Why #OscarsSoWhite Is More Than Just a Hashtag In My Home

Did any Black people win last night, mommy?

This was the first question out of my daughter the morning after the Golden Globe awards. Thankfully, I could answer yes, knowing that at the age of seven, she would be content with only one actress winning a Globe, and the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement award going to a Black man.

You may be shocked that a seven year old is even thinking about such things, but representation of her race is important to my daughter, and it should be. I’ve taught her that, because I can’t give her “blackness” (forgive me for lack of a better description) so she has to search for it elsewhere – her friends, her activities, her entertainment, her neighbourhood – all of these areas of her life serve as surrogate racial models for my daughter because I can’t. I wish I could, but I knew before I adopted her the only thing I can do is teach her as best I can to watch and learn from other sources in addition to what I regurgitate for her from my own research. It matters to her to see herself, in both her race and her adoption, represented in the real world.

In the past six years, I’ve pushed through many moments of my own discomfort to try to learn about struggles that I have never experienced as a white women protected with a coat of white privilege. I’ve tried to educate myself as much as I possibly can on what white privilege is and what I, as a white person, can do to become an ally to people of colour in ways that people of colour have shared are relevant to them.

As a stay-at-home mother initially, and now a work-at-home mother, often my simplest and most readily-available form of me-time recreation has been watching movies. I love movies. Especially the season of excellent quality films following Christmas up until summer blockbuster season. For six years, I’ve obsessively watched all Oscar-quality movies, made my own predictions, attempted to see all or most of the nominated performances and then watched the award shows and live-tweeted during those shows. I’ve voiced my disappointment over the lack of diversity both in Hollywood and in the nominations and winners of the awards, but I’ve never really done much more about it; armchair slactivism at its worst. I won’t lie – I’ve loved being a part of it all and didn’t really think I could do much more than just express my disappointment.

Until now.

This year, for the second year in a row, there are no Black actor or actress nominees. Nor Supporting Actor or Actress nominees. Not a single Black actor was deemed worthy of a nomination by a mostly white, male institution. Not many people of colour in general, in any category, for that matter. Yet The Academy figured they had it all balanced by contracting Chris Rock to host the show.

I’m pissed about it all.

Yet, I’m also to blame.

And so are you.

HEAR ME OUT, before you start rolling your eyes and complaining that Will Smith and his wife are just whining that he didn’t get a nomination.

We continue to support these award shows by watching them. That’s how they make money and what indirectly continues to feed the vicious circle of racism – we support movies featuring more white actors than people of colour in more white stories than stories about people of colour, we watch award shows to reward more of the white actors and actresses so they will continue to get more white parts in more white movies. What’s worse is that we also continue to complacently accept white actors playing characters who weren’t originally white.

No more.

I am not going to actively teach my daughter about racial equity with my words and then completely confuse her by exemplifying with my actions what white privilege is all about. I refuse to let her believe that it’s ok to watch award shows that disrespect the talent and effort of people of colour.

It’s not ok.

How can I look my daughter in the eye when she asks me the morning after the Oscars if any Black actors won and tell her “No, darling. There weren’t any nominated. But mommy still watched and enjoyed the show like I always have.”

I can’t do it.

I won’t do it.

And personally, I’d like to know how Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Sandra Bullock, Charlize Theron, Hugh Jackman, Madonna, and even one of the Grand Poobahs of Hollywood, Steven Spielberg, along with other Hollywood royal members are going to explain to THEIR children of colour how and why they supported an institution that doesn’t respect the efforts of their child’s race?

I can’t do that to my daughter nor can I disrespect the talented people of colour who put out high-quality work in Hollywood without the same opportunities or recognition that white people receive.

So, for the first time in my adult life, I will not be watching the Academy Awards this year.

(Those who know me or at least are friends with me on Facebook and read my frequent status movie reviews are going “WHOAAA!” right now, while the rest of you are probably going “Who gives a shit?” and that’s just fine by me.)

Going forward, I will also be choosing the films I spend money to watch with a far greater intention; I will be actively looking for movies that feature stories about people of colour, that star people of colour and are written and/or produced by people of colour.

Adopting my daughter helped open my eyes to my own white privilege and continuously forces me to confront it, own it and acknowledge it in my everyday life. I’m thankful every day for her presence in my life and I owe her and all people of colour to do what I can.

Oh sure, it may seem like no big deal to you, and in a harsh world of so many societal problems, some may be inclined to write off the importance of “a little gold statue”. Thankfully, I’ve also learned that just because something isn’t important to me, that doesn’t give me the right to invalidate its importance to others. Nor does it allow me to dismiss the greater societal issues behind that little gold statue. Everyone deserves recognition for a job well done – would we dismiss a teacher or doctor asking for equal recognition for equal work performance? Of course not. The Oscars may not matter to you, but it matters to the people who work at providing movies for entertainment. ALL of the people, not just the white ones.

My daughter knows how much I love movies and how Oscar night has been a VERY BIG DEAL for me in the past, so I’m making my stand in a way that I know is meaningful to her. I don’t expect my position to have any impact on Hollywood and their institutionalized racism, but quite frankly, I’m not doing it for them.

#OscarsSoWhite

 

The Realities of Trans-Racial Adoption

IMG_0180

Every so often, parents via adoption are confronted with their own complete and utter inadequacy. Oh sure, biological parents are too, I know, but I’m talking that extra layer of baggage that our children carry around that we must also deal with regularly – the hurt and pain of their pre-adoption experiences that never leave them, no matter how much we love and care for them.

Two nights ago, Baby Girl awoke and without getting into the minutia of the situation, ended up having a typhoon-sized temper tantrum at midnight that lasted a full hour and woke up our entire household, if not our entire street. Yeah – THAT kind of tantrum.

It’s interesting in retrospect to analyze how her behavior reflects so much of what I’ve read in adoption psychology books, yet somehow in the moment – I am completely unable to see that, nor am I able to draw on my research about how to deal with her adoption/attachment-related behavioral challenges.

So, of course when the tantrum started, instead of recognizing that she was feeling fear and insecurity related to recent circumstances that were putting her in touch with her pre-adoption experiences, all I saw was a bratty little kid looking for attention at midnight and waking me and the rest of the family up to get it. So I snapped. I shouted at her and grounded her from TV – which is a consequence that punishes ME far more than her, trust me. I threw up my hands and enlisted Huzbo, even – who did the same thing as me.

Well, we quickly found out the next night that our strategy stank, when Baby Girl woke up at 1am and proceeded to behave in the exact same way as the night before, despite how much shit she had gotten into.

I began to throw out threats of more severe consequences, which only served to both upset and incense her further. Huzbo was far more furious than the previous night and it was in the middle of this complete shit-storm that I realized something: her behavior was not something she was trying to do against us. She was attempting to reach out for help to deal with feelings that she did not have the skills to verbalize for us. The threats we were throwing at her were not intimidating to her – we were giving her choices, and when given the choice between watching TV or receiving love and assurance if she could get it via screaming and crying – she would always throw TV to the wolves.

I suddenly remembered a line I had read somewhere:

It’s usually when they are behaving in a way that it’s hardest to love them that they need our love demonstrated the most.

So I crawled into bed with the screeching, snot-nosed cyclone of hurt that was my daughter and held her. Oh, she resisted at first – she’s a fierce little example of the “flight or fight” response that many children who were adopted demonstrate in stressful situations – but she soon calmed and I was able to speak gently with her and give words to the overwhelming feelings she was having. When she began to weep and her little body sagged down onto the bed beside me, I knew I had done the right thing and had made the correct assumptions about the sources of her seemingly unacceptable behavior.

Flash ahead to yesterday morning, where I was putting her hair in pigtails for the dance class she was going to. Out of nowhere came this question:

“Do you wish you had gotten a white baby in your tummy instead of me?”

(WHY do they always ask these kinds of questions when you’re either in a public bathroom or in a hurry to get somewhere?)

I assured her that even though I had tried to make a baby in my womb before we had started our adoption journey, it was not because that was my preference, but because it was just what parents usually did when they wanted to have a child. I attempted to make her understand that it wasn’t about what I wanted more – that it was simply what most people do, yet I’m not sure I succeeded in convincing her she wasn’t a consolation prize in my efforts to become a mother.

Never a child to leave it at just one zinger, she followed up with:

“Would you have liked it better if I had white skin?”

I got down on my knees and looked her in the eye and told I would NEVER want her to have white skin, because if she did, she wouldn’t be my Baby Girl. That her beautiful black skin was a part of who she is, and that we did not care what colour skin our child had when we were deciding to adopt. I assured her that we didn’t love her DESPITE of her black skin, but BECAUSE of it. That we embrace the differences between her and us, but we also feel a very deep connection to her that we might not feel if she had white skin, because she would be an entirely different person. I assured her that if we had wanted a white baby so badly, we most certainly would have adopted one.

This seemed to appease her, as she went off to dance class with no further questions, but the conversation has been sitting in my mind, rattling the cage ever since then.

Do white parents experience their children asking them if they’d prefer their kids to have black skin?

Of course not.

Do bio parents experience their children raging in the middle of the night because they are feeling a hard-wired pain that occurred when they were separated from the mother who gave birth to them?

Never.

Do trans-racial adoptive parents ever feel guilty that they brought a black child into a white family?

Often.

It’s a tough, heart-kicking job we signed up for, as trans-racial adoptive parents. I’m not sure we knew back then how agonizing it would be at times.

But I wouldn’t change it for anything, because at the end of the tantrum and questions – I’ve got the most remarkable, tough, strong, joyful, happy, intelligent, gorgeous, stubborn little person who calls me “mommy”.

Sadly, my Baby Girl is the one who has so much more to contend with.

 

Thanks for reading my blog! Feel free to share it, and if you’d like to hear more from me, slide over to the right side of your screen and “Like” my Facebook page, follow me on Twitter and subscribe to get my latest post in your email inbox – yes, that’s right – stalk me!

You may also like reading my blog posts at Conceived in my Heart on YummyMummyClub.ca – check it out!

 

A Life Is A Life

3624695782_44504c40c5_z[1]

 

I’m sitting in LAX waiting for my delayed flight home from a really good two week holiday with my family, but my heart is heavy.

For the past couple of days, I’ve watched the flurry unfold on TV and social media from the shock and dismay over Robin Williams’ alleged suicide to the platform for public awareness and support of people with depression and helping them with suicide prevention.

Bravo, I say. It’s about time. I still consider my own past dealings with depression a dirty little secret I rarely discuss because of the stigma of shame that used to exist for depression sufferers.

I too loved Robin Williams as an entertainer. A love that started with the “Nanu, nanu, Mork from Ork” antics of an 80’s sitcom, all the way through his career.

Yet, my heart is hurting for a different reason.

My heart is breaking for a different man – one who didn’t go to Julliard and didn’t have the world wrapped around his waggling, slapstick finger with his talents. A man who perhaps made a mistake or two, or was in the wrong place at the wrong time, or simply was born into the wrong skin colour in the wrong state.

Michael Brown was an unarmed man, who according to some eyewitness reports, had both hands raised begging police not to shoot him when he was ignored and shot repeatedly to death anyway.

Where is the media frenzy about THAT, I ask?

Don’t misunderstand my intentions here.

BOTH of these stories warrant media focus.

BOTH of these men deserve recognition.

BOTH of the underlying causes for these tragedies are worthy of public outcry, awareness and support.

It’s just that ONE of these stories is not like the other.

ONE of these stories is about a black man who didn’t want to die but was murdered anyway, presumably because of the racist beliefs of the police officer that shot him, in a state that was once a hotbed of racism.

Am I making assumptions here that haven’t been proven by the “police investigation pending”?

Youbetcha.

Are my assumptions based on historical fact, hard evidence and my own awareness of countless other black men and women who have been discriminated against, some murdered as well?

Youbetcha.

I’m really happy that the public opinion of depression and suicide is shifting. I’m relieved to see the stigma that was once attached to mental illness dissipating and a social tenderness developing towards sufferers of these conditions.

But what I can’t understand for the life of me is why the media and society in general keeps turning a blind eye away from the blatant racism that is occurring in law enforcement and the judicial system? Why don’t these tragic episodes also receive the same media focus and empathy?

Oh sure – the networks and newspapers have all done their due diligence in cursory coverage of what happened to Michael Brown, it hasn’t been completely ignored.

But how many more innocent, unarmed black men or women will die before the world decides that their burden also deserves the same sympathy, empathy, assistance and support as celebrities suffering from addiction or mental illness?

The world at large may be content with the facade of a “police investigation” used to buy time for construction of a careful patchwork quilt of excuses and explanations, but I’m not. I know how this story ends. The same way it did for Trayvon Martin. The same way it did for Jonathan Ferrell, a young black man who was seriously injured in a car accident and managed to get to a nearby residence and ring the doorbell to ask for help but was shot and killed by police summoned by the homeowner who only saw a bloody black man at her front door. The same way it did for so many other black men and some women who have been murdered with flimsy or no excuse, whose names you wouldn’t recognize even if I did share them here.

When are we going to stand up as a group of people called humanity and voice our disagreement?

One love, people.

One love means equal treatment for ALL people. It sounds great in theory and is certainly an aspiration, but we just aren’t there yet.

Instead of being satisfied with the bullshit cover stories fed to you by law enforcement and judicial agencies, broaden your support and understanding to include people who are discriminated against.

Racism is every bit as painful and tragic as depression and mental illness – let’s stop accepting it as one of society’s remaining dirty little secrets.

 

Diversity Got the Deep Freeze in the movie “Frozen”

We’ve just returned from doing what probably eleventy million North American kids did this weekend – watching the latest Disney movie “Frozen”.

I’m torn about sharing my thoughts, because on one hand, I want to be cool, just chill (see what I just did there?) and take a kid’s movie at face value.

And at face value – it WAS a pretty fun movie. Good music, funny jokes, entertaining characters and a uniquely engaging storyline.

But hidden underneath all that ice was something I found a little disturbing. So, being who I am, you know I’m going to share it with you. Because who are we kidding about that cool mom who knows how to chillax? Not me and we all know it.

Now, my biggest complaint about this movie is really not just about THIS movie, but about almost ALL kids’ movies. This one just happened to have the misfortune of being the ice on the cake (sorry, couldn’t resist).

There is a gaping lack of diversity in this and many other kids’ movies.

And I’m sick of it.

Yes, the movie is set in Medieval-era Nordic lands, where presumably diversity was not ever heard of, but don’t tell me that if Disney can cook up a story about a sister who has ice flowing from her hands to freeze a village in July and create blizzards, a moving,talking snowman that has body parts that separate and regroup at will and a reindeer that communicates with eyeball language, then don’t tell me they can’t cook up some black, Asian, East or West Indian residents in the village. Or royalty visiting the castle. Or a hero or heroine. Or even a cross-race romance (GASP!) I just don’t buy it. In one ballroom scene, there is a barely-there glimpse of a brown-ish couple, but it’s so fleeting that I’m actually wondering now if my eyes were playing tricks on me because I wanted to see something, anything other than white so badly.

The same is true for many kids’ TV shows. Take the royal darling Princess Sophia. How many black princes or princesses attend the Royal Academy with Sophia? Yep – you got it. None. Oh sure – Sophia has a black girl friend, who is a peasant in the village from Sophia’s pre-royalty life, but she rarely shows up at the castle. Why is that? Are the writers and creators so confident that a non-white person could never actually become royalty via an exclusive private academy? I also watched a Barbie TV special last week with Baby Girl that disgusted me for the same reason – Barbie and all of her white friends were attending a fancy private school that offered equestrian training and competition. Well, it must have been set either in South African apartheid, or the Southern States prior to the civil rights movement, because there were nothing but WHITE girls at that school.

The same for Frozen. It would appear that diversity was frozen out of this film. Not even a non-white servant in the castle, which perhaps I should be thankful for, that at least THAT stereotype was left out.

Now what troubles me most about the movie white-out is this: my daughter is black and taking her to see these movies is sending her the subliminal, subconscious message that non-white people do not belong in princess adventure movies. Unless of course they have their own township-like side of town to live their life of hardship in menial jobs, are turned into a frog to help a sinister black voodoo man and end up owning a restaurant with a fellow “coloured” man, not living like royalty in a castle. Baby Girl is learning from these movies and shows that maybe non-whites just aren’t good enough to be at a grand party at the castle, or even skating in the castle courtyard with the other villagers.

Children’s TV and movies is not the world of equality and the desired colour-blindness that so many politically correct people are calling for today, yet we as parents continue to take our kids to these movies and allow them to believe that it’s acceptable to freeze out diversity.

Don’t get me wrong – Baby Girl did not notice the missing representation one bit. In fact, during the Barbie TV special, I asked her numerous times if she saw anything missing from Barbie’s school and circle of friends, and she didn’t. Even when I pointed out to her that there were absolutely no black girls – or any other race than white – attending the school or even in the show – her response made me want to cry.

“That’s ok mommy. It doesn’t bother me.”

Well, it bloody well should. It bothers the hell out of me, and it bothers me MORE that it DOESN’T bother her. To me, that’s simply an indication that her experience of movies and television has been so completely white-washed that she just assumes this is NORMAL. Which sadly, it is in the world of entertainment, if not the real world that some of us live in.

I’m really disappointed that a powerhouse like Disney, knowing they could do SO MUCH to instill tolerance and equality in our children’s minds, continues to white-out all of their characters, or segregate them to their own movies like The Princess Frog, Mulan or Pocahontas.

If so many of us are trying to de-segregate, inter-relate and strive for a loving society of diversity, why shouldn’t our children’s entertainment be helping us send the same message to our kids so their generation doesn’t have to work so hard to fight racism?

If you liked this post, please swing over to the right side of your screen and follow my blog, so you get my new posts directly in your email inbox. While you’re there, why not also click the “Like” button for my Facebook fan page and hit the “Follow @PapayaJambalaya” button to follow me on Twitter? Yeah, that’s right – go ahead – stalk me. It’s all good. If you’re already stalking me or are going to -Thank you!

Diversity Simplified

If you are a parent – do this activity with your kids NOW.

If you are a teacher -of ANY grade or age – make a reminder to do this with your new class ON YOUR 1ST DAY OF SCHOOL in September.

1005960_395005273942702_1252526452_n[1]

Thank you to kidsactivitiesblog.com for posting this.  I hope they don’t mind me using it here, but it’s a fantastic example and bears repeating.  Over and over and over again.  Thank you also to whomever took it from that blog and posted it on Facebook for me to come across this morning when I was supposed to be editing the blog post I had written for this week.  That post can wait.

Diversity is complicated for adults, but for kids – IT DOES NOT NEED TO BE MORE COMPLICATED THAN THIS FOLKS!

Show your kids the white egg and the brown egg.  Ask them what the difference is.  Make sure their answer refers to the appearance of the eggs.  Then crack ’em both open and ask them what the difference is on the INSIDE.  Make sure their answer is “They’re the SAME!”.

Then say these simple words:

JUST LIKE PEOPLE.  We all look different on the outside, but we are ALL the same on the inside.

We all have unique thoughts and feelings and ideas, BUT…….we ALL have thoughts, feelings and ideas.   WE ARE ALL THE SAME.

NOBODY IS BETTER.  White eggs aren’t better.  Brown eggs aren’t better.   They are the SAME.

JUST LIKE PEOPLE.

Then go buy this book for your younger kids, because it’s AWESOME at explaining Diversity – We’re Different, We’re the Same (Bobbi Kates).

http://www.amazon.com/Were-Different-Sesame-Street-Pictureback/dp/0679832270/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1372955717&sr=8-1&keywords=we%27re+different+we%27re+the+same

 

Feel free to shout all the words I’ve capitalized above (in a happy shouty voice, of course).  It’s an important message, after all.

Then live your life demonstrating this message in everything you say and everything you do.

 

 

If anything about this post appealed to you, please swing over to the right side of your screen and follow my blog so you get my new posts directly in your email inbox. While you’re there, why not click the “Like” button right there for my Facebook fan page and hit the “Follow @papayajambalaya” button to follow me on Twitter? Yeah, that’s right – go ahead – stalk me. It’s all good. If you’re already stalking me or are going to -Thanks!