Last week it was postulated that I may or may not have been raised by a bunch of racists. Am I reaching here? Proximity to the situation could make me kind of biased (ha ha), but consider the possibilities when a reformed Jewish family joins in marriage with a tribe of Puerto Rican Catholics. No way they ever got together to devise “fusion” kosher/comida criolla. Trust me, gefilte fish empanadas (no, just NO!) and bialys with queso blanco & lox (please kill me) would SUCK on ANY planet…
Anyway, was mom’s family actually a bunch of Archie Bunker-watching bigots? For me, the clues added up…
“I’m gonna take you for an AFRO!!”
You’re thinking Mom could have meant this as a show of cultural support or perhaps a fun mother-daughter day at the salon. After all, it WAS the 70’s. Rest assured that despite my collection of bell-bottoms, saddle shoes & velour this supposed offer contained nary an implication of “You’d look SO ADORABLE in…” or “*inhale* Ooh! What if we did your hair pretty like Chaka Khan! *exhale*”
No, NO, NOO! – Not in my house.
Kids are very intuitive. Little kids can tell if something is wrong especially if you speak crossly to them. My mother was always cross with me. I suspected at a very young age that she might not even like me. Like I said – kids know.
Mom even showed off to my dad how she could easily make me cry by saying this. He wasn’t happy with her ant-under-a-magnifying-glass jollies. Gee, I wonder why…
I didn’t have an intrinsic aversion to any Afro-haired people; it was all about the way mom would say it. “I’m gonna take you for an Afro-perm!” by itself could’ve meant fun with tiny rollers and a cozy, warm, noise-blocking hood-dryer. Try squawking it up like Mommy Dearest and pretty much any statement can be scary to a little kid.
As a teen I flipped that threat right back at her. Even though she often threatened to take me for one, trust me – she NEVER NEVER would have done it. So, telling my mom that I’m getting an Afro-perm from beauty-school classmates while my tan was still fresh – awesome! – Seeing the look on her face if I had actually done it, PRICELESS!
It’s sort of sad that mom enjoyed using this positive symbol of cultural identity and beauty as a weapon. I never really understood why until way later on.
Does threatening to take your kid for an Afro constitute racial insensitivity? Were mom’s actions and attitudes giving me a clue that she was raised a Jewish supremacist?
Next up: How telling a kid what they are can be the same as insisting what they’re not & why this isn’t necessarily a positive thing.