Sunday, September 25, 2005

Brown Man, Green Dad

Miah and I went to a fair for parents and expecting parents at the Houston United Way building. Our friend Jay was helping at a booth for a new Waldorf school. The La Leche League, the Women’s Health Specialists, two birthing centers, a Montessori school, photographers, chiropractors, a life insurance company, and the guy who rents big storks to put in the lawn were among those passing out brochures and trinkets. We snagged a free bandaid holder. Most tables only had hard candies to give away. One lady – I don’t remember what her booth was for – handed MaGreen a free doll. Then when I walked up, the lady said, “You might like this one instead” and gave MaGreen a different doll. We moved on to the next table, the Nativiti Birthing Center, which had pictures of bathtub births.

I forgot about the doll until MaGreen told me that the lady had exchanged a fair doll for a dark doll after seeing me. It’s a little brown man waving one arm. The letters OBW are sewn into his breast for “Official Baby Watcher.” When we passed that booth again, I looked more carefully at the other dolls. There was a whole box of the fair dolls out. I wondered if the lady had a special one or two dark dolls to pull out on need? I appreciated her awareness. She was clearly well intentioned. Maybe if my school teachers back in Mobile, Alabama had been that alert and if they had materials like brown dolls that validated my presence, things would have been better for me. MaGreen noticed later on that the white lady who gave us the brown doll had a brown man with her.

Actually, two groups at the fair had missions that focused on people of color. The community doula program trains Latinas to become doulas. And there was one booth for African-American women breast-feeding. Those booths weren’t very busy. Getting the dark doll for our expected little one, as nice as it was, ultimately made me especially aware of how “white” the whole fair was. You could count those who were obviously people of color on one hand. In my experience, this type of demographic is typical of progressive or environmental events. Even though groups want to reach out to ethnic and racial “minorities” – we actually constitute the majority here in Houston – the actual people who show up, well let’s just say it’s like vanilla ice cream sprinkled with chocolate chips.

One explanation is that there is a history of racism in progressive and environmental movements. For example, many conservationist policies take no consideration of the largely dark-skinned people who live amidst the world’s remaining wilderness. It’s as if they never existed. “Over population” can be code for “too many dark people.” Take a look at these two articles, Los Angelos Times and Common Dreams, about the recent failed attempts by nativists to take over the Sierra Club.

But there are all kinds of explanations. You know, maybe it’s that people of color have a different set of material concerns and we organize in ways that make sense to our different communities. Here are some examples:

Chipko Movement
Did you know that Indians, as in people from India, invented tree hugging? The Chipko movement was begun by women and men in Himalayan villages to stop commercial logging. Their embracing of trees led to inhabited wilderness initiatives. Bina Agarwal is a brilliant economist who has written extensively about this movement and its results.

African American Environmentalist Association
This organization seems to really be a one-man show. Here’s a link to an interview of the director and founder, Norris McDonald. Believe it or not, he’s an African-American Republican environmentalist.

Land Rights in New Mexico
The Hispanos of New Mexico are fighting for rights to land grants and water rights that were recognized by the Treaty of Hidalgo. And they are often at odds with the mostly white conservationists. Here's a link to a related activist site, La Jicarita News.

I’m curious what readers think. Issues of race/ethnicity, poverty, gender, rights, and the environment are all linked. Or “tangled up” might be the better phrase. It’s hard to get your mind around.

I'm pretty sure my daughter will have lighter skin than me and this new brown-skinned doll. She’ll be half Indian and half white. She’ll also be a relatively privileged child, like I was. I’m her father and I don’t want her to be among the unprivileged, those doomed to toxic food, toxic air, and too little fuel and water. But I don’t want her to be among the privileged either, because privilege can be its own type of suffering. I want to believe another world is possible.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You are a fabulous writer!