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Friday, January 28, 2005
The Fire This Time
It's the welcome return of America's Worst Mother Multicultural Edition.
This week Meghan, emboldened by watching America's Worst National Security Advisor elevated to Secretary of State, tackles race in America in an unMeghan kind of way. Normally, using her exclusive Fever Swamp Column Template, Meghan uses her kids (Meniscus, Parsley, Polly Amory, and Tugboat) as a literary device to touch on hot button issues like the time she wrote:
Try as we might we couldn't find the Littles new Baby-Pees-A-Lot and I was overwhelmed with a great sadness as the loss of the babydoll reminded of the forty million babies who have been aborted since Roe v Wade and how their bodies are, to this day, fed into a woodchipper to make stem cells for selfish people like Nancy Reagan whom I otherwise adore.
You know, stuff like that. Anyway, this week Meghan discovers The Negro In The Homework:
Outside the streetlights have come on, casting an orangey glow on the snowy street. From upstairs comes the sound of the three girls splashing and shrieking in the bath, while in the sitting room, where we are, my husband is building a fire. "I have to go to school on Monday dressed as a bla — " Paris breaks off. "I mean, as an African American."
"Wow. What kind of costume?" I ask, arrested by the idea of schoolchildren dressing up as members of a racial minority. Imagine the scandal if a white child turned up in blackface.
"A baseball one. I'm being Jackie Robinson. Also I have to make a poster about him." Paris rummages in his backpack and pulls out a sheaf of computer printouts about the brave ballplayer. Then he hands me a list of celebrated black figures shortly to be impersonated by his second-grade class.
"Fredrick Douglass," I read aloud to my husband. "Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, aw, wait a — "
"Malcolm X?" I continue, with a little squawk.
A negro...and a muslim! What is this world coming to?
"Willie Mays? Hank Aaron? Sugar Ray Leonard?"
"Very good boxer, but hardly a racial pioneer," my husband remarks dryly, standing up and brushing bits of wood off his trousers. "I wouldn't think there's much didactic purpose in devoting a school project to him."
"I wouldn't think there's much didactic purpose in devoting a school project to him."
This is another of Meghans literary tricks where she inserts a grown-up word into one of her little kiddy tales in a cry for help for just a moment of adult interaction. This device was previously seen here:
Molly turns around in the back seat. "I need to invent a name and an emblem for my class," she calls over everyone's heads, "it's part of my homework."
"Ugh," I say, despairingly, getting back in my seat and driving us all away. "What is the pedagogical point of that? Next thing you'll be bringing home a Vasco da Gama crossword puzzle."
You get the idea.
Back to Tugboat and his great awakening:
"That's who Dante is being, that Sugar whatever guy," Paris says, upending his backpack on the floor. Out bangs an empty lunch box, half a dozen pieces of Lego, a math book, and crumbs sufficient to get Hansel and Gretel home again.
"Aargh, don't — "
"Oops. Sorry, Mummy. Anyway," Paris continues, shoveling his things back in the bag, "I think he ought to dress up as a white person because he's already black."
My husband and I exchange a look. Until now, Paris has never shown the slightest awareness of his friend's race. Gee, thanks, teacher.
Or, possibly he has never mentioned it to his parents in the fear that they might wonder why he isn't spending more time with that Swensson kid around the corner instead of hanging with Dante, cold hoopin' it in front of the fourth grade ho's.
At this point Meghan and Mr. Meghan start suggesting some whiter shade of pale African Americans for Tugboat to impersonate:
I look gloomily at the list again. "Someone should at least go as Colin Powell." I say. "First black secretary of state, Paris? If you went as him you could carry a globe."
"How about Tiger Woods, with a golf club?"
"Oprah, in the library, with a rolled-up copy of her magazine — "
"Not Michael Jackson."
"But Condoleezza Rice, now there's-"
"Or Clarence Thomas," my husband says at the same moment. "Although a costume would be — "
I guess Tiger Woods would be okay since all they would need is a Nike hat and a hot girlfriend. Condoleezza Rice would be problematic due to gender issues (although I'm sure eight year-old Tugboat is currently sporting the proper orthodonture). Clarence Thomas? Write your own joke.
Later Meghan worries that we are starting to slip down that slippery slope of understanding that the Great American Melting Pot isn't just full of white chocolate:
It is as we pursue this line of questioning that the full weirdness of the project becomes clear. Asking second-graders to explain why they admire certain black people a) presupposes they do admire them, and b) assumes they understand why these individuals are admirable in the first place. And that's barmy; they're just too young to wrap their minds around slavery, or the Civil War, or Jim Crow, and as bright and earnest as he may be, no second-grader can even glimpse what a man like Jackie Robinson risked — and won — by walking on to that diamond the first time. To ask them to try is an exercise in phoniness. It is then that I remember seeing the string of posters hanging outside the fourth-grade classroom. 'I Have A Dream..." each one begins, after which the children have written in such sticky pieties as "...to make the world a Better Place."
Ugh! Bleah! Phony!
Thank you. I feel better now. But you have to wonder where this scratching away at old racial and political wounds as a means of inculcating respect and "tolerance" will end. With kindergarteners marching around dressed as suffragettes? With parades of seven-year-old Charos and Cesar Chavezes?
Because "respect" sucks, especially when the only famous Hispanic woman you can come up with is Charo Not Frida Kahlo, Eva Peron, Dolores Huerta, or J-Lo...okay, I was just kidding with that last one. I meant Shakira.
The rest of the column is devoted to a cute story about Mr. Meghan growing up in Libya which will probably cause Michele Mangamanga Malkin to ask to see his papers next time she sees him even though he doesn't look Libyan.
But you can never be too careful...