Thursday, August 25, 2011

let 'the help' help you.

unless you have been hiding under a rock for the last year, chances are you've either read or seen the movie, the help by kathryn stockett. i, like all my white mommy friends have read the book and really enjoyed it. i've yet to see the movie, but there's no doubt i will cry at the beauty and injustice of it all. this book is so much the rage that at least once a week i'll see someone post on fb, 'looking for a great book, any suggestions?' and nine times out of ten, the first comment is 'the help, i loved it!'
the more i'd see these fb posts and hear everyone talk about how great the book was, something in me started to rumble. maybe its just my inclination toward anti-social behavior, or maybe i started to really examine why everyone loved this book so damn much. i remembered enjoying reading it, i thought it was really well written, but best book ever?-- not by a long shot. with that being said, i want to emphasize my hesitation to 'criticize' the book itself. as a wannabe novelist, i can appreciate how extremely difficult it would be to put a book of that level together. it was entertaining, heart wrenching and just plain well-written. a page turner in a john grisham meets secret life of bees sort of way-- simple enough to follow, yet rich and complex in that it was about a subject matter i knew very little about.

as i began to wade through what was troubling me about everyone's enthusiasm about the book, i realized a few things. first off, i realized that it was a veiled way for us white women to take a stand against racism. hindsight is 20/20 and since all of us should know that treating african americans the way we did was totally and completely wrong, this is our opportunity to make it known that we would have been different. perhaps we would have been the 'skeeter' of the group. we would have known better. which is totally crap, and anyone who thinks differently is lying to themselves. or better put, in the words of my wise husband, 'i think it is odd and largely irrelevant for us to create a sense of empowerment for ourselves as it were with regard to how we would have been different…the ‘would have/should have/could have’ thought process, and discussion for that matter means absolutely nothing…unless we are simply seeking to delude ourselves. what matters is now—if our sentiments about that time can impact us now, then that is progress…if all we want to do is feign superiority over a time and people portrayed in a book we are more lost than found.'

what it comes down to is that the help is a simplistic way for us to look at racism in the past tense.  it allows us to become infuriated with what once was, when the reality is, the once was is really the 'still is,' more often than not.   a super duper smart blogger put it this way by comparing the help to a controversial cake she saw where there were two unicorns--the white unicorn was all pretty with rainbows fighting a black unicorn with flames all over it, 'You know why everyone is up in arms about a unicorn cake? Because it’s safe and it doesn’t mean anything. Because you can feign indignation about something as trivial as sugar and fondant. Because you get to create a distraction with a big old mess of a cake that has some “racially problematic imagery” and that right there is where your concern for and discussion of race end.  Keep talking about cake in the vacuum of mostly white communities. You’ve proven the old proverb wrong. Eat your cake, people. Down it to the last crumb. Tomorrow, you can have it again. Trust me. It will still be there. The racism, that is.  We can talk about race in a real way or we can talk about cake. I’m choosing the former.'

let me reiterate, i am no expert on race. in fact my experience is so incredibly limited. i am white (except when i try and be latino and everyone laughs at me), my husband is super white (if such a thing exists) and i have blond children which really seals the deal. i grew up in SLO which is like 95% white and have lived in only a handful of places, all of which boast similar statistics. the only thing i really have is the 5 formative years i spent with jon carter as my mom and i's housemate. it was then that i realized how alive racism still was, yes even in sweet little SLO.  it wasn't easy for me to write this blog, i knew it would likely piss off frustrate a lot of people.   but b reminded me when he said, 'you should totally blog about it.  people read your blog, we are going to have an ethiopian son. racial issues will be part of our life forever.' so with that said, i want to emphasize that i'm not faulting anyone for liking the book, i'm just trying to help myself and hopefully some of you recognize that there is a bigger issue at stake.  racism is still a huge problem and i want to be held accountable for what i am doing to aid in it, not just sit around and talk about in the past tense in the 'vacuum of my white community.'


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

if only i had done cheer, then maybe i wouldn't be such an a-hole about it

when *alyssa* first approached me about the possibility of lily trying out for the central coast elite cheer team, she might as well have told me she had baby unicorns for sale in the back of her truck.  i was honestly that shocked.  i tried to hide my smirk and feign interest as she went on and on about what a great program it was and how she has had her eye on lily for awhile and how much fun she would have and blah blah blah.  i nodded politely as i inwardly wondered where she got her hot pink nike frees (don't be surprised if you see me in a pair in the near future)  and whether or not she was naturally blond.  i left with a thick packet of papers, made some jokes to my friends about it, and pretty much forgot all about it.

it's not that i hate cheerleading, its just that i hate cheerleading.  okay, so maybe i don't hate it as much as i just don't understand it.  which is typically defined as ignorance.  and in this case, ignorance, truly was, bliss.  my limited experience with cheer was the four we had in high school, who as my shooting guard described, 'made it really difficult to hear coach telling us what play to run in the huddle.'  now don't get me wrong, i'll take any fans i can get, and the cheerleaders themselves were just fine, in fact i'm close friends with a couple of super hot, former high school cheerleader sisters today. its just never what i would have imagined for my  own daughter.  
which, really is very stupid if i think about it.  cuz if i really thought about it, knowing what i know about lily, the real question is how could she not do cheer?  yet with my pride still raging, i tossed the cheer packet aside and resolved not to discuss it any further.  i was content with lily's progress in gymnastics, she seemed to really be making some strides lately, why mess with a good thing?  well, you mess with a good thing when you hear your 6 year old telling friend and foe alike that she's starting cheer.  and then a week later, you're hanging poolside and hear your phone ring and recognize the number but can't place it and take a chance on answering it.  lo and behold, alyssa's sweet alpha phi voice melodiously asks if we've given any more thought to cheer.  maybe it was the margarita talking (yes it was noon on tuesday, don't judge me. i was at the elks)  but i decided to be honest with her.  i told her how i just wasn't sure, cuz i played sports (wrong thing to say) and i just wasn't sure about the time and money commitment.  after she ripped me a new one about how much cheer was a sport and guilt tripped me into just letting lily try it, i dutifully conceded.  

as i pondered how i was going to break the news to brandon, i realized a few things about how vainglorious i was being.  i realized if it had been ANY OTHER sport, i would have dropped everything to make it happen. i would have sold stock to pay for it, spent my weekends traveling with the team, figured out ways to get lily to and from practice-- whatever it would take, cuz sports are really that important to me.  the more i thought about it, the more i realized what a hypocrite i was being.  how can i really encourage my child to be an individual and think for herself and instill confidence in her making her own decisions, when i'm the one dictating what she can and can't like, or worse what is or isn't 'cool.'  that's crappy parenting, and i blow it enough to know that i can't blow it on something so glaringly obvious.  the right thing to do was to give lily a chance at cheer and support her whole heartedly in it.

so when tuesday finally rolled around and i broke the news that today was the day to try cheer, she looked right at me and told me she just wanted to stick with gymnastics.  shocked as i was, my heart lept with joy as i thought, god must be on my side!  i was faithful in giving it a chance and he shut the door.  i was ready to let it die, but my conscience pricked me.  i had to talk this thing thru with her.  and wouldn't ya know, before i knew it, i was practically begging her just to try it.  begging might be an overstatement, but you get it.  my change of heart was surprising to even me.  next thing you know, lily dials in the perfect cheer outfit, kisses me goodbye and heads out with the team.  i watched her off and on long enough to know that she was really enjoying herself.  and like the good coach she is, alyssa came to chat with me a bit before practice ended.  she was sweet, and gracious and told me that its been hard to get people to understand what cheer really is.  and for those of you like me making flash judgments -- it really is a combination between gymnastics and dance.  they learn choreographed routines and incorporate tumbling and dance.  when done right, its actually pretty bad ass.  as for my concern/lily's absolute delight in the amount of make up they have to wear, alyssa easily explained to me that 'its so the judges can see their faces.'  what?  just when i was starting to like her.  does that even make sense?  anyhow, i digress.  the talk went well, and just when i was starting to maybe get on board, we got to the ol price point.  i basically came away realizing that i need to be a venture capitalist to afford cheer.  yet as i sat there watching her smiling and well, learning cheer, i realized even if its only for today, it was worth it.  the clock hits 5:30 and she comes bounding over to me and says, 'mom, i loved it. i really, really loved it.'  finally, i did something right.

*names have been changed to protect the innocent, and not so innocent*