Shoulda been more clear …

… in this post.

I can see how cultural recognition and exposure (for want of a better term) might “undermine the parent-child relationship.” But I don’t think it’s for the reason that parent thinks.

Actually, I’m not sure what that parent thinks. Does he think that having a different cultural heritage makes it harder for people to bond? Does he think that recognition of Chineseness (and through association, whiteness) makes the relationship weaker? If so, is this because white people and Chinese people are fundamentally incapable of relating unless the Chinese person minimizes his ethnicity?

I think the rationalization about undermining the relationship reflects feelings the parent has about relating to people of color. And thus emphasizing the child’s color makes it more difficult for the parent to relate with him or her. In this way it certainly does undermine the relationship.

But what does this say about the parent? To me, it says the parent has some work to do.

Similarly, the idea that learning about culture or heritage leads to “bad identity issues” is one that reveals a belief in the right sort of identity. And perhaps prospective parents ought to think deeply about their expectations for their children.

What is the right sort of identity for a transracially adopted child? What identity will allow the child to bond with the adoptive parent? Does the child have to be a pseudo-biological one (We’re really all the same! I don’t look at him and see that he’s Chinese, I look at him and see my son!) in which differences are minimized, unspoken, unnoticed or suppressed?

I believe that this sort of sentiment, commonly expressed in the transracial adoption community, reflects a legacy of racism, oppression and privilege. But I don’t think I understood how deeply racism factors into relationships before.

On some level, I’ve always known that white people have a very tough time when thrust into a setting in which they are the numerical minority. But I never really understood just how tough, and how many defenses they employ to manage their anxiety, until I started meeting large numbers of white adoptive parents.

We’ve talked about this before. And it seems clear to me that in a setting in which they are not the numerical majority, white adoptive parents feel very uncomfortable with adults who share their children’s heritage. Undoubtedly this undermines the parent-child relationship. Because it is a message that has the potential to lead to “bad identity issues”–identity problems that stem from the child receiving negative messages about his or her race and ethnicity from the parent.

Invisibility of people of color transmits the message that those people do not matter. It is no wonder that many white adoptive parents of kids of color express such pride that their child is “just a regular kid” and an “All-American.” Because why in the world would a child want to identify with people who are invisible?

Because, as Paula O. noted, kids do note the difference in treatment when under the white umbrella. And you better believe they notice the way their white parents treat people who share the child’s heritage.

A while back I went to an event and when I got there, all the tables were full except one. (In fact, one of the tables was “more than full”–more on that later.) So I went to sit at the empty table. While I was sitting there, a white parent and her adopted child approached. I greeted the mother by name but she did not even see me. Instead, she took two chairs from my table and dragged them over to a white table, squeezing them in among the others. It seemed clear to me that other people had done this as well, as the table had more chairs than would seem practical.

Her daughter stood and stared at me. I greeted her by name as well, and she turned and walked off.

It’s funny how white parents can think that language lessons or community events can be positive for their kids of color but view it on the most superficial level possible. Then the language school or the church or the community just becomes a backdrop in which they reenact their privilege. A bit of exotic spice and a feel-good activity that they can boast about, along with their “cultural competence.”

But the play dates for their children all have white parents. And the families they get together with all have white adults. And rather than speak to people within that community, they’d rather stick with their own kind–even if it means being downright rude in the process.

Because everybody, including their children, knows that white is best.

Last weekend I had a conversation with a close white friend. We were talking about the “right type of minorities.” And fortunately or unfortunately, I think that I am the wrong type of minority.

Don’t get me wrong. As you can tell from some of my previous posts, I really do make the effort. I smile and say hello, just like sinoangle did. And I open those damn doors (pause here while you appreciate my witty turn of phrase). But I am not a cute child and I cannot be patronized.

As an adult, people cannot imagine me as their desirable person of color. While they sometimes try, they cannot succeed when I keep giving all the wrong responses. You asked me, “That’s not really racist, is it?” and I said, “Yeah, I think it really is.” You said, “I was thinking you could tutor my daughter!” and I said, “No, I don’t think so.”

I never used to answer solicitations for racist denials before, but then I realized that white people took my silence as assent. I became the “good minority” to be held up to others. Imagine my surprise when a co-worker announced that I had never experienced racism.

Silence allows people to create you in their own image.

But I am an adult, and I am creating myself. The people who suffer are the children.

.

Well! That made it as clear as mud!

6 thoughts on “Shoulda been more clear …

  1. This reminds me of the whole Bill Cosby debate — you can either be the “good” black who ignores prejudice and just works really hard or the “bad” black who acknowledges prejudice and is completely trifling. Making wise personal choices while recognizing the impact of institutionalized discrimination isn’t an option.

  2. hey panracial, could you elaborate on this: “Making wise personal choices while recognizing the impact of institutionalized discrimination isn’t an option.”?

    I’m not sure I understand and I really need to at this time. Thanks.

  3. It sounds to me that Bill Cosby believes that their are two types of blacks — black people who acknowledge racism, and because they recognize that it holds them back, never make any effort to improve their lives — i.e. people who are on welfare out of choice and not necessity, people who eschew education or who don’t delay gratification, people who commit crimes, etc. On the other hand there’s the other type of black person like Colin Powell who said, “Let racism be the problem of somebody else” which basically says, “Hey white people, don’t question your privilege, I’ll just work twice as hard to get half as far.” These two views ignore the black people who say, I’m going to make wise choices — value education, not commit crime, etc. but at the same time I’m also going to fight against the racial injustice in our criminal justice, housing, educational, and employment systems, etc. I’m sorry if I’m still being unclear.

  4. This one hits home for a lot of us cross-cultural white adoptive parents.

    It’s funny how white parents can think that language lessons or community events can be positive for their kids of color but view it on the most superficial level possible. Then the language school or the church or the community just becomes a backdrop in which they reenact their privilege. A bit of exotic spice and a feel-good activity that they can boast about, along with their “cultural competence.”

    With your permission, I’m quoting and linking you:)

  5. Thanks. It’s just one of those things that’s really hit me lately. I’m starting to realize that it’s not about me dabbling in a culture that I find interesting. I’m going continue reading and learning, and following some of your links before I attempt to blog intelligently about the subject.

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