Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Dear TAN: The Case of the Watermelon Dress

I once started a neverending interview, but now we're switching to a "Dear TAN" feature. Send your questions/letters to theassimilatednegro [at] gmail [dot] com.

In this edition: Moisturize returns! What's more important: style or stereotype?

hello tan, i would like to pre-empt this question with a request for "no flames please" because its a sincere question... thanks in advance.

some background: as you know i am white, my husband is white, and we have adopted 4 of our 5 children. 2 are korean, one is indian (india, not native american) and our baby was born in africa. 3 have cerebral palsy, one a heart defect and some emotional issues.

we try really hard to honor our children's birth cultures and learn as much as we can so that we can pass it on to them. but taking care of their special needs generally takes precedent.

my question...as ridiculous as it may sound.... is this: with 5 kids, people give us a lot of clothes that are still in good condition that their children have outgrown. we appreciate it and we are not picky and a lot of them are really nice. one of the bags of clothes for our little girl josie, who is black, had a dress that had watermelon on it. it was a really cute dress and i wouldnt have thought a thing about putting it on my korean or indian born girls (even though nilam, who is indian has nearly the same skin tone as josie). but something screamed no no no!!! remembering vaguely a prejudiced stereotype about watermelons but unsure exactly its origin or what it entailed. i told my husband...there is no way im putting this on her to wear in public. he was like "why? its cute" i gave him a "duh" look and he was like "what?" he hadnt heard of that stereotype and thought i was crazy. so i googled it and found over 1,000,000 entries about black people and watermelon.....ugh... he said if we do not have a bad intent, why do we care what people think. and i said first of all we dont want black people who see us to think we are making fun of her, and secondly we dont want to provide fodder for some ignorant idiot white person to make fun.....and then i would be jailed for having to kill them.....

the answer actually is simple.. the dress disappears and walla no more issue. but deep down i dont want to perpetuate a hurtful harmful stereotype. is ignoring them right? is fighting them right? how can something as benign as fruit become so painful when used to degrade someone and how do you take away that power? any thoughts are appreciated. rachel


  1. I'm Moved. Kudos Rachel =]

    i'm black and... i'll wear a watermelon dress any day. However, your concern is valid. Thank you for not putting a watermelon dress on your sweet little girl. It sounds like you will raise a sound girl who will someday boast a watermelon dress proudly and of her own accord =]

  2. I too, am moved. If it were me, brownskinned American, dressing my brownskinned niece, it wouldn't be an issue to us; I probably would have never thought of it, even though I know the stereotype well.

    I may not have even thought of it, had I run into you on the street and saw you with your daughter.

    But I know someone would have thought of it, and someone may have said something. But then again... they may not.

    Last year, my family went to the big Pow Wow in Foxwoods. We always stay a few days. As a family, we range in various shades of brown from redbrown, to coffee-with-half-and-half, to milk chocolate, to Chocolate Decadence Brownie. And that last shade, that would be PerpetualMotion, the littlest one.

    I invited a freind, Jewish by birth to come to the Pow Wow with us and stay in our hotel room, and early the next morning she kindly took PerpetualMotion (who had insistently awaken at 7AM), along with her daughter for a walk through the Casino so PM's mom could catch an extra wink. The visual contrast between her creamy skin and blue eyes, and PM's Chocolate Decadence, is extreme.

    She came back disturbed. She said she had never encountered so many hostile stares---particularly from AfricanAmericans, in her life, prompting her to say loudly "Lets go back to the room and see if your mommy is up."

    People are stupid. All people.

    I ignore stereotypes most of the time--refuse to acknowledge them. And because I ignore them, I am sometimes confronted with them right up in my face, because stereotypes are the types of things that demand attention be paid to them. So when confronted sometimes I fight, sometimes I just look at the person like they have two heads and let them know their ignorance is showing. (And ignorance comes in all shades.)

    I do appreciate your concern... but you know what? If the dress is cute, and it fits her and it looks good... let her wear it. And if someone says something stupid, your defiance is simply that you refused to be cowed by other's ignorance.

    Personally, the more we cater to the stereotype, the more it wins.

    Let her wear the dress, and dare ANYBODY to say anything.

  3. Toss the dress out. As the first commenter said, she can be a confident woman in a similar dress some day. In the meantime, people are cruel and I wouldn't recommend taking an action that could increase stress on a family already full of kids with emotional issues.

    You're superior to people who would talk about the dress whether your daughter wears it or not. But your day out with your family probably isn't as fun.

  4. let the child wear the dress.. if people can't see how open and warm your hearts are to adopt children from all over the world with disabilities.. they, NOT you, have the problem.

  5. Anonymous9/11/2007

    thanks for your support and sharing your stories. much, much, appreciated.

    true our outings always draw stares and can be a bit taxing, but we try for all of our kids to have fun on their level. they dont see themselves as different and we treat them as such. i probably wont put the dress on her. it just hurts me that its even an issue. she is such a sweet beautiful baby.

  6. Love you, Rachel, Love you TAN...

    These are important issues and great debates...

    Love from your Indian friend,

  7. I know my grandmother had a lovely linen dress with different fruits on it, and a big slice of watermelon was one of them!

    I think I agree with the majority of the posters here when I say, yeah, teach her about herself and her/our culture, and let her wear her watermelon with pride as an adult!


  8. Anonymous9/16/2007

    That's like the Brady Bunch meets the Watts riots all in the same house.

  9. Anonymous9/20/2007

    the only riots we have in our house are over toys and who gets the blue cup (everyone's favorite)


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