Aug 012019
Back to School: Avoiding Foot In Mouth Disease

We’re heading back to school in Decatur, GA today. We’re excited to see fresh faces and familiar ones. With fresh faces comes the minefield of making new friends without putting your foot too far down your throat.

Rebekah Gienapp, or The Barefoot Mommy, has created a neat little guide, “5 things about race you hope your child will never say (but probably will): How parents should respond when kids express bias“. I won’t link to it so you can go to her website and get the download; it’s a quick little primer from a white parent of white children.

In the Chronicles of Raising Conscious Children at my own house, my eldest child has begun to obsess about the Disney movie “Mulan”. And for what appeared to be a uplifting movie about a young woman upending gender norms to bring honor to her family with a delightful dragon sidekick, Mulan has prompted more “serious talks” than a cascade of tumbling walruses dropping to their doom (thanks for that visual, “Our Planet”).

For one, “Mulan”, like many Disney movies, takes place in the distant past and represents the culture of the time. During the scene where Mulan is being prepped for matchmaking, a woman sings about how a “tiny waist” will attract a man. My 7 year old pipes up from the back seat, “I don’t have a tiny waist, mommy.” I nearly ran my car off the road. Cue the body confidence/self-love talk.

Not much later, we sing “Be A Man” and have to discuss that these are all outdated modes of thinking about gender roles and Mulan is engaged in defying stereotypes.

The never-ending series of tire screech moments occurred again a few days ago. My daughter looked up from drawing while listening to the soundtrack and proclaimed, “I wonder if Cindy knows about Mulan! She’s Chinese! She’ll love Mulan!” My eyes popped right out of my head. But then I had to act cool because a basic parenting rule is to act like Very Serious Conversations are Absolutely No Big Deal.

I began, “So I understand that Mulan is Chinese and your friend is Chinese-American, but that’s not a good reason to recommend the movie to her. Although our race and heritage are very important parts of who we are, they are not all that define us. What are some other characteristics you have other than being Black?” We ran through traits like kind, silly, funny, smart, hard-working, shy sometimes and never ever being tired. I reminded her that she doesn’t even like all things that would be considered “Black” and it would be weird if she had a friend who insisted she be interested in something just based on her race. For instance, people are always trying to thrust Tiana princess stuff on her and she won’t even sit through “Princess and the Frog”.

Then again, dang, can’t she say, “Hey Cindy, I saw a movie about an awesome superhero that you might like. She’s got Chinese heritage too!” I wouldn’t be at all offended if someone told my daughter about the new Little Mermaid and mentioned that the actress is Black and has hair like her mommy. It’s a conundrum. How much do we see, how much do we not see, and how much can we admit to seeing?

Image of Liu Yifei, cast as Mulan in the live action movie coming out in 2020 next to the cartoon image of Mulan. She looks like a superhero to me. Should we be afraid to tell our Chinese-American friends about her?

I don’t have easy answers, but I take The Barefoot Mommy’s advice to heart: we’ve got to keep talking.

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