Wu-Tang, MMM is for the children.
Example: White woman pregnant with her first baby approaches a welcoming, kindhearted group of new moms with a question. She starts with the red-flag phrase: I’m not racist, but … her boyfriend and baby’s father is black, but “he’s not, like, super black” and she wants to know what color her baby — due in two months — will be. Oh, and she’s also rather preoccupied with the baby’s hair.
Now, there’s a lot to unpack here. And I have questions.
What does she mean by super black? Are we talking literal skin color, the hue of the man, or is this a cultural assessment that she’s making about his internal blackness? And why are there a preemptive worries about the baby’s hair texture and skin color? Are those really top-priority concerns for your newborn?
Lady, you’re about to have a mixed race child in a nation that is slowly choking on the fiction that is “Post-racial America.” Our black boys seem to be born with a bull’s-eye on their backs. Our girls have their hair scrutinized, pet like an animal, discounted, and even deemed against regulation. These same girls — our girls — often grow up not seeing a physical manifestation of themselves on TV, in films and magazines, and too often told that they are not classically beautiful or simply “angry, black women.” Our young women and men of color are erased, devalued and, as a collective, continually robbed of the “privilege of being treated like human beings.”
This doesn’t even scratch at the other part of the iceberg, the part that delves into the all-important notion of identity, self-awareness and self-acceptance in the face of racial microaggressions that peck away at us like ducks. All of it daily work for all of us, us with our brown skin — from barely bronze to super black.
So to hear about this white mom forming her lips to ask her silly, “not racist but …” question about the skin tone and hair texture of her child — actually hoping for very light and curly, respectively — I want to tell her to stop talking about that. I want to strongly advise her to get educated, get prepared, and get more comfortable talking about race, because she is about to have a mixed race baby, and she will be that child’s trusted guide through this matted web of racism and all its twisted assumption, warped perception, scrambled theories, and truth-lite. She will be that child’s beacon through the bumpy roads ahead. And there is no room in any of this for the weak or the wack.
In short: Be that child’s mother, and don’t start anything with, “I’m not racist, but …” ever.
Earlier this year someone reached out to MMM to see if I would be interested in checking out a new book by Ylleya Fields called Princess Cupcake Jones and the Missing Tutu. It sounded it cute (it is) and I really liked that the lead character of the story just so happened to be a little brown girl.
The Youngster totally enjoyed it, and often requested it as one of his three bedtime books. And so I’m pleased to have had a chance to chat with Fields about her work, her family, and where the two intersect.
Q: How did you become a children’s book author? Is it something you’ve always wanted to do?
Ylleya Fields: I actually became a writer due to what I saw as a lack of children’s picture books that featured an ethnic main character that my own children could relate to. I won’t say it happened overnight, but it wasn’t something I thought about until then.
Q: I know that Princess Cupcake is based on your children, but how did you come up with this story — that rhymes! — about the missing tutu?
YF: The stories are based on things that my daughter’s have either done or loved! My oldest probably wore a tutu everyday of her early life. While my middle daughter absolutely hates to clean up! So that was a nice combination of both personalities (which I do a lot in this series). As for the rhyming, that was just the type of picture book that my children and I gravitate towards. So I decided that was the type that I wanted to write as well.
Q: Of course, one of the things that I thrilled me most about your book is seeing not just brown faces, but also that this family of color is royalty. How important is it for you to have that diversity and representation in children’s stories?
YF: Extremely important, as it’s the whole reason I set out to create this series in the first place. I read somewhere that children of color seeing themselves in books is as important as children seeing a black president or a black doctor … it really drives home the point that you can be anything that you want to be.
Q: On the topic of this clear need for more children’s books starring kids of color, representing real life — not just talking bears and cars and pigeons — was it a challenge for you to try to tell Princess Cupcake Jones’ story? Did you experience a lot of pushback from publishers?
YF: I didn’t I send [the book] to many publishers for a few reasons: 1) I don’t deal with rejection well. 2) I wanted complete control of this project, which you can’t really have when you just sell a story. But yes, from the few people I have sent it to, you basically hear the same things, which is that it’s a great concept, but there really isn’t a market for it, which absolutely isn’t the case.
Q: What can we mothers of color and mothers of mixed heritage families do to have our voices heard on this important subject of inclusion?
YF: Wow, that’s a deep question. But I think the best answer would be to let our children know that they truly matter. No matter what they look like, or where they come from, or what social economic status they’re in.
Q: What’s been the best part about seeing your story in hardcover, there for others to experience?
YF: The best part is exactly what you said: seeing it! Also, having my children show it to their peers and really be proud of it. There is no greater feeling that accomplishing a dream or goal and having others share in it.
Q: Do you have a lot of input on the illustrations, as in how the characters are depicted?
YF: Oh, absolutely! My illustrator is a genius because he brings what I want to life. But every page of every illustration is usually first ran by my fiancée (or, as I like to call him, my creative consultant) and me, and then we in turn tell Mike (the illustrator) what we want to see happen.
Q: What’s the process like for you, from the idea to the finished product in bookstores? How long does it take? And what’s the most challenging part of that process?
YF: Oh, boy! That depends on a lot of factors. The writing of the story itself has so many variables (for ex., if I’m in a writing mood, if I have the topic). But usually I pick a topic, write the story, have the story edited, rewrite, edit again, rewrite, send to the illustrator, come up with a concept for the cover, wait for the illustrator to send that back, fit the story into a 32-page format, go over what I want to see illustration-wise, wait for the pencils of the illustrations, tweak them, wait on the color illustrations to come back, edit one more time for punctuation, and viola! The book is done … But that is it in the most simplest of forms. That process can take a year or two to get done.
Q: If there’s a message you’d like parents and kids reading your books to have when the walk away from it, what would it be?
YF: Each book has its own message. The [first one] obviously is about cleaning up but others will have their own theme. As long as parents and children take something meaningful from each book, I’m happy.
Q: What’s the next book about? And when can we expect more adventures with Princess Cupcake Jones?
YF: The next book is Princess Cupcake Jones Won’t Go To School. It actually was just released, and it’s about dealing with the fear of the first day of school.
Guess what time it is? Oh, yes. It’s Giveaway Time! One lucky MMM reader (US only — sorry) will win a copy of Princess Cupcake Jones Won’t Go To School. All you have to do is leave a comment about one of your favorite children’s books. Good luck! Winner will be announced next week.
Good news! I’ve been asked to join Mom.me’s writers’ circle. This means I’ll be posting more regularly on that lovely site. I dipped my toes back in those waters last month when I wrote about my daily morning debate between motherhood and runner. Then I got into talking about my recent awkward encounters with other people’s kids (and the parents, too!). This time around, it’s all about the “rules” of dressing them kids! Have a read, and let me know what you think. And, if you feel so moved, please share the link in your circles. Thanks!
The days of dressing my 5-year-old son are over. Actually, they came to an end a few years ago, when speaking in full and clear sentences was no longer a mountain he needed to climb. He was there, at the summit, expressing how he really felt about the clothing choices I’d been making for him. No more cute, fly-guy fashions and themed outfits, like super-mini skater kid, tiny Harvard preppy, or the “Mad Men” Casual Beach thing I was getting away with for a stretch. Once this kid was able to express his likes and — as was often the case — staunch dislikes, the couture was cut down to a set of very basic rules. Rules that may not be bent or broken, for the retribution would be steep … and bloody annoying.
I learned the hard way and endured the battle of the morning get-dressed scene, and have come out on the other side. So, in the interest of each one teach one, I present to you the 7 Rules of Little Kid Fashion, as told to me by my son — who, for this exercise, we’ll call Maester ICanDoItMyself.
1. Band-Aids Take Priority. If there is ever a bandage covering a bump, scrape or cut [Parent edit: real or imagined ones], be sure that socks and sleeves do not cover this important plaster. Unless, of course, these things bring added protection to this most necessary tourniquet. In that case, pull the socks up all the way to the knee, making doubly sure they stay up, and drag those sleeves or pant legs carefully over the important bandage. Failure to comply will result in certain grumpiness and more than a few Band-Aids wasted in the “reapplication” process.
2. Tag, You’re Not It! No matter how much I claim to like a shirt, if the tag scrapes or tickles the back of my neck, even just a little, we will have a problem. I will not think twice to demand that the offending tag be completely removed. It’s lay flat or go home. (Home being the garbage bin here.) And, Parent, it’s probably a safer bet that you memorize the wash and care instructions of all my shirts, as I have a zero-tolerance policy about tags that don’t follow the clear rules.
Read all 7 rules here on Mom.me.
Good news! I’ve been asked to join Mom.me’s writers’ circle. This means I’ll be posting more regularly on that lovely site. I dipped my toes back in those waters just last month when I wrote about my daily morning debate between motherhood and runner. This time around I’m talking about my recent awkward encounters with other people’s kids (and the parents, too!). Have a read, and let me know what you think.
From the minute they bustled through the doors, I started holding my breath. It was a small family — a set of older parents with a 3-year-old child — descending upon the already cramped airport lounge. There was a storm brewing on the East Coast, delaying a large batch of flights out. The benefit of being able to recline in comfy seats with a kind buffet of warm pasta, cold sandwiches and simple snacks, and free Wi-Fi was not lost on me. I was ever grateful, specifically because I had my 5-year-old son along with me on this trip.
We had just tucked into another bowl of cheddar fish when the trio — we’ll call them The Louds — stomped in. Kid Loud was high-octane, just whining and yelling and taking bratdom to the next level. Even my son said, “Mom, that kid is really whiny — way more whinier than any other person I’ve ever seen.” Word, li’l homey. Word.
The child’s parents looked completely exhausted and deflated: The dad proceeded to take out his laptop and fully ignore his kid, while the mother chased after and tried to corral the tiny human.
They picked the row of seats facing us. (Yay.) Kid Loud steamrolled over and started poking, talking, nudging, hugging, yelling, grabbing food and generally bugging my son. The two kids played, as best as they could. I must have heard Kid Loud’s name about 58 times in the span of 20 minutes, as the mother tried in vain to set her child straight. We still had another 90 minutes before our delayed flight was set to leave, yet I seriously considered fleeing the comforts of the lounge and heading to the sweatbox of the faraway, woefully neglected “satellite” terminal just to escape The Louds.
Instead I tried to focus on my newspaper, but ended up going over the same damn sentence on loop. At one point I was even reading out loud, in a stage whisper, to rise above the din of Kid Loud. Then I tried to zone out, get Zen, meditate. No luck. Listen, even Deepak Chopra would have given up and Namaste’d on out of there.
Read the full post here on Mom.me.