I’ve been listening to a Mandarin AM radio station all morning. At home, my family has decided to take on the collective challenge of learning Mandarin. Learning Mandarin is one of the items on my to-do list that has been carried over for a couple of decades. So this year we decided to draw a line in the sand. Personally, I’ve always had a fear of foreign languages, which originated from doing poorly in high school French.
Growing up, English was the language spoken at home. The only time I heard Chinese for any length of time was when we made our weekly visit to my grandmother’s apartment in New York’s Chinatown. My mother would converse in Cantonese for the evening with her mother, while my brother and I ate Chinese take-out and watched Dallas. Listening to them catch up was like background noise; I heard them talking but it meant nothing to me. Years later I went on a foreign exchange program to Taiwan, which resulted in no Chinese learned since I was surrounded 24/7 by “bananas” and “Twinkies” like myself. The only cultural exchange I gained from that trip was my fascination with Chinese Americans who had bona fide Texas drawls.
It’s Halloween and the costumes are out! No zombies or vampires here, but we do have some serious masquerading to share when it comes to race.
To start us off we go to Germany, where a journalist is investigating the treatment of black people in Germany—by donning blackface and going undercover. Sure enough, he uncovers a lot of racism—but he does it without showcasing the experiences of actual black Germans.
Closer to home, this week’s America’s Next Top Model featured the competitors being dolled up as biracial: makeup, often darkening their skin; wigs; clothes that are a “fashion interpretation” of their cultures’ historical clothing. Dodai at Jezebel looks at it suspiciously, pointing out that “the problem, of course, is that race is not silver eyeshadow, a bubble skirt or couture gown. It’s not something you put on for a photo shoot to seem ‘edgy.’ Race is not trendy.” Still, she has mixed feelings: “Her intent was probably to showcase bi-racial beauty. Is this a case in which the action can be forgiven if the motive comes from a good place?” Thea at Racialicious, on the other hand, has no mixed feelings: she’s just angry.
A friend of mine was on the subway near three middle school-aged kids—an Asian boy, a Latina, and a Middle Eastern girl wearing a hijab, the headscarf worn by many Muslim women.
OK, tell me that this CNN promo does not sound just a little bit like the trailer for a horror movie:
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The first time I saw this ad, I was sitting on the couch with my roomate. “Oh my God,” she said, “I can’t believe how racist that sounded.”
It’s easy to think of racial groups as cultural monoliths: black culture is like this, Asian culture is like that. An article on culture clashes between recent immigrants from Africa and African Americans, many of them descendants of slaves whose families have been in the U.S. for centuries, reminds us of the complexity. It also opens a window into perceptions of blackness and Africanness, as when a recent African immigrant says of African Americans, “Those people, they don’t respect African people,” or when a black American says of a black African, “They think they’re better than black people.”
Continuing with the idea of blackness in America, Ta-Nahesi Coates brings us a beautifully written essay on blackness, obesity, segregation, and shame. I keep coming back to this line: “Segregation was a cocoon brimming with all the lovely variety of black life.”
This week is officially National Teen Driver Safety Week!
Now, before you think to yourself, “How many more of these random ‘holidays’ can there possibly be in one calendar year,” consider this: 1 in 4 crash fatalities in the US involves someone between the ages of 16 and 24. Nothing —not drugs, not sex, not rock n’ roll—kills more teens than driving, and the risk of a fatal crash goes up with each additional peer passenger in the car. This time of year the number of accidents goes up even higher because of things like homecoming. Take a look at these Teen Driving Safety Tips for ideas on raising safe young drivers.
Since this weekend, I’ve been reading some of the tributes to children’s book author Norma Fox Mazer, who passed away this weekend. And with my sadness that a woman who was by many accounts a wonderful person and writer is with us no longer, there is another emotion: guilt. Because I haven’t read a single one of Norma Fox Mazer’s thirty-three books. Not the Newbery Honor book, not the National Book Award Nominee, not the Edgar award winner.