Monday, April 2, 2012

Emmigration fears: I

A few years ago, I found myself sitting across the table from a Brazilian at a conference dinner, when the conversation turned to a recent act of racial violence in his country.

"Race relations are a lot better in the US," he told me. When I argued against him, citing our history of slavery and Jim Crow and more recent immigration woes, he replied, "You talk about it in the US, and thus you are more aware of it. It doesn't mean the situation is actually worse there."

Those words ring in my ears every time we visit the library for Epsilon. We live in a fairly urban part of the country, and virtually every book Epsilon takes an interest in, that is not populated by animals, has African, Hispanic and/or East Asian looking characters, male and female. In fact, he's found a vehicle series with minor characters of my ethnicity. (That never happens!)

Before Epsilon was born, when we were considering adopting, probably an African American child, we were told to make sure that we had lots of books where the child's ethnicity was prominently featured. Then the adoption agency showed us several books that were about being black. The example books were about race; they were painfully self consciously aware of race. I remember thinking, if I my mother brought home books like this for me from my white suburban public library about my ethnicity, it would not have helped me be more at ease in my skin*. Since Epsilon's birth, I have been so very grateful to my public library for the ease with which it celebrates the racial diversity of my town and my country.

Thinking of my Brazilian's colleagues comments, I asked my partner to look at the picture book sections of the public libraries near University E. He also looked in a neighborhood where a colleague with a toddler lives. The results are not promising. Books that deal with diversity as a normal part of life can be found near University E, but we would have to be aware of the situation, and try to steer Epsilon in that direction, rather than trust that the frequency is great enough that Epsilon will naturally pick up a few.

There are some things I will miss about this country.

*I have nothing against books about race. I've written about one I really like. But there is a fundamental difference between a book written to point out racial differences, in however positive a light, and one that treats it as a natural part of life.

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