Saturday, 28 February 2015

Brown Eyes Blue Eyes

For the past 24 hours, the English-speaking world has been ablaze with the mystery of the blue/black/white/gold dress.  What colour is it really? Is the whole thing a click-bait scam? Who sees what? It’s been one of those Internet phenomena that verify what a small planet this is, how close we all are and yet how different. And how many of us are willing to be completely and utterly diverted by trivia. It came during a week in which perspective and disparity in how we see the world has weighed heavily on me.

When Manchild was only in Grade 2, his world shifted seismically. Mr Inquisitive, a chattering cheerful junior scientist couldn’t resist the temptation to look at everything with his fingers. He skipped through life with an infectious smile, filling each day with a running commentary of all that he saw and heard and thought and felt and wondered. Then it all stopped. It didn’t just begin to diminish as he grew older and more self-conscious. It stopped. 

 'Mummy, she doesn’t like my face. She smiles at the boys with yellow hair. She never smiles at me.'

He was talking about his Grade 2 teacher. A tall, powerfully built woman, older than the teachers he was used to, but that wasn’t the problem. She was as old as me. I was 41 by the time his adoption was finalised. She was tall and fair-haired and strict. That wasn’t the problem either. I’m tall and fair-haired and strict.

No. The problem was something he sensed every day. Something he couldn’t understand or name. It was something unspoken and almost invisible and evil. Something I couldn’t quantify to approach the school about. Something that happened when I wasn’t there to protect him.  Something I couldn’t fix.
A few years later, when he was subjected to persistent harassment and bullying at his next school —including having an image of a beautiful Asian woman left in his locker accompanied by a note to ask if he’d started saving for his sex change yet— I went to the school to report it.

Kids will be kids, I was told. The boy responsible had no idea he was being offensive. He thought he was being funny. He’s just a child. You’re being over-sensitive.

And then the boy’s mother spread the word to the other parents to stay away from us: “Be careful of that family. If anything happens that they don’t like, they play the racist card.”

The authorities told me the same thing at yet another school when Miss 14 was only in Grade 6 and one of her peers began to regularly chant at her:
“Ching-Chong China
 She has a big vagina.”

We were assured that the taunter had no idea this was offensive.
My daughter was forced to explain to the other child why it upset her.
She has never bothered to report further instances of racism to the school since.

She is tired of having to be the living example for the lesson of the day about how families differ, about adopted kids and their real families. She’s sick of hearing how she and her brother look so alike when they don’t. They don’t look even remotely similar.  Except that they’re both Korean-Australians. 
It’s now more than 45 years since Jane Elliott stirred up uncomfortable controversy with her Blue Eyes Brown Eyes exercise after the murder of Martin Luther King Jnr affected her so deeply that she was moved to take action against bigotry and racism. That act of hate motivated Jane Elliott to commit her life’s work to making young people see how deeply programmed and emotionally charged our world-views are. And to open their eyes to how hurtful and damaging that can be. Even if it made them uncomfortable. Even if people hated her for it.

And all these years later, videos of her work still circulate on sites like Upworthy  and their power has not dissipated. They still divide, surprise and inflame. 
I shared the video below recently with Miss 14 when she was upset about yet another ‘innocent’ reference to her ‘exotic’ appearance. And a particular moment resonated very deeply with her. And me too.

Often, people believe they are demonstrating how open-minded and accepting they are when they say to my adopted Korean children: ‘But I don’t see you as Asian or adopted.”
Why not?
Being Korean and adopted is integral to who my children are, critical to their identity.

What those well-meaning people do not understand is that they are, in effect, saying: “ I don’t see you as Korean, I see you as Caucasian Australian – just like me.”

I don’t know how that sounds to you, but to me, and to Jane Elliott, it sounds like entrenched racism. The sort that’s so far beneath the surface of best intentions and good will that the only people who see it are the ones who feel it as a constant ache. A hurt that some would label over-sensitivity.

How we see things.
Blind spots.
They’ve been on my mind this week.
What about you?
 Did anything change the way you see?

( ... almost 10 minutes in you'll find the conversation that resonated)