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Talking To My Friend LeahPeah

Over the last several weeks my friend LeahPeah and I have talked on the phone nearly every week about race relations in the United States (sorry, world, I'm focused on where I live right now). Even with a friend as great as Leah, this isn't always an easy conversation to have, but there is something comforting about talking openly with her as she is so eager to learn. She sent me a list of excellent questions and I did my best to answer them in a post she titled "Mocha Momma on Race and Education".

Here's a little snippet of the interview. See LeahPeah's blog for the Q&A in its entirety.

What do you hope to accomplish with your online writing? Do you feel you are doing it?

I just want to start a conversation where there has been no conversation before. I want to teach people, but I know I must be gentle in that quest. Some people don’t want to learn. They only want to argue their point and why they are right. And even still, some people don’t think I should be doing it or elevating myself to a status of feeling important enough to start this conversation. Mostly, I aimed at calling something out and that is this: We’re not really ready to talk about race. When people tell me that Stockett’s book “The Help” has been instrumental in doing that I have to call bullshit. No way. Black people have been having this conversation for a long, long time and the world has largely been ignoring it. But a white woman comes along who grew up with a black maid and all of a sudden white middle class women are suddenly comfortable with the conversation. There is something horribly wrong with that scenario. I have been wholly unprepared for the responses I’m getting for my part in the conversation, but something tells me that I am doing it. We are getting there. And “there” is where people from different cultures, backgrounds, ages, etc… are having this conversation together. That is my goal.
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Reader Comments (11)

Thanks so much for talking to me about this, Kelly. It means a lot to me that you would take the time and consideration for what is probably for you, the hundredth time. xoxo

September 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLeah Peterson

You don't have to apologize for talking about race (:

September 13, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermyblackfriendsays

God I have missed you young'un. You are a light in the dark, a breathe of fresh air, a shot in the arm, a cure for what ails me. Have I run out of bad metaphors yet? Oh yeah: Don't stop believin'...

September 13, 2011 | Unregistered Commenternursepam

Can I ask a question on how to put this race conversation together with another post you've written? In LeahPeah's Q&A you say, "This question reminds me of when people tell me they don’t see color and I have such a problem with that." And I agree. I'm a middle-class, white woman agreeing that I see color. I love color. I love that my daughter, when enrolled in a mostly black preschool class, asked me when she was "going to be brown like [her] beautiful friends." I love that she saw that color and embraced it as the beauty it is.

But I also read your post:

And you went to great detail on how you don't think people should ask or comment on genetic make-up. Honestly, that post surprised me. Especially once you started the series on Racism. I mean no disrespect, I love your blog, your message, your attitude. But I happen to think mixed race children are GORGEOUS, as are all children. Maybe I'm just too nosy, I love to know backgrounds and ethnicity. But, apparently it's rude to ask what love mixed together to create the beautiful creamy skin and tight blond curls?

Where is the line between acknowledging and talking about color, and not acknowledging or talking about color? Again, I am not trolling here. Your blog makes me think and your Racism posts stay in my head for days as I figure out how to apply them to my life bring them into the lives of my children. We have many redheads in my family, usually sprinkled here and there with no immediate, obvious genetic link. It never irritates us to mention the grandparent/uncle/cousin that carried the red gene of their generation. Can I ask why skin is different and insulting?

Thank you for being the expert in my computer. It's a heavy weight of responsibility you've chosen to carry, but I think we all appreciate it.

September 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMegan

...and hence, why I love your blog.

Thank you for the conversation.

September 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRachel Anne

Any time, Leah. YOU KNOW THIS. xoxo

September 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMocha Momma

That's a good reminder. Thanks for giving it to me.

September 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMocha Momma

I've missed YOU, nursepam! Goodness, it's been a long time but your jokes are as fresh as ever. Bad metaphors are only unappreciated by people with giant sticks up their backsides. (So sayeth my granny to me that one time.)

September 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMocha Momma

Megan, SUCH a good question. In that instance, especially with children, I think it's inappropriate to constantly bring it up because kids don't want to talk about their genetic makeup when they're simply trying to play Uno or a game of freeze tag. They just want to be kids. But I also think there IS a time and place for those conversations to happen. If it's another child, there is natural curiosity if they haven't been exposed to much culture.

In a sidenote, one of my kids who is very pale asked when he'd turn brown like his older cousin. Cutest. Thing. Ever.

So, when you want to know backgrounds and ethnicity I would say you should be familiar with the person whom you're asking before you launch into it. I say that from experience. People I've never met who want to touch my hair and tell me they like my skin or eyes usually get a smile from me, but there have been times when it's happened that I felt more violated than others. For me, it comes down to familiarity or how they approached me. If it's like I'm some alien and they would have the same reaction about seeing a T-Rex, then I'm pretty hurt. I'm not special just because they've never seen someone who looks like me. But engaging in a compassionate conversation about race and what I'm 'made of' will be accepted easier than when I'm in the spotlight of a discussion amongst strangers.

Someone else recently comment that White people often don't feel like they *have* a culture and, to some extent, I would NEVER ask a person, "Hey, are you Lithuanian? Because you look like my cleaning lady." or some such sentence. So, I guess that's where I take exception when my background is suddenly SO interesting when I'm clearly a normal, regular American woman but I feel like an anomaly when their inquisitiveness focuses on my DNA and not what makes up the rest of who I am as a person.

And I feel like you when people blatantly ask me where my 2 redheaded children come from so maybe you really can know what I'm talking about. (Though, I just re-read what I've written and I'm sort of extra tired tonight and I'm not even sure if it's clear. If not, SORRY.)

I guess what I'm saying is that the line is still blurred, so if someone is curious and it doesn't feel right to ask (especially an innocent child) then I hope they don't ask so as not to hurt someone's feelings.

September 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMocha Momma

Thank YOU for saying that. I keep wondering if people are listening... apparently, you are.

September 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMocha Momma

[...] One of the strongest critiques I heard before reading The Help was the frustration that the story of black maids serving white families, only drew the attention of the public when it is written by a white woman. This same scenario is mirrored within the context of the book itself; as the plot revolves around one white woman, who begins to write the stories of the black maids who serve the white families in her town. As Kelly from Mocha Mama so eloquently points out, there are many many books about this issue written from other perspectives which have remained unfortunately unread.  For more great commentary on The Help, check out two of her posts about the topic and racism in general: [...]

November 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDay 12 – Some thoughts o

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