What People Think About My Daughter

I suppose that those of us who have children of different ethnic backgrounds are paying close attention to the Trayvon Martin story. If we aren’t, we should be.

There are hundreds of thoughts that are swirling around my head about this issue, but I’m going to condense them into only a few that hopefully string together to make some kind of sense. It seems as though little makes sense to me these days. I’ve listened to the reports, the interviews, the speculation, the facts, and the opinions of far too many people. I’ve watched vigils and seen people pontificate with intellectual prowess while wearing hoodies. And I’ve heard the recorded cell phone calls (and yes, I think I did hear what I thought I heard, but I’m not sure).

I wouldn’t have the audacity to think I could possibly know how Trayvon’s mother might feel. I do not have an African-American son. But I have an Asian-American child, and I can tell you what I know people think about her:

She is good at math

She is submissive

She is shy

She excels at either the violin or piano

Not one of these things is true about my daughter. That’s not the amazing thing, however. What shocks me is that people will assume these things about my daughter simply because of the way she looks. Before they have met her, or talked to me about her, or talked to her about what she loves and doesn’t love, they will make determinations about who she is and how she will act based upon her almond shaped eyes and straight black hair. She is Asian, therefore, she fits all of the stereotypes that we have come to believe about people who do not look like us.

Is this what happened on the evening of February 26, 2012? Because a young man was black, wearing a hoodie, and walking, he was assumed to be 1) a threat to the community, 2) armed, 3) dangerous, 4) gangster, 5) up to no good. So therefore, it was justifiable to shoot him. I’m only asking. I wasn’t there.

But I have been there when people have made inaccurate assumptions about my child, and it’s maddening. Sometimes, when people do this I want to scream, “She has an inside, you know!” She isn’t aware of those assumptions yet, but sadly, she will be at some point and I want to shield her from them. I want to tell her that she simply must ignore the people who only look at her ethnicity and make judgments based on that. Don’t only ignore those people, I want to warn her, but stay far away from them. Maybe this is what Trayvon’s mother told him also, but the sad reality is that it’s impossible. We live in a world of people who are racist and don’t even realize it. Why? Because we live in a country that practices systematic racism without blinking an eye. You might disagree because we have an African-American president, but please look at all the skepticism, fear, judgement, and inaccurate assumptions that have surrounded him since he became president.

In case you were wondering if this post was all about prideful, righteous indignation, you should know that I do not take myself out of the equation when it comes to racism. I’ve crossed to the other side of the street plenty of times. I’ve caught myself making judgements about people based on the placement and quantity of tattoos. And I’ve dismissed people because of their color, dialect, and, yes, size. Haven’t you? And really, isn’t that the problem? We would all like to say that we’re not prone to judge people based on their outward appearance, but we do it all the time. And taken to the extreme, this kind of action is deadly to the soul, and to the body. These stereotypes that Trayvon faced every day of his life have dangerous consequences far beyond what we can imagine. Obviously.

I weep for Trayvon Martin’s mother because she has lost a son. However it happened, it was unjustifiable. Life is precious, and if we truly believe that we would not settle for a law that allows one person to kill another and never have to answer questions about how it happened. I don’t want that for my child, for your child, or for anyone’s child. We can do better than this. Our children deserve it.

About Lisa Tresch, Contributor

Lisa Tresch is editor of Mia magazine, a quarterly storytelling journal for women. Lisa graduated from Oklahoma Baptist University with a B.A. in Journalism. She worked as a City Desk reporter and features writer for the Tulsa World before launching a freelance writing and editing business. In 2009, she entered the world of magazine publishing as a partner in The Leslie Group, and began editing Mia in 2009. She keeps a tenuous balance of competing passions: writing, editing, blogging, photography, advocating for orphans, and coordinating social media for a non-profit. Some of these things she does better than others, but she is most passionate about her role as the mother of three amazing children and the wife of her college sweetheart.

Comments

  1. Beautifully articulated.

  2. Mitsu KuboNo Gravatar says:

    Reading your article reminded me so much of my childhood and that of my younger brother & sister.  Our mother is from Ireland, our father from Japan.  My sister & I looked fairly asian as children and adolescents, and yet our brother looked totally white.  It’s interesting now, looking back on how we grew up, how we identified ourselves, and the types of people we attracted to ourselves – a huge factor in all of this was our ethnic appearance and how people labeled us. 

    My brother, looking completely white, identifies as white, because everyone labeled him as such.  My sister and I, however, identify differently – since my sister looks the most asian out of all of us, people labeled her as “asian”, and thus, asian people flocked to her as peers.  I definitely looked mixed, so I attracted a wide group of ethnic friends.  I realized later in life, that how we looked ethnically, played a huge role in our identity.  If people think you look a certain ethnicity, certain people are drawn to or repelled from you, certain people assign certain cultural stereotypes to you, and after enough repetition, you start to, sometimes unknowingly or knowingly, align yourself with those stereotypes. 

    And then there’s the fact that growing up biracial, you can pick & choose which cultural stereotypes, values, and/or traits, you like, and thus want to adopt as your own and identify as such. 

    I’m always fascinated to see how biracial children develop and which ethnicity they identify with the most.  I’m sure your children will grow up with a healthy, balanced identity, with such an insightful, loving mother at their helm 🙂

  3. Karen K. StreeterNo Gravatar says:

    I so appreciate how you think and write Lisa.