Creative Writer’s Readings 11/18/12

Explaining White Man’s Burden to a Colored 5 Year Old.

“That’s not for me” the boy explained.

He’d been reading the development wheel, and  I’d been co-opting that as a teachable moment.  I incorporated the guilt training I’d had as a child, showing him that he not only could, but should be dressing himself in the morning.  [At this point the motivation has had to be  external].

“Why doesn’t this apply to you?”

“It says ‘her’ not him.  I’m a boy.”

The boy reads well.  Thank his mother.  And he never reacts in public when good, kind-hearted, salt- of- the- earth bastards call him “she,” “her,” or “sweetheart.”

He doesn’t have the required crew-cut of the sons of his mother’s people. But it doesn’t soothe him to say he’s just to pretty for a boy.  That’s like saying he needs scars.

“It’s because back when your grandfather grew up, and until I was a teen-ager, it was standard to use the masculine, man, pronoun for non-gender specific…”

“What?” He says that a lot.

“People used ‘he’ or ‘him’ when they meant it could be either a boy or a girl and they couldn’t be sure.  People stopped doing that.”

He scowls benignly.  “That was not good. ”

I continue, “No. So in child education material – books and stuff – written for teachers, writers use “she” or “her”  as a not specific… when you don’t know if it is a boy or girl.  When it could be either.  So how do you feel about that?”

“That’s not good.” His scowl  less benign.

My dad always said, “I wish I knew now what I knew then, when I was younger.”  I’d always ask him to explain it to me, but he said he couldn’t.  It irritated me that he wouldn’t try, so I figure talking to the boy like he’s part of a college discourse community  – in that dialect and register – may not be optimal, but has to be better than not trying. Right?  And only negligibly passive-aggressive.

So I explained.

“you know how people who want to practice Social Darwinism tend not to believe in evolution?”


“OK, so…you know how tattooists say Asians have the thinnest skins, but they endure the worst working conditions?”


“You know how they say blue-eyed people make the best snipers”


“You know how lying only works if you don’t do it?”


“You know how we had that talk about why we don’t refer to people by their skin color?”

“Like cousin Nee-sha?”

“Yes. Some people have black skin, but if you put a label on a person, it’s bad.  You label someone, you negate them.  If you don’t talk about them you also deny their existence.  So that’s what people do.”


“You know how 2 wrongs don’t make a right?


“Well, three lefts will.”

At this point my wife asks, “How much of that do you think he understood?  All he hears is ‘blah, blah, blah.’  ”

But I’m a teacher.  I’m thrilled he pretends to understand. I’m hoping he can explain it to me someday.