Social Justice

Let’s Talk About Race, Baby

I was talking to my friend Joe the other day about racial privilege. Joe is extremely thoughtful about social issues and often alerts me to things that I wasn’t aware of. While we were talking about all the “isms”, Joseph mentioned that, as a white male, he never thinks about his safety.

Never.

Thinks.

About.

Safety.

My brain put on the mental brakes and was like, “WHAAAAAAT?” Do you know how often I think about my personal safety? I would say, on average, it’s at least once a day and if it’s something out of the ordinary, like Alex is on a business trip and/or I’m walking around the neighborhoods where I work, then I’m hyper-vigilant. I carry a mini-taser in my purse; there is a monkey fist sitting by my front door so I could bash someone in the head with a golf ball wrapped with rope; I don’t talk on my phone in parking garages; while I know it’s probably irrational, I do think twice about letting men, every repairmen, into my home when I’m there by myself; I double check our doors so that no one could just waltz in my house.

When Joe said that to me, something clicked and I realized that I had never thought to think about safety from a white male perspective.

End story.

Let me start this blog with this: Adoption has made Alex and I examine our racial perceptions. A few years ago, someone sent me this sermon about adoption. Aaron Ivey, who I’ve written about before, is speaking about the adoption from a Christian perspective, but a large part of his sermon is focused on the adoption of his black sons (one domestic, one from Haiti)

When they started the domestic process, the social worker told them, “Out of 100 non-black couples who walk through my door, only 10 of them will be open to adopting a child of a different race. Of those 10, only 1 couple will be open to adopting an African American or biracial boy.” (Sidenote: They did this a few years ago, I’m hoping and praying that this statistic is no longer true since adoption seems to be more and more of a viable option for building a family.)

Here’s the truth: I will probably be a parent to non-white children. If our current plan holds (which, haha, would be completely surprising), we will be parenting a black son.

Quite honestly, just the thought of parenting a child who is a different race than me sent me spiraling into a panic. Mostly because, well, my world is just so white. I grew up in white bread America and then went to A&M, which isn’t necessarily a hotbed of diversity, at least not in the circles that I found myself in.

So, in my adoptive parent nesting panic, I started to read. I found blogs, watched videos, etc and I have since come to the realization that I have been missing a huge part of the puzzle. The more I read about the experiences of others, the more my white, middle-class, privilege began to stare me right in the face. The reason I’d never seen it before is because I never had to.

That is how I want to start this blog. Now that I’ve become more aware of this issue, I’ve started considering how others might feel in situations that I’ve been in.  Would that cop have been so nice to me if I was _______? Would I feel comfortable here if I was __________?  Because I’m still learning (and probably always will be learning) about how to try to understand the experience of other races, I thought I would share some of the resources that have helped me confront and understand my white privilege, in addition to helping me know what to do about it.

To clarify, I do not mean for this blog to come off as “preachy” or like I know it all, cause I totally don’t. But instead I would like to share with you some resources that have really made me think about race in a radically different way. 

***

A Colorblind Society

A few years ago, before I adoption was even a twinkle in my eye, I read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink, which talks about how to understand (and train) your brain to make those snap judgements that happen when your first meet someone.  One of the things he tells you to do is take an online test at Project Implicit to see what biases you hold. I was a little perturbed at my results.

You see, my generation is “color-blind”, which theoretically means that we don’t give one flip about race- everyone is equal, we’re all the same. While, theoretically, that sounds like a great thing, what ends up happening is that the racial experience of others gets ignored, swept under the rug, hush hush. A “color blind” society is one that is so politically correct in race discussions that the experience of one side ends up being ignored or discounted. We say, “Oh, you’re just blowing that out of proportion. We’re in a color blind society now. No one pays attention to your race.”

We aren’t color blind. I think we’re really just hiding behind our colorblindness and ignoring the experience of others. We need to listen.

***

This post at Rage Against the Minivan: Kristen Howerton has two black sons and often writes about race. She’s also very thoughtful. Whatever your feelings on the Trayvon Martin case, I encourage you to read this post and especially the links in the section below:

Of course, I also saw people who denied that race had anything to do with it. And if you are one of those people, I hope you will keep reading. Because this isn’t just about Trayvon. His death is a catalyst for this conversation, but regardless of what happened there, the issue of bias and black men remains.  It’s evident when people call the police on a black person attempting to break a bike lock but walk by (or offer assistance to) a white person doing the same thing. It’s evident when a group of children are asked about the photo of a white man and a black man and they assume the black man to be a criminal and the white man to be a teacher (despite the fact that the pictured men were Timothy McVeigh and a black Harvard professor). It’s evident when people assume a black man to be a criminal over a white man at first glance. It’s evident when children look at photos of two children on a playground and a majority of them assume ill intent on the part of the black child. It’s evident when we look at the shameful “stop and frisk” habit that profiles young black men as potential criminals.

***.

I have made a foray into the bowels of the dying Valley View Mall to partake of a Groupon that gave me 25 zumba classes for $25 at Dominique LaShaye’s dance studio. It was…an experience.  And, of course, by experience I mean it’s like Mexican death zumba but with songs in English by Pharell Williams and Beyonce.

As a white person, I am in the minority.   In my first class, I noted how rare it is for me to feel like I am the only white person in the room.  And then I thought about my work and my church and the restaurants that I eat at and my grocery store. My privilege affords me the luxury of being comfortable in almost every place that I visit. This young man bought an expensive belt at a fancy department store and had police visit his house and accuse him of using a stolen debit card. My ESL students at work consistently deal with poor treatment by store owners and strangers because of the way they dress and their lack of English.

***

This video was incredibly insightful for me. Once you start to learn about white privilege, it can be a little disconcerting because you aren’t sure what to do next. What do we do about white privilege? I can’t change all of society. What can one person do? This woman eloquently explains how we can use our insider knowledge of white privilege to further the cause of justice.

***

At the suggestion of my friend Karen, who is also very thoughtful and insightful on matters of race and gender, I check out Color Lines. This is an online magazine that reports news from a minority perspective. They report on major news events, but they do so from the point-of-view of the traditionally marginalized- women, gays, racial minorities. I don’t agree with everything that they post, but this site stretches my brain because I’m forced to consider events from a different perspective. Case in point? Miley Cyrus accesorizes herself with cool black people. I was horrified by her VMA performance for many reasons, but this perspective wasn’t one that I thought about until I read this. Like Color Lines on facebook here.

***

Black Like Me was written in the 1950s by John Howard Griffin, a white man who dyed his skin darker to see what life was like as a black man in the South. It’s really quite terrifying how marginalized and horrible he was treated. While I hope that we’ve made some strides in race relations since the 50s, I know that we still have a long way to go.

Author is on the left.

***

Transracial adoption opens up a whole different can of worms, which I’m not going to necessarily discuss here, except to say that I know that I will not be able to provide everything to my children. I know that I can’t teach them everything they need to know about navigating the world as non-white people because I’M WHITE. There are many feelings, both good and bad, about white parents adopting black children and rightfully so. It’s not a pretty issue and there won’t be a clean solution.

However, I watched this panel discussion about transracial adoption and I was encouraged, in particular, by the black adoptee who had been adopted by white parents. She had a major identity crisis in college and, yes, had several issues that she needed to resolve about her race BUT she says that, even with all its imperfections, she absolutely would have chosen adoption over staying in the foster care system.

And that’s the heart of the issue for me. I will try my darnedest to help my children remain connected to their culture. I will have mentors and allies who can help us teach our kids how to deal with the world that we live in. But, I’m not perfect and I expect there will be things that arise.

 Until then, I will continue to listen and take in.  Stories are all around us. You just have to listen. (Just saw this posted on facebook today)

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