Mirrors, Mamas, Warren, Trauma: A Grab-Bag

Contrary to appearances, I have not, in fact, disappeared shortly after promising to write you once a week. What I have done is fallen into other work. (Among other things, I have a book coming out this summer that I need to prepare for.) This is a looser newsletter than usual; I might start sending these out, just grab-bags of quick thoughts and links, so that I can stay in touch even when I don’t have a full essay in me. First up, a reader question:

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I’ve been trying to find thoughts from good thinkers on a topic you’re well positioned to think about: being a white woman raising kids of color. My spouse’s family is mixed Filipino and Burmese, and my twin girls are going to grow up in a world that will see them differently than it saw me, but also differently than it saw their dad. 

The unfortunate answer to your question is that I’m trying to figure it out myself. Obviously, I think about it a lot, just in a “how do I raise a human being without traumatizing her or making her hate me” sort of way. And I think about it more now than I used to, in Brooklyn. Up there, we were just another family. Here, in a smaller town, we move through a much whiter world.

What I feared for Lulu, initially, was isolation. When I’ve spoken to biracial friends, or transracial adoptees (like my husband), they all mentioned that painful feeling of being stranded; they thought there was no-one else like them in the world, or at least, no-one in their neighborhoods, which is the same thing when you’re a little kid and the neighborhood is all you know.

We didn’t have to think about this in Brooklyn, because families like ours were so common. To give you an idea: My husband and I were one of three interracial Asian-white couples in our friend group, we all had babies within two years of each other, and all of our babies were assigned female at birth. Lulu was the youngest, so not only were we never short on hand-me-downs, we never had to worry about finding other biracial Asian toddlers for her to hang out with. She could always see herself reflected in her surroundings. 

Just as importantly, she could also see grown-up Asian ladies. It’s early days, still, for Lulu’s gender identity; my understanding is that kids don’t fully wrap their heads around gender as a concept until pre-school, and even then, it takes them a while to develop a firm sense of where they fit on the spectrum. Right now, though, she is very stereotypically girly. She likes pink, and she likes dresses, and she likes mermaids and unicorns and taking care of her baby dolls; she calls herself a “girl.” She has an idea that different genders exist; she calls some adults “mamas,” and some “daddies,” and she likes pointing out which is which. (Again, rude, but we’ll work on it.) And — watch, now, as I very slowly come to my point — she absolutely LOVES spotting Asian mamas.

She gets excited to see Asian ladies at the store. She gets excited to see Asian ladies at the library. When we hung out with our friends, she was sometimes more enchanted with their mothers than she was with the other little girls. Once, at an airport, we went through security just behind a whole line of international stewardesses. The combination of a dozen Asian ladies and the fact that they were all wearing the same outfit was the high point of her entire life, entertainment-wise; she was squealing and pointing and laughing like a rowdy audience member at a comedy club until the moment they were out of view.

Some of this applies to friends her own age, too; she likes everyone, but she seemingly gravitates more toward kids of color. But I would be a fool not to get the message. It matters to her to know that there are Asian mamas out there, and it will matter even more as she gets older. Assuming she keeps calling herself a girl, she will need to know, and see, that her Asian girl-hood has Asian womanhood on the other side of it, and that she can be proud of who she’s becoming. 

I’m her mother, and I want to be everything to her. It’s what mothers want; she was part of my body, she used to be inconsolable if we were separated for more than a few minutes, even now there are things that only Mama can fix. I don’t want that closeness to go away. And I always wanted a daughter, because I thought I could share things with her, understand her, in a way that would be more difficult with a boy. But raising a healthy human being means raising them to be okay without you. And some part of raising this particular daughter will be knowing how to get out of the way. 

Of course, she’ll need me for some moments; of course, there will be things I understand that her father just doesn’t. But there will also be things she can only share with him. He can already interpret parts of her experience in ways I can’t; he mutters to her about white people when he thinks I can’t hear. That’s fine. She will, at many junctures in her life, need to commiserate with someone about white people, up to and including her white mother. Sometimes, my job is just to leave the room. 

The other part of my job, the more difficult part, is to make sure she grows up seeing Asian mamas. Her father works to resist his training in patriarchy, I work to resist my training in whiteness, but Lulu’s life will be a whole lot easier if she has actual Asian women to look up to, who don’t have to cross any sort of divide to understand what she’s going through. In other families, this is probably easier; the moms are Asian themselves, or there’s extended family with grandmas and aunts and cousins. My husband doesn’t know anything about his biological family. Even our basic knowledge of Korean history and culture is pretty limited. Our ability to create a supportive space comes down to the two of us making friends. 

I was less worried when we had friends already made, and nearby. Now, I have to start all over again, and somehow do so without being a creepy white lady. So your question is also my question; I am still figuring it out, and probably always will be, and the best I can do is to keep my ears open for when someone with actual experience — including, as she gets older, my daughter — speaks up. 

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Other notable things:

  • For Medium this week, I wrote about women who are too anxious about “electability” to support a female candidate, and how the 2016 election has traumatized us in ways that are both real — all that sexism was enough to make anyone nervous about another woman’s chances — and misleading in several important ways.

  • If I were feeling collected enough to write a big essay (and I may, eventually) it would be about the rise of the new patriarchy — the one where jobs are changing their requirements to push mothers back into the home, and men are so resistant to changing gender roles that it will take 75 years for men and women to approach an equal share of parenting work. (From that last article: “A San Diego dad said his wife did more because she was so uptight.” I BET HE DID.)

  • One thing that would change much of this is (a) San Diego Dad getting served with some San Diego Divorce Papers, and (b) universal childcare. I invite you to read my latest very, very intense fan screed about Elizabeth Warren.

  • This is not a “mommy blog,” because (a) it is not a blog, (b) it’s about electoral politics half the time, and (c) “mommy blog” basically seems, like “chick lit,” to be a derogatory term for women’s writing that happens to cover the common conditions of female experience, i.e. parenting. (Since, as we’ve previously established, men are too cool and relaxed to do any of it.) But this excellent profile of Dooce, “queen of the mommy bloggers,” is a good look at the long-term trauma caused by Internet harassment, and at how we treat women who talk about their lives online.