Wednesday Addams and Cultural Appropriation

Juniper came home last night and told me she was going to be “an Indian” today.

Nope.

Nope nope.

I wasn’t aware that they still had kiddos dressing up as pilgims and Native Americans for Thanksgiving. I know that teaching Thanksgiving at the elementary level is a fine line type of situation and I’m not passing judgement. Lord knows I wake up moderately stressed and irritated just with two little ones. So, hands down, teachers are my heros.

But I couldn’t deal with hearing her say that she was dressing up as “an Indian.”

And, probably in large part because of their father’s charges, I’ve been absolutely straight up with them about the less than fun realities of life. And I think that honoring a child’s intelligence by assuming that they’re able to understand big things is the very best practice.

“So June,” I said to her, “imagine that you’re in your classroom. And everything’s going great and you’re having a good day and everyone’s pretty happy and everything is basically good. And then imagine that the class next door comes into your room. And they don’t call first and they don’t give you a chance to get ready, and they start using all your stuff and eating everyone’s lunch, and when you get mad about it and try to stand up for yourselves, they lock you in the closet.”

She looked a little horrified.

I mean, I felt bad. Sure I did.

But it should be horrifying.

“That’s the real story of the pilgrims and the indigenous people in this country. That’s what really happened.”

Yes. My five year old knows the word indigenous.

“Sometimes we want to dress up and pretend to be people we’re not. And that’s fun, right,” I went on.

She nodded.

“But the clothes that indigenous people wore were very important to their culture. And if we just put them on to be silly and make light of it, that isn’t super respectful of them or their culture.”

I know, you guys. I sound awful.

I knew, even as I was saying it, and as I watched her smile fade more and more I was stuck in a terrible ambivalence. I do not enjoy ruining my childens’ fun. But this felt too important to drop. We learn right and wrong as children. The things we learn earliest in life we learn most fully.

I wanted her to understand that cultural appropriation is wrong, and also why. And I think she did.

But, because I also don’t believe in trying to control my kids, I followed up.

“You can dress up if you want to. It’s completely up to you. But I want you to understand the factual background of this holiday and the importance of being sensitive to other people’s cultures. We aren’t entitled to dress up that way. It may seem like we are, but we’re not.”

This morning, she asked me to write an email to her teacher. “I just want to be Juniper,” she told me. She was afraid her teacher would be mad at her. And, as I wrote to her teacher, I was afraid she might be a little offended at me.

But it’s more important to me that my kids get sensitivity than that she go with the flow. And that means being willing to say the words for her until she gains the fluency to say them for herself.

That’s what I admire so much about Morticia Addams. She’s one of my parenting role models. And I love Wednesday’s approach to being forced to participate in a propagandized version of Thanksgiving as well. So here’s a Thanksgiving clip.

I mean this clip is exaggeration for the sake of some very dark comedy. It’s a gray area. But.

Life’s a gray area I guess.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.

Update: right around the three minute mark, there’s a kid whose face and entire body are oriented off center and, as Wednesday delivers what can only be described as her Thanksgiving manifesto, he sort of looks to be rocking. Very slightly. And it just commands my entire attention, through that whole skit. Those little things, seeing the body language, facial expressions and general comportment of characters who probably assume that no one is watching, is I think one of the most beautiful, precious moments we can ever witness by simple virtue of its rarity.

It’s often incongruous to the spirit of the scene, and probably less influenced by the ego (layer of a person’s psyche that bridges the gap between his internal and external worlds, as opposed to its colloquialized use, to describe a character trait like narcissism) and therefore, often a manifestation of a more authentic, autonomic self. When we think that no one’s watching, or at least watching someone other than ourselves, the whole mechanism of social acting just sort of goes into sleep mode and, because humans are constantly “being,” the more primitive, automatic side comes to the fore to take the reins for a bit, and we catch a fleeting glimpse of a person’s simplest, most organic way of being. I love to watch people sitting on park benches or in the terminals of airports, not reading, not texting, not playing candy crush, but just existing, entirely, with their whole minds.

Having transcended the epidemic need  for endless stimulation.

No fraction of their consciousness whored out to anything but the mighty task of being still, of body AND of mind, and content with being alone and switched off in the midst of the world’s endless, indefatigable cacophony.

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