Recently I attended a workshop about race and racism primarily attended by white people. And I was really struck by the expressions of helplessness with regard to dealing with racism: “We can’t do it by ourselves,” “We need people of color to help us,” “How can we make friends with people of color who can help us?” “We have no way of understanding race and racism.”
It was stunning to hear a bunch of well-educated people make so many statements about their inability to deal with the subject on their own. And it occurred to me that racism is still portrayed as the problem of people of color, to be solved by people of color. If white people are to work on anti-racism, we must carry them on our backs. Then we are expected to be grateful that they did any work at all. Yet this replicates long-held patterns of privileged behavior and denies primary responsibility.
This is often a problem with white parents with children of color who look to communities of color. Hey, if you weren’t involved in my community before, why do you think I should suddenly throw the door open wide and embrace you? The idea that you are welcome everywhere is one steeped in privilege.
Fallout Central has a podcast interview with a representative from Families with Children from China who states as follows:
To white people, white privilege is invisible. We need to be educated about it. White people aren’t going to find out about white privilege on their own and we’re not going to start thinking about anti-racism work on our own. And one of the reasons that’s really important in terms of transracial adoption is I feel that transracial adoptees often feel rejected by their own communities because of their connection to their white parents. And I can understand why Asian American people can be really upset by what’s happening because there’s a really commodified feeling about transracial adoption. But those adoptees need the Asian American community. They need to not be rejected by it but embraced by the Asian American community so that when they come out like Jared said, as adults, they don’t feel like they’re trapped between two worlds with nowhere to go. And I also think the Asian American community can do a lot to educate white parents. Don’t let them hide behind their privilege and say “I don’t have to think about racism.” Tell them that they do.
Why are white people incapable of finding out about privilege on their own? Why can’t they think about anti-racism work on their own? Frankly, these types of expressions are cop-outs. It reminds me of how white people talk about racism as a function of the times, “Oh, that’s just the way it was back then.” Forgetting that there have always been white people involved in the struggle.
Throughout our history there have been white people who stood up and said This is wrong. For example, you often hear white people say, “In the time of slavery, people thought of African Americans as property and not as humans.” But did African Americans think of themselves as property, or is it just white people being referenced under the generic “people”? And what about John Brown and other abolitionists? Why weren’t they simply products of their time? Why did they choose their fight?
How can you think about justice or think of yourself as a justice-loving individual if you do not address racial justice?
There are many issues that concern me about transracial adoption. Commodification is one of them, as evidenced by this series of posts. But I think one of the most troublesome aspects of transracial adoption is the way it illustrates for me how white people are able to confer or deny visibility to people of color. In many situations, I’m aware of my invisibility. I know white adoptive parents who can’t pick me out of a room of same-race people even though they’ve “known” me for four or five years. And even in my community, they speak only to each other. What a way to teach your kid.
So just because you’ve recently decided you need me for the good of your child of color, don’t think I forget that invisibility. And don’t tell me I have the obligation to educate. You have the obligation to educate yourselves. You may have adopted a child of color, but I didn’t adopt you. The belief that I must educate you is founded in privilege.
Frankly, attempting to educate even well-meaning white people really doesn’t carry any type of benefit for me at all. I bear the risk of being excluded and isolated. I bear the risk of being tagged as being “overly politically correct” or having a “chip on my shoulder” or “hating whitey.” And I don’t really care to be involved in your growth process if I cannot speak freely–because you expect me to make my words “palatable” to you, otherwise you say “nobody is going to hear you if you can’t rein in your anger.” Why can’t I say what I really wanna say? Is it a measure of our inequality?
Why don’t white people have the responsibility to educate other white people about racism? White people are also able to confer visibility on problems of racism in a way that people of color often can’t. Nothing says “objective, rational opinion” like the voice of a white person. If you have privilege, use your privilege to your advantage. Yeah, this is going to be painful and uncomfortable. What do you think being the recipient of racism feels like? And you’re afraid to speak against it? It would be better if people of color simply suffered it quietly?
Later in the interview, the FCC rep states the following:
“… when you grow up in this country as a white person, you have no reason to question the logic of the melting pot theory–this idea that, you know, color doesn’t matter, race isn’t important, if we all just love each other enough these things are going to go away … you can’t understand why people are pointing out race. Because you don’t understand what it is to live in a world where you’re affected by racism. Because you’re not.”
Why don’t white people have reason to question the logic? I started questioning the majority view when I observed racism directed towards other groups of color. Once that door opened, white supremacist ideology came quickly tumbling down. Certainly there are enough examples of egregious racism available even in the mainstream media. What more does it take to open the eyes of white people?
Do white people see racism as being harmful to themselves? Do white adoptive parents see anti-racism work as being something they do for their children? Because until white people realize that they are affected by racism, nothing will change.