Saturday, May 12, 2007

What the @#$%...? (Or, You Should be Dancin' yeah!)

Been writing the YA novel for the last fourteen hours. Should go to bed, but I just have to pose a few unanswerable questions before I can get to sleep.

So the teens went to a dance tonight. Before they went we were talking and the conversation went like this:

A shabby kitchen in the midst of a never-finished remodel.

Mom - middle class, middle-aged, bleeding-heart-liberal white woman
Twin2 - brown-skinned daughter of Mom. Twin1 and Twin2 attend public school, in part because their parents are broke, and in part because their parents wanted a racially diverse environment for them.

Mom: So, are you looking forward to the dance?
Twin2: (mumbling) I don't know.....
Mom: Oh. How come?
Twin2: I don't know
Mom: (In an aside to readers: It's amazing how little they do know lately....)
Mom: (to teen): So what do you do at the dances?
Twin2: We stand around and talk.
Mom: So you don't dance?
Twin2: (shakes head)
Mom: Does anyone dance?
Twin2: Yeah, the black kids, and it's nasty!
mom: You mean like dirty?
Twin2: yeah. I don't like it.
Mom digests this for a moment.
Mom: Does ????? (their biracial friend) dance?
Twin2: No.
Mom: Does she talk to the black kids?
Twin2: No. They're mean.
Mom: Just to her, or to everyone?
Twin2: To everyone. They're all just mean.
Twin2 exits (stage left) to get ready for (not)dancing.
Mom stands alone and bewildered in the always unfinished kitchen of her American dreams, pondering the strange fault lines of race and class in this country and the deeply @#$%ed-up nature of the nation's public schools. Curtain closes.

Backstory: When Twin1 and Twin2 were in Kindergarden they had regular play dates with, among others, a little african-American girl named Jaquoiya. In first grade, a little (African American) boy named Promise was in love with Twin2. One day, to show his love, he gave her a special present - a brand new perfectly pointed Crayola crayon whose color name was the same as Twin2's name. Awwww. In second grade, more of same (but not as adorable as the crayon gift) and in third grade more of same.

Now here it is, a mere five years later, and these same children have become stratified, calcified, into seemingly irreconcileable groups. What happened to Twin2 and the others like her? What happened to Promise and the other boys like him? What is it in this system we pour them all into, that makes these kids feel they have to draw battle lines and choose sides?

Also, a question about a much less serious, but seriously ridiculous subject. When did white (and white-identified) kids stop dancing at dances? (In my day, said Ancient Mariner Mom, black kids and white kids ALL danced. OK, maybe not with each other that much, because if a white girl danced with a black boy the black girls usually threatened to beat the shit out of her. But Hey, at least we were all in the same room engaged in the same activity.)

So, as the bard said, if any of you have any thoughts about any of these things, share.


Claire said...

Well, I can attest to the not dancing thing at this age. Son does not dance. The only people who dance at his school are the ones going steady and I think it's merely an excuse to rub body parts together. Dancing is seen as drawing attention to one's self. It would be more preferably to actually STICK A FORK into your eyeball than bring attention to yourself. I can't talk about racial divide because my kid's school is so horribly lily white. But I will say that I think that kids are looking for ANY thing to cluster together in their own safe little groups. Creating their tribes. Race is not an issue in my son's school, but they divide themselves anyway. The druggee skaters. The non-druggee skaters. The jocks. The rich kids. The cool kids. The goth kids. They are looking for a tribe and I think it has nothing to do with race. They will divide themselves up REGARDLESS.

It's really sad and I have no answers as to why.

bundle-o-contradictions said...

I have no words of wisdom. I'm multiracial & went to a couple of schools where the minorities were the majority. No one cared that my grandpa was black. They saw me as white & they hated me. I'm saddened to hear that it hasn't changed. If it's any consolation, age brought the knowledge that "all" black/white/asian/latino/indian/etc. people are not "mean," despite my experiences. There are just mean people (lots of 'em!). I'm sure your kids will get back to colorblind again, too.

Jared Latore said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jared Latore said...

I wanted to thank you--the comments you left on my blog were very encouraging.

As for your unanswerable question, I think the "system" is in us, that the root of the problem is that humans categorize things by nature. It's been hardwired in our brains, ever since the days when we were still figuring out how to bang rocks together and we had to separate Things into "things that will eat us" and "things we can eat." Just as we reach a certain age where we realize boys and girls are different, we eventually (not immediately) notice cultural differences, and we categorize.

Another part of human nature is that we fear what we don't understand, and when we don't understand the culture that we've suddenly categorized as alien, we dissociate ourselves from it--because it's easier to be careful than to try to learn about it, accept it, and embrace it. Even though there's really nothing to be afraid of, the animal part of our brain is saying, "They're like us, but different. Could be dangerous. Stay away."

It's not unlike the boys and the girls keeping to opposite sides of the dance hall at junior prom. We're afraid of each other. And it takes a smart, empathetic person to bridge the gap and make a connection.

But that's not really an answer. Just an opinion.

And as for how you would explain that to kids...I have no idea.