04 April 2011

News to me: Books

We all know by now that I love a good book. Heck, I even love a decent book. I even find some empathy for a bad one, simply because it tried.

Here are a few things I'm excited about in the world of books:

Illustrator Jillian Tamaki has teamed up with Penguin Books to release a new book series this fall which will feature these lovely embroidered covers. I've always known that I will collect books for my children when I have them, and what a treat these would be.

Shel Silverstein was one of my favorite writers as a kid, and still one of my all-time favorite poets. His poetry collections are the epitome of fun and whimsy with words. The LA Times recently announced that a collection of posthumous poems will be released by HarperCollins this fall.

I have gotten hooked on Good Reads.  It is essentially a social network for nerdy bookworms like yours truly.  You can let friends know what books you are currently reading, review books you've already read, create a to-read list, and exchange suggestions with your friends. When you finish a book, you can also take fun trivia quizzes or list your book in the book swap so you can trade it for something new!
What do you think about the new Penguin Threads Deluxe Classics? Do you put any thought into what your books look like?

Did you grow up on Shel Silverstein? What other books/authors remind you of your childhood? I want to hear from you!

15 February 2011

"What Are You?": Shades of Grey, Part I

Can you recall the first time you realized a difference between yourself and someone else? Until this point in childhood, we know people only as Mommy, Daddy, Teacher, Friend; there are no distinguishing features.
For me, it was probably around first grade. One of my classmates asked me a question which I have been hearing all my life ever since. We were intently digging for earthworms in the playground sandbox, talking about our favorite colors and what we hoped would be in our lunchboxes, when she dropped a bomb on my innocent world.

"So,what are you?"

Honestly, I don't remember what my initial response was that time. But I eventually realized she was trying to figure out my ethnicity. My mom is Black. My dad is White. So, what was I? Clueless.

See the hair and the sass on the left? You guessed it.
And on the right? My sister.
That was the first instance of many when navigating a bi-racial childhood was awkward or confusing.
After school, I marched out of that classroom and demanded some answers from Mom and Dad. Imagine me. Three feet tall, all curls, and a whole lot of sass.

After my parents calmed me down, they explained to me this alien concept of racial differences, and that i was mixed, or bi-racial, and that meant I got the best of both worlds. I liked that idea. For Mother's Day that year, I gave my mom my Crayola Family Portrait, complete with her face in Mahogany, Dad's in Peach, and mine in Raw Sienna.  This was before the advent of People Colors.

The conversation I had with my parents that day built the foundation for my personal identity throughout the rest of my life.  I'm thankful for the literal and figurative gift of both worlds that my parents gave me.

Time Magazine's Healthland got me thinking about these issues, as the website has featured a lot of talk about mixed-race kids lately.

One article cites studies that show most mixed-race kids (particularly half-black, half-white or half-hispanic, half-white)  strongly self-identify with their minority race because outside perceptions often box them in that group, anyway. Another indicates that this concept of the "forced-choice dilemma" is outdated, and suggests that today's mixed kid is more well-adjusted when she embraces her blended heritage.

The article that really got my eyebrows raising was published today. The article speculates about whether race should be considered in custody determination, since racial identity can serve as a driving force for social issues in a child's life; it especially highlighted the potential custody battle between Halle Berry and her child's father, Gabriel Aubry. The article referred to Halle Berry's upcoming March cover story in Ebony, where she has been quoted saying [about her daughter, Nahla] "I feel she's black. I'm black and I'm her mother and I believe in the one-drop theory." 

Halle's March Ebony Cover

All I could think was "Oh. Halle. For so long, you have been my mixed-girl champion. You were my looks-like-me in the magazines as a teen. Please don't set us back like this."  Needless to say, Ebony can count on at least one more magazine sale in March. I have to give my girl a chance to explain herself.

My lunch-time reading left me with a lot of questions today. Who's White? Who's Black? Who's Mixed? Who knows?

It also left me with a sense of gratitude for the gift my parents gave me. Although I may have to answer it repeatedly, I never again have to ask the question "What am I?"

27 January 2011

Surpassing Educational Boundaries: Criminal Intent?

The Internet is buzzing about President Obama's most recent State of the Union address, wherein he emphasized the importance of improving primary and secondary education in addressing social and economic issues and ensuring a better future for America. 

Sounds like a plan.

The unfortunate truth is that, not only is America as a whole lagging behind in education, some schools and districts don't have the money or resources to meet even minimal standards. The facts are well-known. Not all schools are created equal. Schools in poverty-stricken, low-income areas often face issues with violence and crime, and usually have lower test scores and dismal retention rates. In fact, according to an article in the Huffington Post, about 15% of schools account for over 50% of dropouts, the majority of those being Latinos and African Americans.  Although it's nowhere near impossible, this means the odds are stacked against our next Black president hopefuls.

One Ohio mother was recently jailed for trying to even that playing field for her children. Kelley Williams-Bolar lives in the projects of Akron, OH. She has been sending her children to school in a nearby suburban public school district for nearly three years. The students' grandfather lived in the more affluent district, and their mother used his address on school documents. The district hired a private investigator who confirmed the actual address of the students.

She has since been convicted of falsifying records, a felony charge for which she will serve 10 days in jail and 180 hours of community service.  The sentence sounds like a slap on the wrist in comparison to the original 10-year prison sentence, but the felony charge will remain on the mother's record, limiting her employment opportunities and probably barring her from a career in teaching .

Sounds like cyclical injustice to me.

I understand that the law is black-and-white. What Williams-Bolar did is clearly fraud; that cannot be disputed. However, we should be examining not only the "criminal activity" but the system that drove her to it. Something is flawed here.

Time Magazine Article
Change.org Article
Show Me Campaign