I Fit the Profile

I Fit the Profile

One of the hazards of having a business with products to sell is that occasionally I have to vend. The hazard isn’t in the vending, the hazard is in the travel and of course it’s always tough for a busy mom to leave midweek for a few days. None the less, I found myself packing up my 2015 Tahoe with books, filling my tank, devising alternate schedules for the kids, laying out school clothes all in preparation for two nights away for work.

Sometime, I look forward to the peaceful drive and hotel room, but for some reason, I truly wasn’t feeling this one. In fact, I reviewed the hotel cancellation policy and had I thought about it sooner, I probably would have backed out. South Carolina is a good four hours drive from my house and Tuesday is reserved for piano and violin lessons for the children. By the time I’d helped my husband feed and bathe babies it was going on 8 p.m.

The ride is smooth, barely any traffic and no rain. When I veer off I-95 to U.S. Route 501 in South Carolina it’s close to midnight and the highway signs read 55 MPH. I reduce my speed and set my cruise control to 62 MPH. I’m somewhat tired and for the first time, I turn on the radio to XM 47 and begin bopping to to lyrics from songs I partied to in college. Within 5 minutes I see blue lights behind me. At this very moment, I become fully aware of who I am, where I am and what I am driving. I dial my husband and put one earbud in my ear. “Hey, I’m being pulled by the police and I know I wasn’t going fast enough for a ticket, but just hold the line,” I say. My husband says “okay cool.”

Officer: May I have your license and registration?

Me: You can, but I’d really like to know why you stopped me.

Officer: I will tell you that after I see your license and registration.

I hand him my license and registration and he then says “You were speeding and going 68 MPH.”

Me: I’m sorry, but I had my cruise control set, so I know for a fact that I was not going nearly that fast. I was going 63 MPH.

Officer: It’s still speeding isn’t it?

Me: I suppose, but I know I wasn’t going as fast as you say I was.

He says he’ll be right back and I now feel free to speak my mind to my husband. “Ain’t this some bullshit, you know he is not going to give me a ticket and you KNOW I was not going nearly that fast.”

My Husband: “I know and you know what it is, but you have a family and children to get back home to so just keep your cool.”

A few moments pass and the officer re-appears.

Officer: “Mrs. Taylor, I’m gonna give you a warning ticket this time, but you may want to get your cruise control checked because you were going faster than you think you were.”

Me: “Thank you, but this is a 2015 Tahoe and I’m pretty sure my cruise control is accurate,” I snap back.

Officer: “Well maybe it’s your tires,” he replies.

Me: “No sir, these are not after market, they are factory, but I appreciate it. Thanks,” I say reaching for my blue written warning ticket.

I debrief my feelings about this unwarranted stop to my husband as I continue on my way. I realize that I am not angry about the stop not because of the outcome, but because I EXPECTED it. Yes, it’s a known fact that people of color are more likely to be stopped by law enforcement.

In fact, I have three African American females in my close circle that have had similar experiences in the same area. One was traveling with her elderly parents and teenage niece. She was stopped for having a sorority tag in the front of her car and asked to get out and if her car could be searched. When she refused, she was stopped less than 10 miles up the road for switching lanes. This time, K-9s were called in. None were given tickets and all felt the same as me, profiled.

I arrived to my destination about 30 minutes later and I can’t help but think about the differences people of color face every day in United States and the privileges allotted to others.

You see my first instinct when I saw blue lights behind me was to protect myself which is why I called my husband. So my natural inclination is to protect myself from those sworn to Serve and Protect??? I doubt that’s the first feeling my Caucasian friends have when stopped by law enforcement. My husband’s first inclination was to remind me to do what’s necessary to get back home safely. I also doubt that’s the first feeling my Caucasian friends have for their spouses during routine traffic stops.

Since I am a stickler for the rules, I want to be clear that my issue was not that Officer Lewis stopped me. My issue is that I don’t believe he stops everyone going 7 miles over the speed limit. I also don’t believe he gives them all traceable written warning tickets. My issue is that I live in a country that my daddy fought for, I work in, pay taxes in and I am still not allotted the same privileges as everyone else. My issue is that I have neighbors and friends that refuse to sympathize with real issues, feelings and challenges that people of color face in our country every day.

 

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Vanilla or Chocolate: Not Bad, Not Better; Just Different

When I was a child my birthday parties always ended with a cake and a clear gallon bucket of ice cream. The bucket always had three flavors in it, vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. The premise was that you could enjoy whichever flavor you preferred. The ice cream always started out nice and neat, but you could never have a whole scoop of one without remnants of the other flavors on it and by the end it seemed like all three flavors were completely mixed up.

It’s amazing what you can learn from a bucket of ice cream.

My 6-year-old daughter Morgan recently co-authored a book that educates and excites young people with her dad and my husband. Daddy’s Little Princess is a one of kind book that introduces real Princesses and Queens of color from around the world on an elementary level. If you ask Morgan as one reporter did, why she wrote the book she will say “My daddy always calls me Princess, but I didn’t think I could be a Princess because I didn’t see any that looked like me. I thought only “vanilla” or white people could be Princesses. When I found out that anyone could be a Princess, I wanted to let other little girls know that too.”

Awe, sounds sweet to many, but clearly a few were bothered by her “Vanilla” label and took to the comment section of her news story to say so. Which brings me to the reason for this blog post. One comment in particular said that the label “vanilla” or white people is early indoctrination. I’m guessing he meant it to be a disparaging comment, but I actually completely agree. You see the Latin word for “teach”, doctrina is the root of indoctrinate. As parents it’s our responsibility to indoctrinate or teach.

I’ve had this blog since my daughter was an infant and rarely do I give parenting advice. I wholeheartedly believe that parenting is the toughest job you can NEVER prepare for. You can read books, you can read journals, you can ask other parents what to do, but in the end we are all just trying to do the best we can. However, there are a few things we just should not and cannot do and one of those is to shy away or ignore important questions from our children.

As a Communication professional (I have a few degrees that say so) let me just say there will never be a colorblind society. If you have the gift of sight, you see color. That’s why toddlers touch each others skin and hair. Our goal should not be to be colorblind. Our goal should be to treat each other the SAME regardless of our differences. Acknowledging differences is not the problem. The problem is treating people different because of them. Yes, our skin is different, not bad, not better; just different. Yes, our hair is different, not bad, not better; just different. Yes, some children are handi-capable, not bad, not better; just different.

So when our very bright 2-year-old was in pre-k and really began to notice these differences we did what parents should do; we talked about them and since words like African American, Caucasian and Asian were a little difficult for her to grasp, words like vanilla and chocolate were easier for her to understand. The concept that vanilla ice cream and chocolate ice cream were different, but both delicious was easier for her to understand. It’s like that gallon of ice cream. But when we as adults shy away from having conversations with our children because it makes US feel uncomfortable, we are leaving our children to figure out something extremely complex on their own. That’s not fair and that’s not good parenting and when they don’t get it right we have civil discourse and racial prejudice.

So yes, both my daughter and my 4-year-old son have been “indoctrinated.” We acknowledge differences, we share information and treat everyone the same. One of my favorite parts of my daughter’s Barnes and Noble book signing was seeing all her friends, vanilla, chocolate or butter pecan all come out to support her and to learn about Princesses they had not heard of before. She was genuinely happy to see them and they were genuinely happy to support her. So, it may be easier to get caught up on the label than to deal with the reality that yes we have differences and they are not bad, not better; just different.

Visit http://www.taylormadenc.com to learn more about her book Daddy’s Little Princess

 

Not the Same Color

I usually avoid malls at all costs. Yes, I know it’s hard to believe, but I don’t like to shop. I don’t like crowds, I don’t like looking for clothes on the rack, and I don’t like spending money. As much as I dislike them, every once in awhile, it’s inevitable and with two toddlers it has to be a planned event. After packing snacks, diaper bags and the stroller and a bag full of patience, we load up the truck and make the two-mile trek to the local mall.

Back to school sales filled the parking lots like someone was giving away money. Obviously the use of school uniforms has not cut down on the traffic or the amount of money parents are spending in preparation for the new school year. We quickly give up on the notion of finding a space near the door and my husband decides to drop kids and me off, park and join us.

While waiting for him to park, we run into several people we know and entertain ourselves with small talk about the weather, the children and general life updates. When he joins the discussion, and us our daughter becomes inpatient and starts to pull my arm towards the door. Just then, a young Caucasian woman exits Belk followed by an African American male around the same age. It’s obvious they are together, but no public displays of affection or anything. As they walk to their car, minding their own business, my daughter says, “Hey, they are not the same color.” She obviously sees the dismay on my face and quickly adds, “but it’s okay, it doesn’t matter, right?”

“No Morgan, it doesn’t matter, God made us all, so a person’s skin color is irrelevant,” I explain. Now, I’m not sure if this couple heard my daughter, but I do know her comment bothered me for several reasons. First, I have several interracial couples in my family and lots of mulatto cousins. Second, in an effort to protect her self-esteem we have intentionally instilled positive ethnic undertones. Third, she is surrounded by people of all ethnic backgrounds in a variety of settings and some of her friends are beautiful products of interracial couples.

As an adult, I have had the privilege of avoiding certain uncomfortable conversations such as race, religion and politics, and now find myself confronted with these conversations on almost a daily basis with a curious toddler. So obviously she is stuck in a diverse world and trying hard to put all the pieces together and I have the ever so important role of helping her figure it all out. But this puzzle has quirky pieces and one wrong turn or term can lead to ethnocentrism or self-loathing; neither is my intent. But the middle ground to all things is generally rooted with acceptance. I am certain I have in no way implied, said or felt concern with interracial relationships, but something she has been exposed to has either been misinterpreted or given the impression that interracial couples is unacceptable. I can only pray that I am able to dig up the seed that has been planted before it takes root and I must reexamine any internal bias or prejudice I may subconsciously harbor. Parenthood is an awesome responsibility and opportunity for self-examination.

 

Brown Like Me

In an effort to enjoy these Spring-like temperatures in the middle of winter, I agreed to go outside and help Morgan practice roller skating. At 2-years-old it takes longer to strap up her elbow pads, knee-pads, gloves and helmet than her interest in the activity, but she looks so cute with it all on that is barely matters that she can hardly move. On the way home we spotted our neighbor, who has a daughter one week younger than mine. We wave and the bunny helmet grabs her attention and demands a visit. As she approaches, Morgan gets excited and falls as she tries to show off her new skills; or the lack thereof. She looks up at me and says “I’m okay mommy.”

Our neighbor congratulates her on her new hobby and makes small talk about her get up. She then proceeds to tell Morgan about her family’s new pets. Apparently, her three children are the caretakers of chickens. Yes, live, egg laying, farmhouse chickens. Wow, how exciting, a hint of country living, right in the middle of the city.

Since this reminds me of one of my childhood chores, I think I was a little more excited than my daughter. Plus, I was delighted at the unsolicited invitation to expose my child to something new, with children that live so close. Now, I wasn’t alone in my enthusiasm. Morgan’s jaw drop gave me a clue she too is interested in this activity.

She then invites Morgan to join them any day around noon to help gather up the fresh eggs and this is when it gets interesting. So, my daughter says “but….but” and it is clear that she is searching for the right words then one last “but,” before a brief two second pause. “You’re not brown like me,” she says. So in the midst of such a pleasant day and a pleasant, long overdue conversation, I find myself trying to pick my face up off the concrete.

My neighbor, who is also a teacher, doesn’t hesitate in her response. “You’re right, I am not brown like you, but we are all the same on the inside,” she says with a mild grin. Morgan looks up, right into her eyes, tilts her head to the side and pauses yet again. Then she says, “well, you’re hair is brown.” As if to say, I guess that will have to do for any physical similarity right now. I am grateful for my neighbors’ patience and understanding. She simply agreed and said “yes, my hair is brown.” Now I’d like to state for the record I have never told my daughter or anyone for that matter that they can only play with their own kind. And as some would say, some of my best friends are white. So why on earth, where on earth did this come from?

My daughter is trying hard to figure out this whole race thing and where she fits. From complexions to different hair textures, she is trying her best to make sense of it all. For me this is scary and obviously delicate. Instilling African-American pride can be taken out of context in certain situations. After all, I am the one that encourages her to look for dolls that are brown like her or reminds her that her older cousin that she wants to emulate is brown like her. I’m the one who taught her that term. As a chocolate mother, I don’t apologize for reinforcing self-love and positive imagery at such a young age. But as a human being, I look forward to an opportunity to also teach the importance of judging people not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.