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What I learned when my 2-year-old wanted to wear blackface

The other day, I painted my son's face like Spider-Man. And then things got complicated.

What I learned when my 2-year-old wanted to wear blackface

My daughter, Petra, wanted me to paint her face like Tiana, an African-American Disney princess.

In case you forgot who Tiana is, because Disney did an uncharacteristically bad job marketing her, here she is. She's the smart, funny, independent heroine of "The Princess and the Frog."


Petra actually said, "I want you to make me brown all over, like Tiana."


I couldn't do it.

But how do you explain to a 2-year-old what is so terrible about painting her face to look like a black princess? Petra was coming from a place of admiration, not mockery.

Even knowing that her intentions were good, it felt wrong. But I didn't have the words to explain it.


And the next day, I found the Mother's Day Action Kit, from Showing Up for Racial Justice.

The kit is just a collection of links to articles and resources, aimed at white parents who want to help their kids grow up without racism. They also have an AMAZING book list for children of all ages.

I wish I had read it before. Before this conversation, yes, but also before I even had kids. I want my children to grow up without the centuries of racial baggage that is in the groundwater of American culture. But how?

If you are, like me, a white parent trying to figure all this out, here are the top three things I learned from the kit:

1. Kids notice race.

Babies as young as six months are aware of differences in people's skin color and features. Kids aren't race blind.

2. We need to name race, and we need to start very young.

If we are uncomfortable or silent when our kids point out that someone has brown skin, we send the message that that difference is too shameful to talk about.

3. If we don't give explicit messages about race, kids will come up with their own.

As white parents, we tend to say things like, "Everyone is equal" or "Under the skin, we're all the same." Those phrases are too vague. Kids don't know we're talking about skin color.

After reading this kit, I'm going to be more deliberate about avoiding vague language when it comes to discussing race with my children.

My husband and I want our kids to be race-conscious. We attend a fairly diverse church, where people talk about issues of racial justice. We have "multicultural markers" and baby dolls of different ethnicities. We choose books that show children of different races having fun together. But we have a hard time talking about race explicitly. Because it means admitting that the world is terribly unfair. It means naming the injustices we benefit from.

It means offering Petra a compromise: Let's paint your face as Frog Tiana, because race isn't a costume. But a frog can be.

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Anne Hebert, a marketing writer living in Austin, TX, jokes that her closest friends think that her hobby is "low-key harassment for social good". She authors a website devoted entirely to People Doing Good Things. She's hosted a yearly canned food drive with up to 150 people stopping by to donate, resulting in hundreds of pounds of donations to take to the food bank for the past decade.

"I try to share info in a positive way that gives people hope and makes them aware of solutions or things they can do to try to make the world a little better," she said.

For now, she's encouraging people through a barrage of persistent, informative, and entertaining emails with one goal in mind: getting people to VOTE. The thing about emailing people and talking about politics, according to Hebert, is to catch their attention—which is how lice got involved.

"When my kids were in elementary school, I was class parent for a year, which meant I had to send the emails to the other parents. As I've learned over the years, a good intro will trick your audience into reading the rest of the email. In fact, another parent told me that my emails always stood out, especially the one that started: 'We need volunteers for the Valentine's Party...oh, and LICE.'"

Hebert isn't working with a specific organization. She is simply trying to motivate others to find ways to plug in to help get out the vote.

Photo by Phillip Goldsberry on Unsplash

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Yesterday I was perusing comments on an Upworthy article about Joe Biden comforting the son of a Parkland shooting victim and immediately had flashbacks to the lead-up of the 2016 election. In describing former vice President Biden, some commenters were using the words "criminal," "corrupt," and "pedophile—exactly the same words people used to describe Hillary Clinton in 2016.

I remember being baffled that so many people were so convinced of Clinton's evil schemes that they genuinely saw the documented serial liar and cheat that she was running against as the lesser of two evils. I mean, sure, if you believe that a career politician had spent years being paid off by powerful people and was trafficking children to suck their blood in her free time, just about anything looks like a better alternative.

But none of that was true.

It's been four years and Hillary Clinton has been found guilty of exactly none of the criminal activity she was being accused of. Trump spent every campaign rally leading chants of "Lock her up!" under the guise that she was going to go to jail after the election. He's been president for nearly four years now, and where is Clinton? Not in jail—she's comfy at home, occasionally trolling Trump on Twitter and doing podcasts.

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Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
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Glenda moved to Houston from Ohio just before the pandemic hit. She didn't know that COVID-19-related delays would make it difficult to get her Texas driver's license and apply for unemployment benefits. She quickly found herself in an impossible situation — stranded in a strange place without money for food, gas, or a job to provide what she needed.

Alone, hungry, and scared, Glenda dialed 2-1-1 for help. The person on the other end of the line directed her to the Houston-based nonprofit Bread of Life, founded by St. John's United Methodist pastors Rudy and Juanita Rasmus.

For nearly 30 years, Bread of Life has been at the forefront of HIV/AIDS prevention, eliminating food insecurity, providing permanent housing to formerly homeless individuals and disaster relief.

Glenda sat in her car for 20 minutes outside of the building, trying to muster up the courage to get out and ask for help. She'd never been in this situation before, and she was terrified.

When she finally got out, she encountered Eva Thibaudeau, who happened to be walking down the street at the exact same time. Thibaudeau is the CEO of Temenos CDC, a nonprofit multi-unit housing development also founded by the Rasmuses, with a mission to serve Midtown Houston's homeless population.

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Racist jokes are one of the more frustrating manifestations of racism. Jokes in general are meant to be a shared experience, a connection over a mutual sense of humor, a rush of feel-good chemicals that bond us to those around us through laughter.

So when you mix jokes with racism, the result is that racism becomes something light and fun, as opposed to the horrendous bane that it really is.

The harm done with racist humor isn't just the emotional hurt they can cause. When a group of white people shares jokes at the expense of a marginalized or oppressed racial group, the power of white supremacy is actually reinforced—not only because of the "punching down" nature of such humor, but because of the group dynamics that work in favor of maintaining the status quo.

British author and motivational speaker Paul Scanlon shared a story about interrupting a racist joke at a table of white people at an event in the U.S, and the lessons he drew from it illustrate this idea beautifully. Watch:

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With the election quickly approaching, the importance of voting and sending in your ballot on time is essential. But there is another way you can vote everyday - by being intentional with each dollar you spend. Support companies and products that uphold your values and help create a more sustainable world. An easy move is swapping out everyday items that are often thrown away after one use or improperly disposed of.

Package Free Shop has created products to help fight climate change one cotton swab at a time! Founded by Lauren Singer, otherwise known as, "the girl with the jar" (she initially went viral for fitting 8 years of all of the waste she's created in one mason jar). Package Free is an ecosystem of brands on a mission to make the world less trashy.

Here are eight of our favorite everyday swaps:

1. Friendsheep Dryer Balls - Replace traditional dryer sheets with these dryer balls that are made without chemicals and conserve energy. Not only do these also reduce dry time by 20% but they're so cute and come in an assortment of patterns!

Package Free Shop

2. Last Swab - Replacement for single use plastic cotton swabs. Nearly 25.5 billion single use swabs are produced and discarded every year in the U.S., but not this one. It lasts up to 1,000 uses as it's able to be cleaned with soap and water. It also comes in a biodegradable, corn based case so you can use it on the go!

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