Shaping Youth Interviews Carmen Van Kerckhove of Racialicious

carmen2.jpgPrejudice comes in all colors and cultures, with striations even among one race itself. Yesterday at the Back to School debriefing, kids returning from abroad mentioned “race on race” profiling and caste systems that carved up color in slivers of skin tone. Whether it was a ‘hired help’ situation or a local village vibe, race and social theories abound, and kids clearly pick up on the nuances of labor forces and country ‘codes.’

So as we continue our series with Carmen Van Kerckhove of Racialicious today, it made me think of a contextual question I should’ve asked her earlier:

How do we become anti-racist parents on a global scope given the propensity to judge even within our own cultural contexts? Pre-judging any individual in ‘guilt by association’ style based on skin-color is bogus, yet we do it all the time. I thought about this a lot at our Women Leaders for the World summit last month, wondering if those of us that were U.S. representatives would’ve EVER had the same opportunity for unabashed candor and intimate racial dialogue among ourselves if we simply ‘met on the street’ so to speak.

Would I have had the chance to learn salsa side-by-side Jan Robinson-Flint head of Black Women for Wellness in South L.A. or would we have eyeballed each other and taken a pass figuring the other couldn’t relate? This is the inherent danger of fear and missed opportunities built on false foundations and misguided snap judgments. Carmen speaks out about how we can combat this dynamic, now, and in the next generation. Her top five anti-racist parenting tips follow in this interview, but her Anti-Racist Parent site has a gazillion more, including firsthand tips from her readers.

We have to keep dissecting and unearthing our own hidden ‘stuff’ which gets mirrored in our actions and sometimes leaks out sideways.

As a haole blonde, I was a minority most of my childhood, growing up in Hawaii, with several years in Washington D.C. and a few in Japan, but would you EVER consider me a ‘minority’ looking at me? I say this having been on the receiving end of racism/peer shunning many a time just for the color of my skin, since a quick glance at the blue-eyed blonde pic makes folks auto-assume I ‘can’t relate.’ (case study: the teen workshop I mentioned in yesterday’s post)

Carmen made me intropectively do a ‘double-take’ on my own ‘global citizen’ worldview too. I found myself nodding along with her tips, only to suddenly be tweaked with a twist that I’d never really pondered…

Carmen recommends surrounding yourself with diversity from peers to pros, so kids grow up living their own experiences firsthand rather than adopting some skewed media view of people of color…Sure enough, when my daughter was born, I intentionally picked one of the most qualified female pediatricians around (who happens to be Asian American) but then noticed after this interview I took a second look and realized that ALL of my daughter’s doctors were people of various colors and cultures. (dentist, orthodontist, you name it)

Was I unintentionally favoring professionals in a case of ‘positive racism?’

Maybe. To me, I was just picking the best pros…Carmen believes there’s damage in ‘positive stereotyping’ and significant reverb from those pre-conceived perceptions too…I’m now more alert to that dynamic too, even though I’m pretty convinced it’s not in play here, and more happenstance from where I live in the Bay area.

Still, it’s worthy to build self-awareness and critical thinking so we’re not bluffing ourselves to later get blind-sided by truth. Anyway, moral of the story? Know your own ‘stuff.’

Here’s PART TWO of our Interview with Carmen VanKerckhove:

Shaping Youth: How do your various blogs and core belief system help ‘shape youth’ in positive ways so that parents and kids will develop real world life skills that make a change long term?

Carmen Van Kerckhove: I think the most effective way to steer children away from snap judgments is to encourage them to view everything with a critical eye, and to be aware of stereotypes. The more kids are aware of racial stereotyping, the more likely they are to refrain from snap judgments. Also, don’t forget about “positive stereotypes,” such as all blacks are good athletes, or all Asians are good at math and science.

“Positive” racial stereotypes are harmful too, not only because they’re limiting and dehumanizing (like all stereotypes) but because they suggest that other racial groups are inferior in that particular department. That’s why I’m a strong believer in challenging “positive” stereotypes just as much as the negative ones. (here’s a video clip from Carmen explaining the reverb of this concept)

Shaping Youth: What are your top 5 tips for parents who strive to be anti-racist?

Carmen Van Kerckhove:

1. Your children will face racism, so prepare them for it.

It’s not unusual for children to hear their peers using racial slurs as early on as the first grade, even in the most diverse and open-minded communities. Don’t assume that racism is a non-issue for your family.

2. Don’t be colorblind

“Everyone is the same to me. I don’t even see color!” Being colorblind is not possible and it should not be your goal. As NAACP Chairman Julian Bond says, colorblindness means being “blind to the consequences of being the wrong color in America today.”

3. Make conversations about racism relaxed and frequent

Don’t wait for A Very Special Moment to talk about race. Conversations about race should be as normal and casual in your family as discussions about “American Idol.” In fact, “American Idol” can be a good starting point to talk about how people of color are portrayed in the media!

4. Lead by example

Actions speak louder than words. If you tell your children they should accept everyone, regardless of race, but you only socialize with people from one race, what message do you think your child will absorb?

5. Never stop dismantling your own racist beliefs

You can’t lead by example if you don’t work on yourself. Realize that you’re not going to wake up one morning and be rid of all your racist beliefs. There are no shortcuts to becoming anti-racist. Be aware of your own biases and privileges, and never stop working to overcome them.

Shaping Youth: Do you feel virtual worlds like Second Life are helpful for ‘getting inside another person’s skin’ to see what life is like via avatar simulation of reality? Any virtual world ‘Best Practices’ or digital advice on race here?

Carmen Van Kerckhove: I haven’t spent enough time in Second Life to form an opinion, but generally speaking I don’t think it’s a good idea to try and approximate a person of color’s experiences by trying to look like them, whether that’s via an avatar or in real life using make-up and prosthetics. I thought the series “Black.White” on FX, for example, was a travesty that ended up reinforcing racial stereotypes rather than debunking them.

Shaping Youth: What do you make of the ‘gansta rap’ phenom and white kid ‘wannabes’ taking on traits & lingo of black urban hip-hop culture?

Carmen VanKerckhove: I think that the relationship between white people and hip hop is a very complex one. It’s rife with issues of cultural appropriation, power, colonialism, and privilege. I hosted a great discussion on this topic on my podcast, Addicted to Race, with Jason, author of “Other People’s Property: A Shadow History of Hip-Hop in White America” and hip hop journalist Harry Allen.

Shaping Youth: The recent AO rating of Manhunt 2 stirred controversy regarding ‘anything goes’ violence in video games, and was reduced to an M rating, sparking the censorship/ban/freedom of speech debate re: purposeful actions devaluing human beings in Wii simulation. If a video game were ‘exterminating jews’ or some such atrocity do you think it should still be allowed to come to market?

Carmen Van Kerckhove: Actually many people are concerned that Resident Evil 5, featuring a white protagonist gunning down black zombies in Haiti, may be perpetuating the notion of exterminating black people. We covered it on the Racialicious blog here, and it hasn’t been released yet, so it’ll be interesting to see if the game maker makes any changes in response to the criticism and commentary.

Shaping Youth: How might videogame developers and creative departments help counter-market stereotypes and improve messaging accuracy?

Carmen VanKerckhove: Latoya Peterson, who also writes for Racialicious, wrote a terrific post for Cerise Magazine on this very topic, which game developers, programmers, and writers might appreciate.

Latoya Peterson’s top 5 tips for Racial Inclusiveness in Gaming

1. Break design paradigms.
2. Think about your ensemble casts.
3. Let go of antiquated notions of “authenticity.”
4. Allow for customization of avatars.
5. Flip Your Script.

Shaping Youth: Along these lines, can you respond to gaming expert Nick Yee’s research on the gold-farming phenom of World of Warcraft, and other video game icon depictions? (Manga, warriors/princesses/dragon ladies, etc.)

Carmen Van Kerckhove: I’m not familiar enough with gaming to form an opinion. Pat Miller from Token Minorities, a blog devoted to discussing issues of race and racism in video games, would be a great person to ask about this though.

Shaping Youth: How have shows like ‘Survivor, the Race Edition,’ Yo Mamma, etc. degenerated the racial conversation into parody?

Carmen Van Kerckhove: Survivor was problematic because they split teams up by race, and raised a lot of questions about what it would mean if one racial group dominated the victories. Ultimately, it has led to more diversity on subsequent seasons of the show because producers realized that people were (shock!) willing to tune in to watch a reality show with non-white contestants.

MTV’s “Yo Momma” has taken the African-American tradition of “signifying,” “snapping,” or “the dozens” and brought it to a mainstream audience. What really disturbs me about the show is how the ultimate “snap” always seems to do with colorism (e.g., “Yo momma’s so black that she dresses to a funeral naked!”). Though it’s often black contestants trading these barbs with each other, it’s problematic if you think about all the white kids watching this show laughing along. It definitely reinforces the notion that lighter is better…

Join us tomorrow for more of Carmen’s interview covering inter-racial and multi-ethnic depictions. Meanwhile, this poignant 8-minute YouTube documentary from WiscoStorm covers the ‘laughing along’ issue she mentions above, quite well.

It’s all about the intersection of Race and Humor and the fine lines between funny and fidgety. It’s got great pop culture clips, from cartoons to Seinfeld, Chris Rock, and more. It’s a low-res snippet with high quality thoughts!

Later this week, I’ll be focusing on the recent research study on African American girls and teaching behavior, cover more on hip-hop dynamics, and an assessment of ‘cartoon diversity’ on Nickelodeon and Disney (Go Diego Go, Dora the Explorer, Handy Manny and the newest, Ni Hau, Kai-Lan) with Ashley, our newest guest editor/media consultant covering the pre-school crowd!

Stay tuned… p.s. And no, I haven’t forgotten the High School Musical2 tween assessment, we’re just gleaning a few more teen interviews!–Amy



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