31 August 2008

Color is the new black

How many blogs have this title this week?

It does seem like we have reached that tipping point (catchphrase brought to us, apropos of our topic o' the day, by Malcolm Gladwell) in this moment, seeing Obama shine on the convention floor on Thursday night, like what happened when gays finally Arrived in mainstream American popular culture. Music paved the way: think Bowie and then Jagger in lipstick and tights, and then the surgence (no resurgence here!) of gays (Rosie O'Donnell, Will and Grace, Queer Eye, Ellen) on TV in the 1990s.

For once I am looking up and noticing that we are part of a new multiculti phenom within this country: the mixed-race family. Perhaps we've never been so hip (as if!) as in this moment. Perhaps we never will be again.

But it seems to me any attempts at passing an immigration policy keeping people out of the U.S. won't go far, because as it is in my hometown, almost everyone is from somewhere else, originally. And never has that been more true on more levels.

For us, it's great. It means there are mixed-race kids and families from many countries all around us. It was like that where I went to elementary school for a while, and then there were fewer and fewer People of Color as we called them in the oh-so-politically-correct 1990s as property values soared because of tight growth limits. We sneaked in under the wire and now live in an elitist Disneyland to hear some people tell it, and to some degree they are right. But now families have sprouted up with all of these kids of different colors and cultures, and this town is transformed from within forever by this. Boulderites have always been interested in those beyond our own borders (which is what makes the New Rudeness so appalling [are we going to call these the Rude Oughts one day, looking back?]).

A couple of days ago, my daughter came home from school and reported that she and her new friends in her class had been comparing their skin colors. "I'm about the same color as Tracie, but Anya is a little darker brown than me," she said (names changed to protect the little). They are discovering the entire spectrum of color between them, and also that you can be exactly the same color as someone who does not share your origins.

During the Olympics, I wondered what the spectacle looked like to all of the children from China, the kids of adoptive parents here in the U.S. and perhaps around the world. Did they say to themselves, How does such a well-organized society not have room for me? Or did they say, I'm so very proud|ashamed|indifferent| [choose one or fill in your choice] to have this heritage? Some day, they will decide to have an Olympics in India, and my daughter will be of the It Culture. How will that feel to her?

It may be as Sunil said in his talk at camp in 2006: kids from India who are here will always feel a little outside things, wherever they go. Here, they sometimes get mistaken for Hispanic or Mestizo and presumed to speak Spanish. In India, they are clearly Americans. (All of which just makes the fact that camp is a couple of hours away an absolute miracle to me. Amazing to me that when we chose to live here and adopt that we wound up this near the marvelous resource that is the Colorado Heritage Camps.)

I've been on both sides: shunned for my differences (still happens -- I'm just not like some of the other moms!), and celebrated for my luck at being in the "right" place at the "right" time, so I have some empathy and compassion for my daughter on all counts. I look forward to seeing what she makes of her origins, how she relates to her identity through her skin.

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