Thursday, November 20, 2014

Representation matters

Off and on over the last week, I've had this conversation, sometimes with myself, sometimes with others. It feels like one long conversation that ebbs and flows.

Yes, it's about representation.

What started this particular conversation was the story spreading through Facebook about Dr. Myiesha Taylor, an African American female physician who loves the Disney show Doc McStuffins and who Doc's mother has been named after.  The news is old, but making the rounds again.

Doc McStuffins is one of the shows my boys like to watch. They have never been bothered that the main character is a girl. They don't care that she is black. They just like the show. They like seeing how she fixes the toys.

Representation matters. There are many, many articles that talk about how important it is for kids to see people like themselves on tv, in movies, even in books. (See here, here, here, here, and here for just a few.)

I think it's pretty obvious that little girls seeing women in positions of power, or even just as human characters, is important. The same with minorities (ethnic, sexual, etc) seeing characters like themselves that are not caricatures.

Whoopi Goldberg pretty famously looked up to Nichelle Nichols, realizing that black women could be anything after seeing Lt. Uhura on Star Trek.

But it's also important for people to see characters unlike themselves. Hollywood seems to have a tough time making movies with female protagonists that aren't romances. Forget about any non-white protagonists! Video games seem to have a similar problem. The excuse always seems to be that they aren't marketable. That audiences won't be able to identify with a hero who is not a white male.

And yet, a large portion of audiences already have to identify with protagonists who don't look like them, namely anyone who is not a white male. But white men are apparently so fragile they can't be expected to identify with any character that doesn't look exactly like them.

How insulting.

Chris and I have consciously tried to expose the boys to media with female protagonists and non-white protagonists. We look for books and shows with diverse characters. It's not always easy, but we try.

We also talk about the characters they see on tv. We ask them if the characters they see match up with the world around them. We live in a very white state, but they go to a school with a significant international population, so they recognize that not everyone looks like them. They notice when movies and tv shows have all male casts and know that women are half the population.

We think that's important. It's important because they live in a world with an incredible amount of diversity. They see and will see a lot of people not like them. And they need to have empathy and be able to understand that different lived experiences create different perspectives.

We want them to live in a world that is better than the one we live in now. The first step is spending a short amount of time seeing the world through someone else's eyes, even if only for 22 minutes while watching a tv show. Recognizing the humanity in other people creates a bridge to understanding.

Understanding and compassion. Empathy.

Representation matters.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


I woke up this morning thinking about my grandpa Gus, and two of my great-grandpas, Thomas Patrick and Ernie.
Portrait of Gus Caponi in WWII uniform
Gus Caponi, WWII
 We've been working on genealogy off and on for a number of years, but I hadn't really looked at the family tree much recently. But Saturday, when Chris's parents were here, he wanted to show them a few neat things he had found, so we pulled up our tree on Ancestry. And down the rabbit hole we went.
A full length snap shot of Ernest Simpson in WWI uniform.
Ernest Simpson, WWI
Add to that looking through old family photos last week, picking a selection to share with Sam's teacher (they are learning how things change and I have a LOT of old photos with old cars, old tvs, old clothes....). You can see why the past has been on my mind. 

And then today is Veterans' Day. 

Full length portrait of Thomas Patrick Cuber in WWI uniform.
Thomas Patrick Cuber, WWI

Both of my grandfathers served in WWII. Two of my great-grandfathers served in WWI. There have been one or two others in my family, like Gus's brother (more than one brother?). But military service hasn't been a big thing in my family, unlike Chris's family.

Portrait of Thomas Cuber in WWII uniform.
Thomas Cuber, WWII
Chris can trace his line back to the 1600s, to the first surviving white child born in the colony of Rhode Island. There have been many with military careers on his side of the family, dating back to the Revolutionary War. His father and grandfather both served in the Air Force.

I've always appreciated the folks who choose to serve. But those of my ancestors who served did so at times when the majority of the country was involved. They fought in the Great War, in the World Wars. 

But I woke up this morning thinking about Gus, and Ernie, and Thomas Patrick. Their pictures have been floating in my mind. We attended the Veterans' Day program at the boys' school, where each grade sang a patriotic song. The relatives attending who are veterans or current military were asked to come to the front and be recognized. A service medley was played on the piano as they walked to the stage, and their kids joined them. 

And it hit me in the feels. 

Thank you to all the service members, past, present, and future. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Bear Bear

Sam's class is investigating how/if things have changed. They are collecting artifacts from the past to compare to today.

I put together a few things to lend his teacher: a disc of old family pictures (lots of clothes from various eras, plus a few other gems), a couple buttons from when I was a kid, an old 3.5" floppy disc, a Happy Hollisters book, my well-loved Raggedy Andy, and.... Bear Bear.

Bear Bear is my Teddy bear from when I was a baby. He has a music box inside and used to play "Teddy Bear Picnic". The music box has been broken for years.

The boys discovered him a few years ago. From time to time, they play with him. Sometimes they choose him as their stuffed animal to sleep with. I'm glad Bear Bear is loved.

Wil snuggling with Bear Bear the Teddy bear
Wil and Bear Bear
Today I brought the bag of artifacts to school since I knew I would see Sam's teacher. She was thrilled to receive some items and promised she would send them home in a couple weeks when the class was done with them.

At dinner, I mentioned to Sam that I brought in a bag of artifacts since he knew he was supposed to bring some in. He asked what I sent, of course.

When I mentioned Bear Bear, Wil burst into tears. This wasn't just hurt feelings that I sent in something they liked. It wasn't disappointment.

He was sobbing. Inconsolably.

Because he loves Bear Bear ("He's my favorite bear!"). And he's afraid Bear Bear will never come home.

It took hugs, and promises that Bear Bear is just visiting, to calm him down.

And Sam, knowing his brother, went up to dig through the stuffed animal bin to find Wil's other favorites, which he asked for as soon as the tears subsided: Raf the giraffe, Cheeto the giraffe, Horsey, Cow, Kitty....

And we couldn't find Kitty.

After a desperate search (we found Kitty), Wil now has a pile of his favorites on his bed, ready to soften the tiny hole in his heart.

Meanwhile, I'm left with a tiny hole in my heart, because I didn't know how much Bear Bear meant to him or that he'd be so upset.