Sunday, August 7, 2011

Suppressing Super Heroes.

Introducing Spence to super heroes was fairly intentional.  After too many nights were interrupted with terrifying nightmares, I decided that it would a little super hero support might be needed.  Yes, a bad guy might be lurking around the corner of your bed, but Iron Man is on the job with a new machine to thwart him.

Soon his room was littered with Batmans, Iron Mans, Spider Mans, Wolverines, Green Lanterns, Captain Americas....and of course, Flash.  The list is endless.  Plastic action figures are fairly easy to find at the neighborhood garage sale.  It seemed to help with the nightmares.  Slightly.  Well, that and the sweet smelling air freshener that we said monsters were allergic to.  Another lie.

I wish I could say that I had thought ahead.  Perhaps it was my white privilege that let me turn a blind eye.  (Perhaps?  Even now I cannot escape the protective language.  It was.)  But, suddenly I looked up and saw my son surrounded by white action figures with a token white Wonder Woman thrown in for good measure.  White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy.  And then I stumbled upon this article by a dear friend who was an originating force for the White Noise group that I am apart of.

Commitment to anti-racist work does not prevent embarrassing backsliding.

Tucked in to another long road trip, I decided to broach the subject.  "Spence, do you ever think about who is not made into a super hero?"  The question was clumsy.  His response led to a discussion on how he desperately wished to be a super hero.

I tried again.  "I think it is strange that you only have super heroes that have white skin."  This led to an extended response on how *actually* the Incredible Hulk has green skin.  Silly me.

And again:  "Where are all the super heroes with brown skin or black skin?  I just don't think it makes sense that there would only be super heroes with white skin."  Spence was thoughtful.  Then pointed out Hawkman, who indeed does have brown skin.  He has learned well from popular media.  However, tokenism does not lead to societal transformation.  I kept pushing.

Once more, with feeling:  "That's true.  I still wonder why there are so many people in the world with black and brown skin, but you can only name one super hero with brown skin.  I am curious about that.  It doesn't seem right or fair."  Another thoughtful pause.

"Maybe it's because their white skin gives them their powers.  Like their costumes."

This is where I wanted to jump in and police his emerging racial understandings.  After all, these thoughts become a representation of me.  Suddenly, there was so much more at stake.  Part of me wished that I would never have followed him down the rabbit hole.  Perhaps if I wouldn't have pushed we could have never arrived here.  I could have lived comfortably under the veil of colorblindness.   Was it my pushing that brought him to this thought or would it always existed but hidden from view?

I suppressed my overbearing policing voice and just said, "Can you say more about that?"  I let him try this thinking out before Nora interrupted him with her shrieking for inclusion.  I asked him if we could continue the discussion later on because I wasn't convinced that the powers were because of the white skin.  I asked him to keep thinking about it.  He readily agreed.

I wish this were the movies and I could report a Hollywood ending.  But, we are talking about it.  And I have been researching and finding new narratives that have been hidden from my view.  Stepping up my game and not letting the Target shelves dictate his exposure to super heroes.  Like the new Spiderman.  And as he wields his Lasso of Truth, I keep posing the questions and sharing my own critical analysis.

Is there any other way?


Anonymous said...

Nice post Kristy- thanks! xo, AMPC

Annalise said...

you are the best mom. You are so smart and thoughtful and are raising two kids who I'm guessing will be even smarter and more thoughtful than their parents. You impress me endlessly.

Eric W. said...

The 1970s animated "Super Friends" show originally featured DC Comics superheroes Wonder Woman, Batman and Robin, Superman, and Aquaman. Starting in 1978, Hanna-Barbera (who produced the show) created new, non-DC heroes to add some diversity to the cast: Black Vulcan, Apache Chief, Samurai, and El Dorado. The fact that I don't even have to mention the race or ethnicity of these characters shows that there wasn't a lot of depth there (and no doubt the stereotypes were writ large), but they did try.

Kari said...

I'm grateful that a white person wrote this. I'm also glad that this person is you. You are doing work that goes unexamined by many or is sometimes too exhausting to take up, yet again, by p.o.c. Btw, Lynda Carter, who played Wonder Woman, is half Mexican, but for obvious reasons was and continues to be, completely white-washed.

Jill said...

Thanks for the great post, Kristy. Issues like this come up for us, too. Of course, as you note, it is easy for me and my white family to just deal with race when we choose to. I really liked the White Noise site and am now going to follow/read it regularly for help and advice. Do you know of any good books on this subject? I know so little about early childhood ed.

Jill said...

Thanks so much for this post, Kristy. Issues like this come up for us, too. However, like you point out, since my family is white we can choose if and how we deal with race. I love the White Noise site and will be following/reading it regularly from now on. Do you know of any good parenting books in this area? I know so little about early childhood ed.

Bronwyn said...

The conversations are the important part, even if he doesn't seem to get it right away (or as he gets older, seems annoyed by having to discuss). My mom posed many questions about Barbie and gave lots of her own thoughts. I loved to play Barbie, but in the back of my mind I could hear my mom's questions and commentary about stereotypes and gender. Your kids are lucky to have such a thoughtful voice in the back of their heads.

Anonymous said...

in addition to eric's examples, there are a number of other ones. Black panther from the early 70's. red wolf, and the x-men reboot from the late 1970s. the alternative universe spiderman is also now an african american/puerto rican character. When you get into the world of 'alternative' comics and graphic novels there is a lot more diversity to be had, both in terms of characters and authorship.

of course, all of these alternatives are too old for spence. i think the act of taking a step back and realizing that the tentacles of white supremacy have even permeated into the narratives you help create with your child to address their fears is deep. as a white person i often find my need to 'fix' things lessens my ability to think of the long term process of unraveling all of this.

At his age, i think just talking out loud and having ongoing conversations at whatever level spencer can handle will really lay the groundwork for deeper conversations as he gets older.

last night we were reading a book to felix about an asian marketplace and the different foods and events that happen there seasonally. we have read the book a number of times happily, but last night felix got uncomfortable and said he didn't want to read the book anymore. After some talking he said the book made him uncomfortable because there were words that weren't in english and he felt like he wasn't understanding everything. he felt out of place. we tried to stay specific, talking about what he was feeling and trying to help him name real feelings instead of just saying 'i hate this book.' it was hard separating my own feelings from felix's feelings but i am glad we had the conversation.

we are all working without a guidebook or even role models for this, and we just have to keep trying and stumbling about, learning as we go and leaning on one another.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for bringing up this aspect of parenting in your blog. I believe talking openly about it with our kids is our job as parents, and so is recognizing our own gaps as we learn to pay attention to race. I don't think you made a mistake by introducing Spencer to superheroes--you actually opened a door for this kind of discussion. Besides, he would be exposed to superheroes eventually, and what better way than through his brilliant parents?

I am now more likely to talk about race with Kevin and Simone because of your post. I also read the white noise article and will be bringing it to our parenting group (which is not an all-white group, so our conversations will be different than having only white parents). I'll let you know how the discussion goes.....still awkward for me to talk about whiteness (harder for the men in our group than the women, interestingly...) but I just assume I'm going to say something asshole-ish, be made more aware of what I jerk I am, and try to learn as I go. If I didn't take this kind of approach, I would avoid discussing race entirely.

Sending love!
Lynn H.

Kathleen said...

excellently written. and excellently discussed.
and i love what kari wrote.

xo thank you for keeping it real.