Eeny Meeny Miney NO (talking with my kids about rhymes and race)

 

My kids were figuring out whose turn it was to do something this morning, and instead of their usual game of rock-paper-scissors, busted out that ubiquitous kids’ rhyme to solve their dispute:

Them (chanting): “eeny meeny miney mo, catch a tiger by its toe. If it hollers…”

Me: Now wait just a minute. We need to talk…

My eldest understood fairly quickly why the rhyme was offensive: until fairly recently, “tiger” wasn’t the word in the rhyme, and she is sensitive to (and appalled by) the stories of slavery and oppression she has read. My boys were a harder sell. I told them that tiger kind of rhymed with a very hurtful and mean word people used to use to describe black people, and then thought of an example to try and make it relatable:

Imagine that a while ago there were a group of bullies who used to hurt you and tease you on the playground, and they had a special song they made up just to tease you. They would kick the ball at you and sing “Jacob’s a loser, Jacob’s a fool” over and over again. All the kids on the playground knew that horrible, teasing song. Now imagine you were at your new school and the bullying had stopped, but one day at recess you see some kids who also used to go to the old school, and they have are kicking around a soccer ball and singing that same old tune, but just with different words: “Bacon’s a loser, bacon’s a food.” How would you feel if you heard that?

Even my five year old got it. “Bad,” he supplied. “It would remind me of the teasing,” said the other.

What if the other kids said they were just joking and it was just a song about bacon? 

They looked perplexed. “My feelings would still be hurt,” said my son.

“Yeah,” I said. “And I think when people of color hear that rhyme, for some of them it reminds them of the yucky version of that song, even if people don’t use the words. And we don’t want to sing songs that make other people feel yuck, right?”

My eldest shuffled on her feet a little: her question unspoken between us: “If it’s so bad, why didn’t you tell us before?” I told them they weren’t in trouble, and after all they probably learned that rhyme from me because it was something I’d heard and sung as a counting rhyme all my life. And that, until recently, I didn’t know that it hurt people’s feelings. But now I’ve had some friends of color and parents of kids of color tell me their stories about how that song made them feel… so now I do know, and I want to do better. Mom is also learning. Unlearning. Relearning. Once we know better, we need to do better.

They nodded and got back to their game. “Rock, paper, or scissors?” my youngest asked, and the morning continued.

Honestly, I sometimes wonder what we can do to raise respectful, kind, compassionate kids in the cultural climate and privileged bubble we live in: it feels like a Herculean task. But we can nix that nursery rhyme, and that’s a small start.

 

 

Tattoos and Cardigans {Jamie Hanauer}

Today’s post is from my friend Jamie Calloway-Hanauer. I am deeply honored that she was willing to share this here.

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Once upon a time, I was young.

I thought all the admonishments, advice, and wisdom of my elders would not apply to my life, and I shook off their words.

I believed but didn’t always live prayerfully.

I thought through things as wisely as I could, often better than most, but youth does have its shortcomings.

I got my first tattoo when I was fifteen. A friend performed the task, in my living room, using a hollowed Bic pen, thread, India ink and a guitar string. I was in a band then (Christian punk), and each member got the same x-eyed smiley face to commemorate our commitment to one another.

I received my second and third tattoos when I was seventeen. Fairly well done, this time by a different friend, using an actual pro gun, once again in my living room.

The fourth I got at age eighteen. This time in a professional shop, done by an elderly man whose hand shook towards the end.

The fifth and sixth I got as an adult—a parent and law student at the time, you might think I would have known better.

But I didn’t.

Truth is, I very much like tattoos of a certain variety (the Sailor Jerry type). I find them attractive and I often like the stories that they tell about those who bear them.

What I failed to consider as recently as eleven years ago, however, is that no matter how much we rail against it in our youth, we do actually grow up. And buy minivans. And join the PTA. And wear wedding gowns and become bridesmaids and take the children to the park in hot weather. We attend church picnics and pool parties and workout in gyms. And—surprise!—people will see us during these times.

And people will judge.

Tattoos have become commonplace in my generation. I served on the PTA with women (and men) who had a few. After getting to know someone well, the presence of a little (or a lot) of ink usually goes unnoticed. But in those first moments, that first glance, or even when wearing a short-sleeved Easter dress for the first time to a church you’ve attended for eleven years, eyes travel to the vivid color on pale skin, and minds begin to calculate (or recalculate) just exactly who it is they are talking to.

And believe it or not, I don’t like this. I don’t like the knee-jerk assessment, the reassessment, or the stoic attempts to be “accepting.” And so by the time I hit 30, I’d learn to invest, heavily, in cardigans.

Thankfully I live in Berkeley. That has multiple benefits, one being that it is, well, Berkeley, and the other that it’s fairly cool here year-round. Most women carry a sweater with them at all times, and so my long sleeves in July warrant nary a glance.

We are, however, about to move to DC, a place not known for its temperate climate. I will be making new friendships, new first impressions, searching for a new church, and in general trying to develop a new community with whom to laugh, cry, and pray over the coming decades.

That isn’t something to enter lightly.

I wonder: should I or shouldn’t I? Meaning, should I swelter in the August heat until I’ve solidified my “personality” and good graces? Or should I live in relative physical comfort and risk being labeled a “type?”

Some might say, “Who wants to be friends with those who would judge or ‘type’ you anyway?” If only life were that easy. I have children. I have a spouse. As an adult, friendships are often born of what your children choose to do on Saturdays, or where you/your spouse finds employment.

Over the last seven years, I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve heard someone say in incredulous tones, “You have tattoos? You?? You are the LAST person I ever expected to have tattoos.” This statement comes from a belief that a mini-van driving, church attending, faith writing, non-smoking, non-drinking, non-partying mom of four would ever, EVER, think to get a little (or a lot) of ink.

They are both right and wrong. Would I today, being the person who I am, get tattoos? No, I wouldn’t. Do I regret, being the person who I am today, having gotten them? I would say, emphatically, yes. Does that have to do with me and how I feel about tattoos or how others do? Sometimes the line gets blurred and something born of societal influence becomes an “I’m doing it for me” type thing, but in reality the chicken and the egg have become a bit confused.

There are those who wear their tattoos as a badge of God-accepts-me-and-you-should-too honor. I believe that, but that’s not who I am. I don’t want second looks, discussions of a past life, assumptions of a present life, or a walk through Leviticus. I just want to be.

A friend once prayed for me that I would know I am more than “tattoos and cardigans.” As I move from my well-established home here in Berkeley to a life full of new friends, new church, play dates, and summers spent at the pool, I find that prayer coming back to me time and again. I have taken bold steps already—I purchased some new cap-sleeve dresses. I put a picture of my largest tattoo on Facebook (much to my mother’s dismay) and answered honestly when someone who I’ve known for years asked whose arm it was on.

I’m echoing daily my friend’s prayer for my life, and I’m getting closer to baring it all. But I don’t think I’m quite ready to throw in the cardigan.

Jamie Calloway-Hanauer is a work-at-home mom of four—two under five, one in college, and one called away too soon, for whom the poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” was surely written. After practicing law for eight years, Jamie has put that chapter of life behind her and begun a new chapter of editing, writing, and considering whether or not she should donate all her suits to charity. Be sure to check out her blog where she writes pseudo-weekly on the absurd, the ironic, and the faithful, and connect with her on Facebook or on Twitter.

Why your word choice matters

Nelson Mandela was a terrorist.

Or at least, for nearly 30 years, that was the word used to describe the acts of sabotage for which he was imprisoned in 1964.

Terrorist, or freedom fighter? The word choice matters very much, because the words we use reveal what we are thinking. Apartheid South Africa viewed Mandela’s acts as terrorism. But to him, and now to the rest of the world, he was fighting for freedom.

Discourse analysis is the technical name for the area of study which includes studying language “beyond the sentence boundary”. It goes beyond just analyzing the words; it aims to reveal the socio-psychological characteristics of the person using the words. In simple terms: it’s the study of how what you say reveals what you think.

Even a cursory look at political history gives excellent examples of this. The transition in the past 100 years from “the N word” to “colored” to “black” to “African American”, or from “indian” to “native American” to “first people” does not just reflect linguistic change, it reflects significant social and psychological change. We are choosing different words because we live in a different world.

Our words reveal our biases. Pro-lifers say “baby”. Pro-choicers say “foetus”. Those championing for immigration reform talk about “undocumented workers”. Their word choice reveals an emphasis on the fact that the immigrants they are fighting for are workers rather than freeloaders, and that their plight is that they are without documentation. On the opposing side, you’re more likely to hear about “illegal aliens”; language which reveals grief at the fact that laws were broken and a desire to keep a good distance.

Our words reveal our biases, but perhaps the most fascinating aspect of discourse analysis is realizing that our words create biases too. Language does more than express thought, it shapes thought. The prevailing word choices of the dominant culture do much to train our thinking in a certain way.

This has significant implications for Christians desiring to make an impact for God on our world. it means we need to become more aware of the deeper significance of the words we use. We need to consider carefully what we say, making a prayerful and purposeful effort to choose words which shape thinking in a loving and biblical way.

It may well mean we need to rephrase our Christian idiom to make the gospel clearer. For example, describing salvation as “accepting Jesus into our hearts” arguably puts an unhealthy emphasis on salvation being a primarily private and emotional thing. Digging deeper into scripture and learning that the call of discipleship involves a full and public commitment of our WHOLE selves – mind, body, spirit – to Jesus’ Lordship makes the description of “Jesus in my heart” seem thin.

Beyond the discussion of in-house theology, perhaps we would also do well to consider our word choice when engaging with the world. Whether we’re discussing the personal or the political, let’s think carefully about jettisoning words which carry pejorative slurs. Let’s choose words which train us to think graciously.

Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.
And out of the overflow of the mouth, the heart is re-shaped.

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