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Location:near Houston, Gulf Coast, United States

Conservatively liberal, moderately well-educated, and highly opinionated...

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Friday, October 14, 2005

Labels and Lies

I treasure “go to bed”– that private, quiet time when my daughter and I conspire to delay the end of the day. We have a series of rituals that, over time, have created a safe place to discuss problems, questions, and issues that might not have made it into the light of our more hectic days.

One of the most memorable “go to bed” conversations we ever had occurred when she was in first grade (three years ago), when she asked, “Mommy, would our lives be different if we were black?”

What I answered then, and what I would say now, are quite a bit different.

One major factor in my answer was the consuming reality of being a single divorced mother, working incredibly hard to juggle the demands of our daily lives. There were bathrooms to clean, meals to cook, weeds to pull, grass to mow, bills to pay, electrical outlets to be replaced, teachers to meet, meetings to attend, homework to supervise…and those were just the surface issues.

There was something more subtle, though, that drove my response. My interpretation, then, of “if we were black” was influenced by years of idealistic liberal thought. I had bought into the lie that one can somehow define “black”.

So – my answer then was, “Yes, our lives would be different.” The assumption and logic upon which this was based was that if we were black, we would by definition have a different social reality. I wouldn’t be quite so fast with my answer today.

I’ve learned a lot since then. Now I know that “black” is a label that is continuously abused by Americans, regardless of politics or color.

To group a socially and economically disparate group into a single entity confuses the issues and creates false perceptions. It enables racial prejudice and devalues the achievements and success of the majority of Americans “of color”. The implication of a homogenous black "race" is that people who are not part of the urban social catastrophe are exceptions to some “rule”.

I hope my daughter asks the question again (she probably will…), because I’d start differently the next time. I’d ask her, “What do you mean by black?”

I wonder what she’d say. For that matter, I wonder what you would say.