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The “White” Wiz

The "White" Wiz (source: San Franciso Sentinel)

A few weekends ago when I had run out of activities for the girls and I to partake in together, I passed the local high school on the way home from swimming lessons. The drama department was putting on a production of The Wiz. The Babies must have seen the movie starring Diana Ross, Michael Jackson and Nipsy Russell about 30 times with their mom. Not the greatest movie but hey, they love it. (I saw the Broadway musical for my fifth birthday and I still remember how awesome it was.) Now I don’t keep a running tally of their cinematic viewings. These numbers are more guesses gauged from how well The Babies know the theme songs of movies and how often they sing them in the car or the bathtub. The only thing in heaver rotation than “He’s The Wizard!” right now is “It’s A Hard Knocked Life” from the Annie movie. Maybe they’ve seen Annie 40 times.

After seeing the sign for the play, I thought beautiful! I had mentally killed another few hours of entertaining the girls. I would just take them to see The Wiz. When I excitedly shouted to the girls, “Who wants to see The Wiz at the high school?”, C-Thunda predictably says, “Meeeeeeeee!!” But then T-One party-poopingly says, “Dad, you can’t take us. Mom is going to take us next week.” I must have given out a sigh of disappointment or something because C-Thunda immediately consoled me by letting me know I could take them both to see the “white” Wiz instead.

“The ‘white’ Wiz? Baby, what’s the ‘white’ Wiz?”

“You know. The one with the white people in it.”

“Ahhhhh.” 

Mind you, C-Thunda is 3-years-old. While I found it interesting C didn’t call The Wiz (you know, the one with the Black people in it), The “Black” Wizard of Oz but instead called the original movie The “White” Wiz, her description made me uneasy nonetheless. See, I rarely talk about people in terms of white and black with The Babies. My general (and scientifically proven) viewpoint is everyone, yes, everyone is brown. So for C to describe anyone in terms of color surprised me. As MetroDad correctly points out:

“One thing I love about little kids is that they don’t think in terms of race or the color of their skin. They pretty much judge them solely on their ability to relate to poop jokes, Dora the Explorer, and farts.”

The reason I was uneasy is because I realized C-Thunda was not necessarily learning about race and all its social implications from me. She was learning from the world at large. And it’s no telling what she’ll learn out there. If at all possible I’d like to spare The Babies from hearing psuedo compliments like, “You’re handsome for an Asian guy” or requests like “Can I touch your hair?” or even so-called self-empowering statements like “I’m a strong black woman”. I look forward to the day when The Babies will just be able to simply say, “I’m strong”. Or not have to say it at all, just know it. On the other hand, I don’t want them so desensitized to race that they succumb to the liberal idiocy of “I don’t see color.” While it is my hope we will continue to see the ever declining significance of race, I am not optimistic that it will be totally insignificant.

I agree with MetroDad in that we have to stand up to racist thoughts and actions. But we also have to check that our own children have a balanced view of race. They should know that race is important and not important at the same. It both exists (as a social construct) and doesn’t exist (as a scientific fact). It should be talked about openly when needed but should be the last thing on anyone’s mind. When it’s all said and done, perhaps The Babies will be able to recognize and acknowledge Judy Garland’s 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz by some other distinction besides The “White” Wiz.

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8 comments

1 Amelia { 04.07.09 at 3:03 pm }

Its really hard because like you said, its a big world out there. Our kids’ peers will have more of an influence on their beliefs than we will as parents. My daughter wants to go to Howard University for the sole reason its an all black college. We went to Rutgers to visit and her only concern was “where are the black people?” I told her she is not in a world with ONLY black folks. And although Rutgers is offering more money, she ain’t trying to hear it. Their thought patterns & beliefs are going to be formed on their own from their own experiences.

2 Mocha Dad { 04.09.09 at 10:06 am }

@Amelia Let your daughter go to Howard (disclosure: Alumnus c/o ’94). It was a great experience for me. The school gave me a complete sense of self which helped me to better interact with people of all races.

3 Amelia { 04.09.09 at 11:24 am }

I am Mocha Dad. In fact, we sent off the enrollment fee this week. Today I am sending off the Legacy Scholarship acceptance letter. Ho hum. My baby is leaving me :-( But I want the best experiences for her. The experiences I never had for myself. I raised her to be the person she is and I’m so proud of her. Thanks Mocha Dad for your input :-) Much appreciated.

4 Mitch McDad { 04.10.09 at 4:08 pm }

Great post. As a white man, I must admit I have a slight preference for The Wiz, though, just read this post has already got “Easy On Down The Road” stuck in my head.

I always had a slight aversion to the “White Wiz” because the Tin Man freaked me out.

5 Ben { 04.10.09 at 4:23 pm }

@Mitch: Thanks. I have to say both had parts that kinda freaked me out as a kid. I hated the motorcycle monkey/apes or whatever they were in The Wiz. My face is contorted now just thinking about it.

6 Valerie { 04.10.09 at 7:42 pm }

Its interesting how children perceive things my sister had been married over 20 yeears to my brother in law whom is black their kids are mixed, one is blonde, Sydney, the other is darker their last name is Blackwell. One day my sister was asking my youngest niece whom is blone what everyone in the familys name was. Sydney said Bobby Blackwell for her dad, Olivia Blackwell for her sister (whom is darker than she is) and when asked her moms name Anna Whitewell and her name was Sydney Whitewell funny but until then we didn’t even know she noticed the color of people. Kids notice everything but the do not put the drama and history behind it until they learn it…….Hopefully they learn about love and we are all gods children at home.

7 Wenylla { 04.13.09 at 12:24 pm }

Kids are honest. At 3 years old makes you wonder how she knew it was the “White” Wiz rather than tan like most children at that age would describe.

8 Mr. Man { 04.20.09 at 11:40 pm }

Ben-it’s tough. I first heard my kids (mainly The Boy
)be gin to talk in terms of race a few years ago around the age of six. It was stunning to me because that is not how Adi and define ourselves. It was important to me to reinforce the fact that his “blackness” was not the most important thing, but his “humanness”.

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