I gave my daughter a calendar of notable African-Americans for Black history month. She thumbed through the pages and then announced “hey you know who’s missing from this calendar, Britney Spears”. I told her Britney Spears is not in the calendar because she’s not African American, to which she replied “she’s not?”. I still remain unsure whether my daughter actually knows what Britney Spears looks like. I do know that she is familiar with at least some of her more tame songs. I would like to think that my daughter’s reaction has something to do with her relating to race on a level that is other than what is visual.
Perhaps the rhythms and the feelings she gets from listening to Britney Spears somehow reminds her of something familiar in music that she equates with an African-American cultural experience. It is also quite possible that she just has no idea what Britney Spears looks like. I am half black half white, I grew up in Brooklyn New York and Boston Massachusetts, and I have always been acutely aware of race. With my background, I have always been conscious that certain stereotypes and perceptions of race are founded in reality, that certain stereotypes are in fact physical, cultural and social predispositions of a particular racial group. However, once you are exposed in a substantive way to people you realize some are good, some are bad, some are kind, some are selfish and race is not the common denominator that will allow you to characterize who is who.
So, to the extent that we all have our preconceived notions of what race is, I wonder if we close our eyes and evaluate each other based on something other than what we see does race really even exist? I am still unsure what to make of my daughter’s reaction to the calendar and what it says about her perception of race. It did not help to clarify things when this morning I described this project to my wife in the car. I simplified this task by asking my wife to “describe what race means to you in six words”. While my wife pondered the question, my daughter chimed in from the backseat “race means when you run around”. Six words. From the mouths of babes.