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Something that I have never ever thought about

By Heather Oman

Discuss.

About Heather Oman

(Prose Board) lives in the south with her husband, her two kids, and her wiggly black lab. She is a licensed speech language pathologist, but spends most of her days trying to teach her own kids how to say please and thank you. She is a member of the Segullah Editorial Board, and is the founding member of the blog Mormon Mommy Wars.

25 thoughts on “Something that I have never ever thought about”

  1. Excellent video! So many important ideas shown here. Heartbreaking too. The doll experiment is just heartbreaking, isn't it?
    I recently watched Good Hair and discussed it with my family. I read a good chapter on race in Nurture Shock that says we need to be better about discussing race. Trying to be "color blind" doesn't help things….kids (both white and dark) will still think the white doll is nicer so we need to talk about it in order to change our culture.

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  2. Outstanding video! This is an important issue to review and discuss. We believe that every person is a child of God and yet too many of our children (and parents) do not realize that every person has divine worth.

    I was saddened when teaching a class of 4-year olds in Primary a few years ago. The lesson materials included some pictures of children of different ethnicities. None of these children wanted to choose the beautiful dark-skinned child, and when I asked them why they replied that the child wasn't as "pretty, nice or good" as the other figures. I was shocked that children so young had developed such negative stereotypes about children of other races.

    I quickly realized that we need to teach our children from an early age how precious and beautiful each of God's children are and to help them understand that the color of one's skin does not define one's worth. I have delighted in the diversity and beauty of God's children and believe my children do as well. I realize that I need to remind my grandchildren of this significant concept.

    On the other hand, I assisted some refugees from New Orleans who were airlifted to our valley (Salt Lake) and decided to stay. They were beautiful, dark-skinned women and children. As I helped them find housing and helped the young mother enroll her daughter in school, I wondered how the other would feel when she walked into a school that was not racially diverse.

    She scanned the school ground, looking at the children and replied, "I see one mixed child but no one dark like mine." She said this with confidence and pride, and I felt assured that her little girl would adjust well to school. She did.

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  3. That video (particularly the part with the doll experiment) made me want to cry. I look forward to a world in which everyone will value themselves and each other for what they are–children of God.

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  4. Ana, I did cry during that doll experiment segment. (Did you note that one girl who was harsh was wearing a Disney Princess logo on her jacket?) In any case, I have noticed that church materials are a lot more diverse than they were when I was a child in the 1960s. I try to be color blind in my house, but I also think it's not primarily up to me.

    From studying and teaching literature, I am convinced that it's imperative to invite underrepresented people to represent themselves–women, minorities, people living with disabilities, and older adults, etc. (I don't teach lit anymore; I now work with older adults, and so many people talk FOR them or about them as if they are invisible). I do not want to presume to speak for racial and ethnic minorities, just like I don't want men telling me about the female experience.

    I have also noticed that church magazines do have more articles written by members from all over the world and members of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. That's a good complement to the more diverse images I'm observing. We're making progress, but we could probably do better as a church/culture, as Chris observed in a recent Primary class.

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  5. I can only think of the Lamanites having dark skin, equating that to "badness," and wish this gospel that I love so much didn't have that particular part of it's history.

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  6. Very sad. I was raised to be thoughtful and considerate to all race and ethnic backgrounds. I have done the same with my boys, but it is sad my husband wasn't raised that way. My FIL nearly lost his life because he refused to let the African American Doctor operate on him. He thought for sure he would purposely kill him because of his skin color. I could not believe it. My MIL called child protective services on me because she found out my son's cardiologist was a Muslim….must be a terrorist!

    We are all Children of God regardless of skin color or where we have come from.

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  7. It would seem to me that kids believing whites are better than blacks is more influenced by their own families than anything else. The girl in the peach colored shirt at the beginning even confirms something similar when she says that her mom was unhappy that she looked "African." I think that maybe they need to 'get over themselves' more first before they can realize that there's not as much racism out there as they think, or that they themselves are the worst offenders at being racist against themselves. But, I could be wrong being a white woman who has only lived in places with very few blacks.

    I'm also a little ruffled by the girl talking about 'How can you know who you are when all you know is that your ancestors came from Africa? How can you know what your culture and values and morals should be?' Chances are good that her family has lived here in the United States for several generations. My kids have grandparents and great grandparents that immigrated from Mexico, Poland, Denmark, and England, but frankly, I just found most of that out 2 weeks ago when my son had an ancestry project for school. I didn't feel lost prior to that, nor was I waiting to find it out so that I would know what my behavior and morals should be, so I don't get it.

    I have never lived in places with a high concentration of blacks. Because of that, I feel hyper-alert whenever I'm around blacks, because I don't want to offend them or have them think that I'm prejudiced against them, which behavior, I'm sure, causes issues of its own. I think that the more we make a big deal of race, the more problems it causes.

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  8. Strollerblader, I found that one of the most interesting things about the video, that these girls referred to themselves as "african", when in fact they are very much American. I mean, I have ancestors that go back to Scotland and English, but I don't identify that as my heritage, or at least, not in an every day kind of way.

    But it struck me that I don't identify with it because nobody identifies me as a "Scottish-American". And there is no political pressure to do so. I wonder if the very language that Americans use to describe minorities, ie, African American, Korean American, Chinese American, etc, build into it a sort of racism that disavows them from the heritage of being American.

    These families have so little ties to Africa that they don't even know what part of African they are from, and wouldn't unless they did the kind of research everybody has to do to find her ancestry. It's not inherently obvious, and yet Africa itself is not just one big amalgamation of the same type of people–there are different languages, different tribes, different cultures, different political histories that shape the cultures and religions. Even to say you are American isn't a complete picture—are you a Southerner, a midwesterner, a New Yorker? All of these things mean a different heritage and culture (heck, a New Yorker doesn't even mean you are from the state of New York), because America is a rich and complex place. Africa, even more so. Obviously.

    So it wasn't necessarily the idea that only light skinned straight haired women are attractive that made me ponder this video, it was the idea that our so called inclusive politically correct language might actually serve to disavow and otherize American minorities.

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  9. As a white woman, I can't say I know a lot of what it feels like to be a black woman in a American. However, I feel I have a little insight having lived in a place where I was an ethnic minority.

    Like most white people in America I had the privilege of ignoring race before that experience, and though I sympathized with those who faced discrimination, I didn't really understand how important of an issue race would be to a minority.

    Until I was a minority and faced discrimination–some of it was real and some of it was probably imagined. But I had to wonder every time someone was rude to me if they were just a rude person, or if this had to do with me being white. Sometimes I felt very self-conscious even when no one was rude to me at all. I would be shopping or something and look around thinking, "There is no one here who looks like me. I wonder if I am allowed to be here."

    Anyway, the point that the video made me remember was that there was not a single day during the time I lived in this place that I would have been sad to wake up and find my skin had darkened over night. There was not a day while I was there that I would have cried if my blonde hair had changed black. I just wasn't comfortable in my own skin, literally. And it makes me sad to think that there are minorities where I live who are struggling with this same insecurity about looking the way they do.

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  10. Heather O. – I really liked your comment. These kids identify as being African because that's how our society describes them based on their skin color.

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  11. I was just talking about this issue with a woman in the ward who is originally from Jamaica. Her husband is from the US and describes himself as African American, but she doesn't like to describe herself that way, because as she puts it she's "not African or American". She has lived in the US a long time (30+ years) and raised 8 kids here, and is frustrated because to her we seem to have bigger issues with this than she did as a girl in Jamaica. Her view of herself is different from her daughter's views of themselves, especially since they all grew up in an area where they definitely in the minority.

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  12. An instructor of mine is African-American, and often points out that a fellow student isn't–because she is Latin-American (though black). I think us white folks are giving ourselves too much credit if black folks decide to identify as African-American. Historically, it's a self-chosen descriptor. We really aren't that awesome that black people fall on our every word.

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  13. In my son's predominantly middle-eastern/Asian/Indian kindergarten class, I was surprised to note that the beautiful brown-skinned children were coloring themselves peach. It would be interesting to know if they learned that at home or if it came from school. My initial thought was that it came from being taught by white Americans, but the video indicates that it is much more involved than that.

    Thank you for posting. I'll have to ponder this some more.

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  14. I read Keith Hamilton's "Last Laborer" and really appreciated what he had to say about his body having black skin and how his race fits in with God's whole plan and His interactions with different groups of people throughout the history of the world.
    Keith Hamilton is a strong man who is very comfortable in his skin.

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  15. Heather O.-
    The video broke my heart. And I was nodding yes to your comments. I really wonder about that one and say then, so what about identifers- should we use them, we all do- is there a better way?

    To me this strikes at the whole zion thing- that if we ever plan to get there- we loose the "ites" all the indentifiers that separate us, rather than bind us.

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  16. Very interesting video. It is really sad how many of the children chose the white doll.
    I am white, but I grew up in an area that was predominately black. It was always interesting to me that my black friends wanted to be lighter, and all of us white girls wanted to be darker. How many white girls do you know that spend their time in the sun or the tanning booth trying to get a nice dark tone?

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  17. I've thought a lot about why certain cultures are so obsessed with lightness vs darkness of skin. I grew up feeling extraordinarily self-conscious about my very light skin that I could never successfully tan. Then when I spent my mission in Taiwan I was fascinated to see the beauty shops in every corner that specialized in whitening techniques for women's skin. It was so different from anything I had ever seen before, and no matter how often I tried to explain the concept of tanning salons to people, none ofnthe Chinese believed me.

    After spending a year and a half hearing people compliment me in my skin color, I finally chose to love and appreciate (and protect) the skin I was given. I find it interesting, however, that this really is not just an issue in America. In many of the areas of the world, from Asia to Polynesia, I've seen it play out with an outspoken preference for lighter skin. I suppose a great part of this has to do with the world's history with colonization, (which obviously includes our history with slavery), but also a perception of what makes one appear wealthy. Here in the western US if you're not tan, it means you don't have the time or resources to be outside enjoying all sorts of different recreation (think golf), whereas in many other parts of the world, if you have darker skin it's an indicator that you have to work outside (think ricefields).

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  18. I remember first learning about Dr. Clark's doll experiment during AP American History class my junior year in high school. I found it incredibly disturbing. It still gives me the same heartbreaking feeling.

    That same year we studied American Literature in English class. While we were discussing the Harlem Renaissance, a classmate of mine asked our teacher why we weren't reading Hemingway like the other junior English classes. Our teacher (who was also a fellow in Women's Studies at Radcliffe) told us that we could read Hemingway on our own time. She had developed the unit on black female authors several years before when one of her students had asked her, "What about writers like me? I'm an American, too. How come none of these authors look like me?"

    Reading books by Zora Neale Hurston, Maya Angelou and Alice Walker allowed me to feel emotions I had not previously imagined in my sheltered, 17-year-old life as a white girl in a small upper middle class town in New England. They made me realize that the world was much larger than the little sphere in which I lived. But when I tried to read Toni Morrison's "Beloved", I couldn't do it. It was too raw and powerful for me. My teacher let me choose another book for my book report. Twenty years later, I wonder if I am ready to read it yet.

    I still have never read anything by Hemingway. Maybe I should try that too.

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  19. i haven't even read all the comments yet, but i have never subscribed to the whole "calling someone african-american instead of black" thing. one of my dearest friends is black (black and vietnamese); my sister-in-law is black (black and tongan)– i call them both black.

    it's the same way that i call myself and my maternal side of my family brown (japanese, filipino and italian), and i call my dad and his family white (english, irish and danish).

    the only person who has ever gotten after me about this is a white uncle, who, when my siblings and i joked once at a family party that we wanted the chocolate cake as opposed to the vanilla cake, because, well, you know (hardy-har-har!)… he scolded us and said he hated when we made references about us being different. but that's just it: everyone is different. and sometimes that seems annoyingly obvious in places like utah, but that's true everywhere. and it's awesome.

    thanks for posting this, heather!

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  20. what's sort of weird too is that any time anyone says anything about black or brown skin, they have to preface it with the word "beautiful."

    why can't things just be?

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