My mother, who is an otherwise mentally stable white woman of sixty-eight, with a liberal political and religious upbringing, has now taken to carrying racial minorities in her handbag.
"Boy, did I ever score at the thrift store today," she tells me yesterday on the phone, her voice booming with pride and good fortune. "I found a whole bag of Homies."
Me: "A whole bag of what?"
Mom: "Homies! They're a bunch of gangster people. Some of them are Hispanic and some are African American. They're all different, and I have an entire bag of them."
Me: "And you bought them because...?"
Mom: "Mikalh loves them! I pointed out to him that they have dark skin like he does. I thought he should have them to play with."
O.K. My mother thinks that my sweet six year-old Native American son needs tiny gangsters to play with. This makes total sense.
"I'm going to make a scene with them," my sixth-grader Devin says later with enthusiasm. "Look! It's a shooting!"
"Something about this seems deeply problematic, in a way that I can't quite define," I explained to mom.
"Just look at them," she exclaimed with delight, her outstretched cupped hands full of tiny hoodlums. "This one's name is D.G. He's a Mexican!"
Me: "How do you know he's not Guatemalan?" I challenged her.
Mom: "He is holding a Mexican flag, Tara."
Me: "It's like 'My Best Friend is Black' elevated to some completely screwed up new level. 'I love Hispanic Americans! I have one in my purse!'"
Mom: "You're the only one who thinks this is weird."
Me: "Devin, you don't think this is weird?"
Devin: "They're Homies, Mom. I'm fine with it."
Mom: "I think they're wonderful. They should make a set of Unitarians, too. And a set of Mormons!"
Devin: "She spent two hours on the internet searching for their names, you know."
Me: "Well, that's even sicker."
Mom: "This one is Perico. That's Da Foo and this is Live Wire."
Me: "I'm going not going to talk about them anymore, Mom. You just wait 'til Rowan sees this."
However, when my unusually sarcastic and satirical fourteen-year came home to find my mother and Devin playing happily with gangland figurines on the dining room table, he was unperturbed.
Me: "This doesn't bother you? It isn't weird that she has a bag of gangsters in her purse that she is playing with?"
Rowan: "They're Homies, Mom."
Finally, though, when my husband saw her with them this morning at our breakfast table, a look of bemused discomfort crossed his face.
"There's something about this that's disturbing," he said.
So there's that final additional wrinkle to the already complicated situation of race relations: middle-aged white people who carry toy Mexicans around in their handbags. Proof of a post-racial society–or just deeply fucking weird?