Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Thoughts on Race

For those of you interested in matters of race, especially as it relates to adoption...

Here's an interesting MSNBC video: Multiracial in America, featuring different types of families around the country- not adoption related, but still good.

Also, I saw this article yesterday from CNN.com (Do whites need training before parenting black children?) and it caught my eye because, as most of you know, we have been considering both Ethiopia and domestic African American adoption as alternatives to Vietnam. I think I was telling you in a previous post that we do have some serious concerns over how a black child would be accepted and treated in our small, not-at-all-diverse, Midwestern community (and, unfortunately, even by a few family members). Add that to the lack of resources/support available locally, and we worry that this path would not be the best fit for our family. More accurately, it may not be the best fit for the child.

It really is interesting (and unsettling) to consider the varying levels of racism that exist in this country. There seems to be this Racism Hierarchy that we are all aware of, but don't openly discuss. I was talking about all this recently with a woman I know. As I shared about my conflicted feelings on adopting a black child, and why I didn't have the exact same concerns when we were adopting Bri, her response was very telling.

She said, "Yes, but Brianna is still close enough to being white so you don't have to worry about that stuff with her. I don't think of Chinese as being really different from white... Do you?"

Close enough to being white...


Just for the record, being Chinese (or Asian) is not the same as being white. I know this because any government form I fill out tells me so. There is a separate box to check, so I'm fairly sure of my facts on this one. Ask any Asian person if they consider themselves to be "White."

And, may I go down a separate rabbit trail for just a second to say something about the use of the word "Asian?" If you do not know the exact ethnic background of an Asian individual, just say "Asian." Do not call them all Chinese. They are not all Chinese (and if you are sitting there thinking, "Same difference," then you are exactly the person to whom I am directing these remarks). Chinese and Asian are not interchangeable terms. I actually had to explain this to an adult once, who still seemed confused afterwards. Also, please erase the "O" word from your vocabulary. "Oriental" is an outdated term that is equally unappreciated. While it may have been considered acceptable in the past, now... not so much. It is antiquated at best, and perceived by many to be offensive and derogatory, even when you say it with the most innocent of intentions.

Okay. Back on track. As I've said before, some of the same people who fuss over my "adorable" Chinese daughter, would probably have horrible things to say about my black son- possibly behind our backs, and possibly not. Some of the same families who would allow their white sons to take my daughter to Prom, would throw a fit to see my black son on their doorstep waiting to escort their white daughters to the same dance. It's sad and disgusting, but it's true. And to choose not to acknowledge that, to pretend those problems don't exist, or to assume we could handle it and make everything "OK" for our child, to blindly jump into bringing a black child into our family just because we have no problem with it personally, feels like a selfish (and foolish?) choice that would affect my child's whole life.

My Chinese daughter faces racism in our community, too. She just doesn't know it yet, because it's "Nice Racism." She doesn't know that when someone asks if she's "a hard little worker," really smart, or if she's especially good at math/music (yes, that really happens), she is experiencing racism (For the record, she is not a hard worker, and even tends to cry when she has to do chores by herself. She is of normal intelligence, and struggles in a few areas in school. She does not have a super-human understanding of computers. Yes, she likes rice. So do I, though. She is a normal kid).

She is only just now beginning to realize that when she is singled out over her sister on a routine basis by someone who gushes on and on (until I'm vomiting in my mouth a little bit) about how adorable, tiny, cute, precious, and beautiful she is, it's based on the fact that she's the "different" one. While it's not overt racism, it is based on her race. Oh, yes it is (just in case you're sitting there thinking, "No, it's not." lol). Of course, she is absolutely adorable, precious, and beautiful, but think about it... How many strangers would approach her if she were not Chinese? Probably the same number as those who approach my beautiful, white daughter. Zero. Honestly, how often do you go out of your way to approach a stranger, just to compliment them on their beauty? How often do you stop and stare at an all-white family, forgetting everything your mama ever taught you about manners, allowing your head to turn and follow them as they pass, as if they're some kind of novelty act performing for your entertainment?

Tracy, at My Minivan Rocks, also posted on this topic the other day. You can read her thoughts here.

We haven't had to deal with negative racism too badly... yet. As a homeschooled kid, Bri hasn't yet faced any awful "playground comments." Once at a Bible study, during recess, a little boy started arguing with Livie about how Bri wasn't really her sister. Bri got pretty upset about that. It hurt her, but he wasn't a racist- just a confused little kid who couldn't see how they could be related.

A dear man at church came up to Bri shortly after bringing her home, patted her head and said, "Boy they sure do all look the same, don't they?" I was mortified, but at the same time I realized his intentions were not malicious. This man doesn't have a mean bone in his body, and I knew his remarks came more from ignorance and age than from the heart of a racist. Because of my love and respect for this man, I could easily overlook and forgive his comment. However, if anyone else would have said the same thing to me, or if Bri would have been old enough to understand and be hurt by it, I doubt I would have been so understanding.

We also get the occasional disapproving, icy glare from a passing stranger (many times those looks come from Asian people... Hmmm).

Michael had some stupid, teenage, hoodlum punk come up to him at school and ask, "You're the one with the chink for a sister, right?" This one is obviously racism, but neither Bri, nor I, were around to hear it (and thank God for that, or mommy may have been facing assault charges- I'm not a fan of this kid. Can you tell?).

A child at church once said something about Bri being Chinese (it was not a derogatory comment) and another girl became very defensive and told that child she "shouldn't say that." This was told to me by the mother of the defensive kid. She thought it was cute and sweet that her daughter was "protecting" Brianna. Protecting her from what, exactly? I assured the mom that Bri is aware of the fact that she is Chinese, and we do not consider it a bad word. I thought the whole thing was a little silly. Again, this isn't an example of being racist as much as just being racially confused. In our current climate of political correctness and tolerance, nobody ever knows what's allowed and what is not.

I know the day is coming when Bri will be fully confronted with the painful truth of racism, and the internal struggles that will come along with that. For an excellent post on this subject, by someone who lived (lives) it, read "The Skin I'm In" at Heart, Mind and Seoul. Paula also posted about the "O" word recently. Check that one out too, right here. If you're parenting or related to an Asian child, you should be reading Paula's blog. Sometimes her thoughts upset me, other times they challenge me, comfort me, educate me, humble me and break my heart... As an adoptee, I can often identify with her emotions, even though she and I come from two very different backgrounds and points of view. As a Caucasian mom of an Asian child, I sometimes leave her blog just feeling like a stupid white lady- lol! But I always appreciate her honesty, insight, and thought-provoking posts.

I, on the other hand, do not have any deep, meaningful thoughts or insights to share. I'm just a stupid white lady, in Spanx, trying to figure it all out. What about you? Anything to add on the subject?

6 comments:

Christina said...

This is interesting because I was just listening to talk radio and they were discussing that study/article and one guy was all freaking out because how dare anyone point out that white parents might not know everything they need to know to parent a black child. Well hello, the fact is I don't have a CLUE what it feels like to have someone taunt me because of the color of my skin or to be singled out in stores, or any of that... and frankly I wish there had been more training regarding racial issues when we adopted our kids. People are too knee-jerk these days - it's like to admit that racism exists is somehow the same as being racist which is total crap. If we really care about the best interests of the children, we need to be willing to deal with the tough issues.

craftymommy said...

I was glad to hear about this change from a colorblind view to going to a more color conscious view, and I was following it for the past couple of days. One of the things my husband and I have criticized during this adoption journey is the lack of education that is given to PAPs. The more educated I am on race in America, the greater benefit to my daughter and future children.

metaphase said...

I love this post because it reflects so many of my own feelings. Hey at least we know what we DON'T know..I also have to say the O word gets to me. I usually have to say something like, "rugs are oriental, not people" and let the person figure it out on their own.
LOL on the assalt charges (don't hear that phrase said every day) and the white lady in Spanx!

ash said...

Char read me this post and it immediately stirred feelings of my own with our children in public and racism. In some ways it seems that having an adopted son is different than a little girl. Regardless of the differences, I agree racism does occur in degrees and those in cultures closer to Binh's seem to be especially critical. I will post on my experience.

?MomOf4? said...

You seem to have put my feelings into words for me. I have been thinking about doing a post on why we decided not to adopt from Ethiopia or another African adoption program but I just didn't know how to word it. You have done a wonderful job of putting exactly what we felt into words.

As for raising an Asian child... we have not had any experienced any comments on that yet, but I am sure it will come in the future.

myminivanrocks said...

Great post (as usual). I have a post about race brewing, but haven't been able to get it together yet. Tough stuff. We are also considering transracial domestic adoption, and the reactions we get when we tell people that are not the same reactions we got when people found out we were adopting a "cute little Asian baby."

BTW - did you know that Beverly Hills 90210 is coming back and that one of the families has an "adopted African-American" son? Interesting. Gee, with any luck it will help make AA adoption trendy and we won't have anything to worry about! (Please note my EXTREME sarcasm as I write these words. I know not everyone who reads gets that, so I'll make double sure to point it out here.)