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Wiley Wandering

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Is The Grass Always Greener?

So, my ten year old son and I are sitting in a restaurant eating dinner when he tells me that on occasion some of his friends have told him that they wish they were black. Is this alarming? It depends on the perspective of the parents I guess. When my daughter at three years of age told me that she wished she was white, I straight up freaked out! Why? Because, while it definitely validated her intelligence and observational skills (How long does it take even a child to figure out a certain level of skin privilege exists for people who are in the majority?), it also caused her mother and I concern that our lovely little brown skinned baby may be on the road to devaluing her own reality. Those were scary times. So, I can only imagine the reaction of white parents whose children might come home and say “Mom/Dad, I wish I was black.”

A child wishing she or he was black is a statement about how much our society has changed, even though many of my colleagues in the academy would beg to differ. Think about it, 60 years ago, I can’t even imagine a white child in this country saying to someone, "I wish I was black!” The context of blackness and the opportunities associated with having a black paint job (dark skin) were so very different than they are today. Today a child might say that, primarily because there is a preponderance of black role models in American society, as opposed to 60 years ago, when there was only Jackie Robinson, and he was just breaking in, and that was only in baseball.

What is more intriguing to me about my son’s statement was imaging how often a child might say “I wish I was Mexican, or Native American, or Asian, or gay, or poor, or disabled. How often does a little boy say I wish I was a girl? I guess being black in America may not always be the best thing to be, but it appears to definitely not be the worst. What are your thoughts?


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I don't know if this is on-topic, JW, but it reminds me of some thoughts I've had in the past.

I've sometimes felt jealous of blacks. I think it probably happened in college for the first time. The "black community" on campus seemed to have a community all its own; a solidarity, if you will, that didn't seem to exist among whites on campus. I'm sure a lot of it had to do with shared experiences of discrimination - no one can understand what it's like to be a minority accept another member of that minority - and I would never be envious of someone for having gone through that kind of pain. But I have found myself being envious of the solidarity that may have been the result.

I'm sure this was more perception than reality.

As for your son's young friends...he's different - he stands out in a crowd, he's noticed. Lots of boys that age would like to have all of those things. I remember when I was a foreign exchange student to Australia. My American accent was enough to draw attention to myself. Didn't really even matter what I said - they (by "they" I mean Australian females) just liked hearing me say it.

Rambling a bit.

A lot of people see the world by comparing what others have to what they have instead of seeing the beauty of variety.

I remember when I was 9 or 10 comparing myself to one of my close friends who was black. She was one of only a few African Americans in my whole school and I recall admiring her curly hair and her dark, flawless skin.

It was a few years until I realized that people like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr were alive in my grandparent's lifetimes. It blew me away that it really wasn't that long ago when someone could feel hate towards a person like my young, quiet, smart, beautiful friend for the same physical features that I envied.

I see it as a great success that little white boys like your son's friends and little white girls like me can A) have black friends that they can be comfortable with and B) be jealous of them! That means that at least some of the young minds out there aren't filled with the prejudices of the past and can see the beauty in people of different races!

Once people can see the beauty of various privileges and that they aren't always the victim, hopefully they can see that "On the other side of the fence there's some guy eyeing your grass!!!"

I remember, as a child, thinking I would love to be in the shoes of some of my friends. It's something I didn't think of often, but once in awhile.

In particular, a friend from Junior high. He was black. His father was stationed at the base. He was a very good athlete and we played a lot of basketball together.

I remember when he was transfering away with his family to an overseas location. I wished, in the worst way, it was me going and I wanted to take his place.

I never looked at him as being black, he was my friend. Would the grass have been greener? No, but at that young age, everything everywhere else was greener.

I don't think you have to worry about the children, it's the adults. When they decide something else is greener and take that jump, it can sometimes lead to disaster. I have witnessed those disasters and also tried it myself.

Now, before making a life changing decision or even a small decision, I do some soul searching before jumping. As you said, someone probably is eyeing our grass, but it may not seem as it is once you step on it.


The statement "I wish I was black" is an interesting one for several reasons.

First and foremost, I feel that it is a form of fetishism, whereby a reality is shifted to fit an abstract ideal. The organic nature of culture, especially ones that have had to adapt to hegemonic white society, is one that is constantly flowing. Yet media portrayals of black, Latino, gay, etc. culture show it as one that is "fun" and "exotic." Stuffy whites in tuxedos being schooled by black hip hop artists for instance.

Yet on the flip side, I think it also showcases the decaying nature of whiteness. While there is no monolithic black culture by any means (national, religious, and class differences showcase that), modern white culture generally has been created to either co-op, suppress, or exclude historically oppressed minorities. We as whites either hide behind supposed ethnic identities (Irishness) or simply attempt to gloss over differences by painting everything as the same - all colors combined create white, right?

Wrong. While I don't want to be black per se (since I'm not) I'm not comfortable in my own white skin. I wonder how the Blue Man Group deal with their identity?

Pushing all the psycho-babble explanations aside as to why a 10 yr.old North Country kid would express the desire to be black... It does say something about the progress of the African-American individual/society in these United States. In spite of all the problems this country seems to have that are tied to race it is refreshing to know that even 40 years ago I don't believe that a single white person, regardless of age, would make that statement.

That said, I am concerned that "racial progress" in this country has slipped backwards in the last decade. The divide between white and black seems to have widened... what do you other bloggers think? The divide and hostility towards Hispanics certainly seems to have increased in the white AND black communities as the issue of illegal immigration comes more to the fore.

Is it a case of 3 steps forward and 2 back and we happen to be in the throes of momentary regression?

I have occasionally wished I was Native American. Or European for that matter. Anything but the educated, middle class, white, American male that I am! God, could I get more bland and boring? (I know [well, strongly hope] I'm neither of those, but fleeting thoughts are still thoughts)

I don't think it is unnatural in any way for a child to desire to be something other than what he/she is--it does seem easier to be somebody else.

It's impossible to put yourself in anothers shoes--but when I am daydreaming, and want to be far away from all my problems (whatever those may be) I wil not think, "Oh, he/she has it tough!" I'll be moaning about MY problems and thinking everything is going great for you, whether it is or not.

It's very hard for anybody to see clearly what another persons life is like--harder still for a child!

I must say this is one of my favourite sites. Great job moderating, and well written articles. Rarely does a website causes me to bring it up in coversations at the dinner table. Good luck!

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