Lesson #97: Assume Awkward People Are Awkward, Not Racists. And Other Thoughts.

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Dear Blue and Wheels,

This marks the first time I’ve written to the both of you. Wheels, you haven’t been officially introduced to breathing oxygen yet, but you’re almost there. We cannot wait to meet you, and judging by how you keep pushing on your mother’s pelvis, we think you think the same.

I wanted to share with you both some thoughts on race. It’s a sensitive topic right now, and I suspect it will remain sensitive until you’re reading this. Probably beyond that time, as well.

Being biracial, you two are going to have more than your fair share of questions about your heritage. Don’t be outraged. That’s a very common reaction, and it’s usually one that’s born out of opportunity as much as it is genuine emotion. What I mean by that is outrage, whether real or not, is often amplified when it’s expressed on the internet. Everybody gets outraged about everything now, and there are better ways to handle situations where you might feel offended.

You’ll both probably have people ask the following questions:

“Where are you from?”

“What are you?”

“Can I touch your hair?”

Etc, etc.

Try not to be offended. Unless they’re being blatantly racist and bigoted, but people that go that route tend to not be subtle about it. Hence, blatant. Most of the time, people are one or more of three things: ignorant, curious and awkward. Indulge them. Let them get to know you.

Not only will you gain and maintain friends this way, but you’ll help encourage them in the healthiest way to talk about race.

What tends to mostly happen with talking about race is that people don’t talk about race. And when they do, it always falls along these carefully choreographed lines that follow very conventional rules that distinguish between what you can say and what you can’t. These kinds of conversations usually end up being very shallow and very meaningless. No, the best way to talk is to be open to questions about race. Again, indulge dumb questions gracefully. Don’t make passive aggressive comments. Don’t be snarky. Don’t run to the internet and be outraged. Let them get to know you, and eventually you move past race.

Don’t let anyone tell you they don’t see skin color or race when they first meet you. They’re lying. Everyone sees race, and that’s okay. How else is the cashier at the Latino grocery store going to know to speak to you in Spanish or English after looking at you for a millisecond?

Race only disappears after you know a person for a long time. I can honestly say that there are times when I forget your mother is Asian, and I know there are times she forgets I’m white. But we only got to that point because we struggled through a lot of assumptions about the other person we didn’t know we had. So see race, because it informs you about culture, and culture always informs you about a person you want to get to know.

And Wheels, I can guarantee you that you will receive more dumb questions than Blue. People will probably think it’s flattering to ask you questions about your appearance. You’ll probably think it’s invasive and horrific after you hear the same question for the thousandth time. Try to be patient, but if a boy ever tells you that you look exotic, you have my permission to drop kick his molars into the back of his throat. Set a precedent. That sort of thing cannot stand.

Love,

Dad

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Why You Should Always Be Nice To Girls

nicetogirls

Dear Blue,

This week, my math class has been reviewing proportions, ratios and percentages. Since this is fresh in my mind, I’d like to take the time to explain some truths of life using math.

What truths of life? Actually, it’s just one truth, albeit a really important one.

Be nice to girls.

That’s it. Be nice to girls. It isn’t that hard, but it is a lesson that will probably need to be taught to you repeatedly as you grow older. Hopefully not too much, since your mother will not stand for anything less than absolute and complete devotion to the long-lost art of chivalry. Of course, she’s right. Yes. Absolutely. No doubt. 100% correct. You should be nice to girls. Always and at all times.

I’m a realist, though, Blue, and this is one of those absolutes that is incredibly tempting to defy. Your mother’s words of caution and heated reprimands won’t always be so persuasive in the heat of those temptations, so I’m going to throw some math your way.

Let’s say you have 20 girls, and you decide you’re going to say something mean. There are all kinds of diabolical, fork-tongued turns of phrase you can hurl at them to achieve the intended result. In order to do the most damage possible, you would more than likely personalize your insults. But we don’t know any of these 20 hypothetical girls, so let’s just go with the generic, “You’re fat.”

Tell a girl, “You’re fat,” and here is what is likely to happen. Spoiler alert: Nothing good will come of this.

Out of the 20, 3 have low self esteem and will, oddly enough, try to be around you more. They will annoy you and only make you want to say more mean things in the hopes that at least one mean thing you say will drive them away. This will be an extremely difficult task, and in the end, you will not like the way you feel.

4 of those 20 girls will bear your insults quietly. Don’t think that means your slander carries no weight, because it does. These girls will curse you in their diaries. They will draw your visage with prominent and charming words like DIE circling around your stick-figured head. This level of hate is not something to be trifled with, Blue.

So far, that’s 9 out of the 20. 10 of the remaining 11 will fall into the most prominent category. This group changes as you get older. Before puberty, this is the group that will attempt to end your life, provided they are bigger than you. Most will not attempt to do this if you are bigger than them, but don’t think there are no repercussions. Girls are exponentially more advanced in the fine art of interpersonal relationships than our species, Blue, and they are keenly aware of an idea long before most boys.

That idea is reputation. They learn about this notion at a very young age, and they use it as currency. A good reputation is of high value and nets you a circle of friends. A bad one means you get really strong legs from having to swing yourself every day at recess. They know the system relies on gossip and information, and they also know that keeping the reputation of boys exclusive to their inner circle of girl friends only hikes up the value. So don’t be dumb, Blue. Your popularity among their kind is critically dependent on garnering a good reputation, and one comment, ONE COMMENT, can do more damage than a missed payment on your credit score.

That’s 19 of 20, which leaves one girl. One out of the 20. There is a 5% chance you will ruin into this girl should you say something mean, and trust me when I say you do not want to risk that 5%.

A long time ago, before I knew of this risk, I decided to say something mean to a girl. Let’s call her Elle. One day I decide it would be the height of hilarity to say something mean to her. It wasn’t exactly a well reasoned decision. It was in the heat of the moment, and there was laughter and merriment, which I wanted to continue. I remember we were at church, loitering around in the evening just before youth group. This was in the early teenage years, the time when boys and girls start to separate into distinct spheres of social class. It was a weekly routine to engage in playful experimentations with flirting, a place to test out what works and what doesn’t . So there we were, my group over here. Her group, over there. We’re like packs of dogs barking at each other but never leaving the safety of the circle. Elle is over there dropping well-timed, clever insults to each of the boys in turn. She gets to me, yells out something, something, something. Then I decide to bravely leave the group, and call out to Elle, “Yeah, at least I’m not fat!”

The temperature in the room drops 10 degrees in an instant. I have crossed a line and ended up in adolescent Antarctica. Not a good place to be, especially when hurricane Elle whips around and begins to bear down on you. I do the only thing that seems reasonable at the time. I run. I don’t get halfway across the gym before I think to myself, “Huh. Why am I running? Just take your medicine and move on, Mike.”

I turn around. Elle is right there, rage steaming out her nostrils. I think it’s going to be a punch. You know, one of those sharp-knuckled, hate guided missiles right into the crevasse between biceps and bone. It makes your arm go numb for a minute but it’s an acceptable punishment for a generic and completely untrue comment.

This is not what happens. Instead, Elle kicks with her all her strength, lifting me off the ground and knocking my testicles back up into my pelvis.

There are a lot of pains to experience in this world, Blue. I can honestly say that you, being male, will never have to experience some of the worst of them. Getting hit in the balls doesn’t register that high on the list for its severity, but in terms of uniqueness, it’s up there. It’s the nausea, I think. After the initial wave of pain passes, the nausea sets in hard. You want to puke, but at the same time, you can’t breathe, so you want to do that, too. And the worst part of the whole ordeals is that it is generally accepted that you deserved it and no sympathy comes your way. None whatsoever as you lay there, halfway between vomiting and suffocating. But that’s where you are when a few thousand of your gametes are annihilated because you didn’t weigh your percentages correctly.

So don’t do that, Blue. Just be nice. 100% of both females and your balls will thank you for it.

-Dad

Water And Coal

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Dear Blue,

Your mother and I celebrate our two year anniversary today. It hardly seems like yesterday when we were at The Sportsmen Lodge, saying our vows, sandwiched in between a Homecoming Dance and a filming session for Parks and Recreation. The following story is how I proposed to your mother. It’s a bit cheesy, but she said yes, so…you wouldn’t exist if this didn’t exist. Enjoy.

-Dad

For water and coal, every day for them was a day chock full of fate. In their own special and unique ways, water and coal played their roles in the world. They had purpose. They had utility. They had importance. Then one day, water and coal met. And fate took a different turn.

“Hello,” water said as she danced around coal.

“Hey,” blurted coal.

“Do you know me?”

“I’ve heard you fall.”

“And I’ve seen you smoke.”

Coal was intrigued. This water didn’t look like the sounds he’d heard. Deep in the earth, he’d only heard her trickles and groans as she squeezed her way through the darkness. Here, in the daylight, water shimmered and sparkled. Free in ways he had never known.

For her own part, water was equally intrigued with coal. She had seen the factories and the deep, dark caverns full of blackness where he came from. But here, in the daylight, coal had something to him. A deepness inside the blackness that spoke of a solemnity water remembered from long ago.

“What’s so special about you?” water asked.

“Even though I come from darkness, I can create light,” coal said boastfully. He struck himself against a rock and burned into an ember.

Delighted, water laughed. “I can do that too!” and she carried herself into the clouds. The clouds crackled and then spit out a lightning bolt. A nearby tree burst into flames.

“From my light comes warmth,” coal said. He hopped into a pit, and a small fire began to glow.

Not to be outdone, water laid flat over the fire, and boiled into a cloud of steam. “I can be warm too!” she said.

“I can be powerful,” coal boasted, pointing to a nearby city.

“So can I,” water countered, pointing towards the dam along the river. “But I bet you can’t do this.”

Water rose into the clouds. The air grew cold and a chilly wind gusted. Coal scanned the skies, looking for water. All he saw were tiny flecks of shiny crystals. Each one sparkled like a jewel, more beautiful than the last.

“Water…where did you go?”

“I’m right here!” Water said from one of the falling snowflakes. Coal was entranced. He has never seen anything so beautiful. “What can you do?”

Coal sat there quietly, thinking, before it struck him. “Follow me,” he told water.

He squeezed into the darkness of the earth, in between the tiniest of seams. The heat and pressure building and building.

Water dutifully followed, slinking her way through the darkness.

“Coal?”

“I’m right here. Don’t be afraid.”

There was a deep rumble. Unable to go anywhere, water rose out of the ground, high into the sky.

When she settled and stopped trembling, she called out, “Coal?”

Nothing.

“Coal? Where are you?”

“I’m right here.”

She looked down into the mud and saw something sparkling. It looked like nothing she had ever seen. Colors danced though it. Light seemed to shine from it and though it at the same time. She had never seen anything so beautiful.

“Coal? Is that you?”

“Yes,” coal said bashfully. “But please, call me diamond.”

Water smiled.

And the two danced together forever.