THEM.

Subtitled: Why I Hate Adoptive Parents,* Reason Number 872.
*various qualifiers, explanatory notes and other crap of that nature contained in previous posts. Please read blog thoroughly before leaving long rants or vitriol in comment section.

So I volunteered at a community event recently. There are a fair number of white adoptive parents who dabble in the community. I’ve encountered a number of them for several years now. And unfortunately I think familiarity breeds contempt. Because sometimes I want to stand up on a big soapbox and yell, “What the heck do you think you are teaching your children of color?”

I’ll tell you what you’re teaching them. You’re teaching them that those people are them and we are us and never the twain shall meet.

One small problem here. Your children are them too.

So my job was to serve food. And I noticed that Defies Rational Explanation Occurrence™ again. This time it was the one where white people whom I’ve known for a while don’t recognize me. One woman was puzzled when I mentioned to her that the food I was serving contained wheat (she has a wheat allergy). Other white people with whom I’m acquainted didn’t greet me, or looked a trifle puzzled when I greeted them or their children by name.

That’s part of being them, when white people don’t have to bother to try to distinguish you from the faceless hordes.

(And as an aside, I think it is really rude to just point at something because you want it. Or to tell me, “Give me as much of that as you can,” because you especially like it, and then to say, “No, I want MORE.” I’ve often wondered if this is a race/class thing, because when I was growing up we learned to take very small portions in group settings. I remember the first time I went out with a bunch of (mostly white) work colleagues. When the appetizers came, two of the people took the majority of the plate and left almost nothing for the other ten or so of us. I was shocked since it seemed obvious that each person’s share was one piece. But I digress.)

(Sign of a rant on a roll–when the parentheticals are almost longer than the rest of the content.)

And where were the white parents at this event? Why, they were all sitting in a little White Cluster™ with their children of color. And then after a suitable period of time, they went home. And folks of color cleaned up and put everything away.

I don’t understand the purpose of coming to community events if you are not actually interacting with the community. And when I say “interacting,” I don’t mean that you eat their food or watch them in their strange cultural rituals. I mean that you might actually attempt to develop relationships with those people. And maybe you might not treat them like your servants as you dip your toe into your cultural experience.

Lately I’ve been a little too aware of being one of them when among you all. And I see your children watching, too.

I have tried for a long time to be understanding of white people’s fears when it comes to interacting with people of color. But frankly, since they usually manifest as privilege and patronage, I’m having a hard time. During a seminar on racism, a white woman voiced her anxieties about entering communities of color. I commented that was one of the ways that racism had harmed us all. But then she was quick to deny that fear was a product of racism.

Oh, okay.

Because it occurs to me that worrying that other people might find you racist is a product of racism. Being anxious that people will not accept you when you’ve always been accepted previously is privilege and perhaps projected racism as well.

And here you are losing the ability to be real and genuine, and to have true and genuine relationships. Because if you cannot acknowledge the damage that racism has done, it is going to be very hard for me to accept you as a friend or ally.

Frankly, at this point I don’t care about being your friend. I no longer have the desire to suppress my reality in order to gain approval. And I do not want allies who are not true. But when I see your children turn away from me, I think I hate you.

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30 thoughts on “THEM.

  1. “I’ve often wondered if this is a race/class thing, because when I was growing up we learned to take very small portions in group settings.”

    I don’t know if it is a race thing or not. I grew up in a household where you make sure everybody gets some, then if you REALLY want more you can have some after everyone gets some. I notice at the IL’s the dynamic is the men take as much as they want and the females try not to take too much to make sure everyone gets some- which annoys me. I also notice that the men will use the salt, butter, etc and leave it right in front of them and not put it to the center of the table where others can use it – as if they have forgotten other people exist or could possibly also want it. I am white, and they are, too.

  2. i’m glad you mentioned how white people fail to recognize people of color that they already know. in one of my college retail jobs, i came into work one day to buy something and said, “hi joyce” to an older white coworker. she had no clue who the hell i was. and everyone blamed it on me “looking different outside of work.” me without a black apron and name tag apparently transformed my entire physical appearance.

  3. I don’t see the food portion thing as racial really. I’ve been to business (all white) lunches where a giant sampler platter of apps are passed around and people are splitting mozzarella sticks on the first rotation because they don’t want anyone to be missed. Half the time we have apps leftover because everyone is afraid to take the last.

    I have been to conferences and vendor meetings where the folks involved cut across quite a few racial backgrounds. Same thing happened. I think you just experienced generally rude people there.

    I’m with you on the patronization though.

    Here’s the struggle though. I do believe it’s the adoptive parent’s responsibility to solve the problem Multiracial adoptive parents who DO care are concerned about how to go about making friends with members of their child’s background without making it seem patronizing. If I initiate interaction with a person of color, do I just go for it and tell them flat out that given the makeup of my family, I think it’s important to get to know some POC? Wouldn’t they assume this fact anyway? If so, is that a bad thing?

    I know you have spent a lot of time answering my questions, but I can tell you that a few thoughts on WHAT to do in addition to what NOT to do would be helpful. You’ll have to trust me when I say that that the adoptive parents you mention make many of us cringe as well.

  4. Speaking only for myself, I have mixed feelings about what CJs Daddy wrote about saying “flat out that given the makeup of my family, I think it’s important to get to know some POC”.

    On one hand, as a transracial adoptee I think that getting to know POC is incredibly, desperately important, and have said so many times.

    However, I’m starting to get tired of my value to other people (and society in general) coming from being “useful” to white people in some way. Aren’t I worth getting to know for my own sake, rather than for what I can do for you/your children yet again?

    Or am I splitting hairs here, and do most people (not just white people) usually have their own self-interest in mind when they develop relationships?

  5. I tend to find that I am not the “right kind” of POC for white people. In part I think this is because I don’t match the projection of POC that they have in their brains. So here “useful” would mean that I reflect and reinforce their own viewpoint. Additionally, “useful” means that they get to use me in the way they imagined. So we aren’t talking about any kind of equal relationship.

    However, “useful” sometimes means that I’m expected to teach and support. Which is also about using me. From the “THEM” post, it seems clear that I have in fact stated specifically what white adoptive parents should do. At least by implication.

  6. Pingback: Longform Links - Bobby J, Racism & Fear, Single Cause Activism at Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture

  7. I think that ideally, APs would make friends/become integrated into a community of color BEFORE adopting a child of color, not after. That way the POC do not feel they are just being “useful” just for the benefit of that child. But how many parents are actually involved and integrated in a community of color before adopting? I’d say probably less than 2%.

  8. Sang – you actually hit on the quandary I feel as an adoptive parent. I don’t want you or any POC to feel used by my reaching out to build a relationship.

    Maybe I didn’t say it clearly. No, I don’t believe you’re only point of worth to me is for what you (or whomever) can do for my daughter. The point may seem like a fine one, but I would seek to build relationiships with POC because it will make ME a better person as well. Does that make sense?

    The quandary is in the fact that I had not previously made a concerted effort to do this, but I can’t go back and change that. I have come to the realization that if I value my daughter as a person, as an individual, as a Latino, a Mayan, a Guatemala, that I must do more than pay lip service to valuing other people with her background. I must express that value intentionally, and build those relationships we’re talking about here.

    I really don’t want people to think that’s their only value in my life. But I also feel the need to acknowledge the elephant in the room – that the fact that my daughter is one of “them”, and I’m not. I guess I feel like I should acknowledge that her coming into my life is what makes my family diverse, which in turn means it’s important for the rest of my life to reflect that same diversity.

    Resistance – you are correct – you did say directly that we should try build relationships, and not simply “show up”. I did not mean to imply you were falling short in your post. I apologize. Perhaps my line of questions does not give the POC enough credit. I should not be scared or uncomfortable to build a relationship just because I fear a certain reaction.

  9. Resistance, you said “In part I think this is because I don’t match the projection of POC that they have in their brains.” This is interesting — could you elaborate on this? What image do you think they have?

  10. Word, Susan.
    It is disingenous to adopt the children and THEN try to form relationships with members of their ethnic groups.

  11. CJsDaddy — First of all, my first name is Sang-Shil, not just “Sang” — not a biggie, just letting you know :-)

    You wrote, “I would seek to build relationiships with POC because it will make ME a better person as well”. I actually wrote “you/your children” in my original comment, meaning both. But to me this is a small distinction, because in the context of this conversation it makes little difference to me whether I am fulfilling a service for your daughter or for yourself.

    My point is, I’m wondering if there are any people (specifically white APs) who value interactions with me separate from what I can do for (or give to) EITHER them OR their children. In other words, for who *I* am, rather than anything that has to do with either you or your daughter.

  12. Sorry, Sang-Shil – just using short hand – not trying to change your name.

    —**In other words, for who *I* am, rather than anything that has to do with either you or your daughter.—

    My bad again. I’m assuming the concept of friendship includes a mutual respect, understanding, support, etc. This would include my valuing a new friend as a person, rather than just a means to expose my family to diversity. I’m merely focussed on the context of WHY I might be doing this now rather than earlier in my life.

    Which brings me to EVD’s point. I really don’t have an answer for you – and that’s the exact problem – the fear that we’d be seen as disingenuous. Let me repeat what I’ve said on previous comments. For every AP that comments here, there are probably 100 or more reading, all trying to learn and grow. It’s too late to go back in time, so I’m trying to figure out how to NOT be and appear disingenuous now.

  13. What disturbs me is that POCs never meant enough to these adoptive parents before adopting to have relationships with them — now all of a sudden they need these relationships because they want a child of color.

  14. CJsDaddy,
    It might be helpful if your family joined some sort of community activity such as a church, language school, or whatever might be in your area to help your family make connections without feeling so disingenuous. Admit your fears and let that guide you in your efforts to form relationships without taking over or using people. If you join a group and participate on a regular basis, after a while you will find people who have some of the same interests as you do, like photography, sports, parenting, ect.

    On the other hand, if you are simply targeting people for their ethnicity, that would be disingenuous. If you join a group and start taking over how things are done, ect, that would be a problem too.

    If you try to relax, and make a long term commitment to connection to people of your child’s cultural heritage, it will get better. You might even forget your old fears. Many people I have met enjoy sharing their heritage, and frankly, I have met a few people who love my children and welcome them into their lives.

  15. Kathy – thank you for your ideas. We have lots of opportunities to do exactly what you suggest.
    All-I realize (as do some -perhaps not enough- other AP’s) that we have failed in the past. I was naive to only have become motivated for more diverse relationships after adopting. I can’t change who I was – only who I am now.

  16. panracial–I think some white people want a little exotic spice in the form of a POC friend. But what they really want is a friend of color who is exactly like them. In other words, a white person in face paint. I get the occasional -phile trying to be my friend, but usually as soon as the conversation goes in a way the white person doesn’t like, the interest evaporates. Or is incinerated. ;-D

    Also, you wrote:

    What disturbs me is that POCs never meant enough to these adoptive parents before adopting to have relationships with them — now all of a sudden they need these relationships because they want a child of color.

    I don’t blame these parents for now understanding the need. But I do blame the adoption agencies for not having prepared parents. And I do blame white parents for reenacting their privilege everywhere they go.

  17. I get what you’re saying, it reminds me of this article from a Mormom (I think a deacon) discussing why he hates, as a Belgian, being asked to participate in multicultural church festivals http://www.timesandseasons.org/index.php?p=2135:

    2 – Folklorization has a trait of colonialism. Colonialism proceeds on the assumption of a natural superiority of the colonizer, who sees himself as more rational, more enlightened, more developed, more educated than the colonized. For millennia invading colonizers have tried to obliterate local structures and traditions that were perceived as menacing the new order, i.e. authority, judiciary, religion, sometimes even language. But, as a cheap token of deference, or for the charm of it, colonizers have usually tolerated the non-threatening traits: food, dress, art. The same attitude largely prevails today in our approach of “foreign” cultures. Disturbing, self-affirming, or difficult to grasp elements are ignored. All attention goes to the easily presentable, to the exotic appeal of handicraft, colorful garb, ethnic food and dance. “See the natives perform” is often accompanied, consciously or unconsciously, by the condescension of the colonizer who allows the performance as a tribute to his superiority.

  18. I just want to say, before I forget, that I forget the faces of white people as often as I do POC, and I am white. However, there have been studies done that the phenomena of being more easily able to recognize people has a lot to do with if their race is the same as yours. These people at this event may be racist, perhaps not.

    I am a misanthrope and am always looking for reasons to dislike people. People taking more than their share would be a reason for me to immediately dislike someone; I have never ever noticed people taking a bigger portion. I am not trying to be rude, but perhaps it’s the people specific to this situation.

    Now on to the meat of what I wanted to say, after those two asides. I am reluctant to interact with people of color and usually don’t, unless I am forced to for work or in a retail/restaurant setting. I have never felt like this had anything to do with privilege. I just find it difficult to interact with them. I feel like I am always doing or saying the wrong thing. I don’t wish to make matters worse, since I am in the 7/10ths of Americans who don’t think they’re racist……It makes me sad but there are just so many barriers. I don’t want to come off as the person who wants black friends to prove they aren’t racist. Or the person who thinks they’re a good person for being nice to THOSE people.

    I read these forums because I do honestly have an interest in race relations and feel like I am eavesdropping on things I would rather not know. I was never naive enough to believe that POC didn’t harbor any resentment towards whites, but I did not realize it was as prevalent as it is….I feel like it’s pointless for me to try to interact with people of other cultures as anything other than a shallow social encounter since there are so many hidden and negative emotions on both sides.

    This makes me sad. There are many aspects of other cultures that I find truly interesting but I only experience them as an observer, in order not to intrude or offend.

    I know these discussion boards are ostensibly to make these things better, but all they do for me is make me more convinced then ever that fences between races make the best neighbors. Sorry to sound so negative; this post just hit a nerve for me because I feel sometime that as a white person, nothing I could ever do would be right.

  19. I don’t understand why it’s so disingenous to not befriend POC before adopting a child of a different race. What if you just haven’t encountered them? This again seems like something where white people can’t win. If they go out to find friends solely based on race- well THAT strikes me as dishonest. If they are adopting a child of another race, why not give them the benefit of the doubt and assume race doesn’t matter to them?

    I am honestly not trying to bait or be offensive or argue. These thoughts and situations are new to me and I am trying my hardest to understand. Your discussions have taught me a lot and I hope you all understand that my questions are sincere.

  20. CjsDaddy, do the right thing and return the child back to her people. You, as a white male can never truly understand a POC.

  21. Sharn, I don’t think that’s fair. As a POC I don’t feel that CjsDaddy can ever completely understand what POC’s go thru, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a great parent to a POC – he has long demonstrated his willingness to do the right thing as a white parent – especially as far as asking the right questions and admitting he doesn’t have all the answers. Should we fight the inequality that contributes to poverty and the ripping of birth parent/child relationships among POC’s and privileges white market desires for children — of course, but that doesn’t mean CJsDaddy can’t parent his child.

    Donna, your honesty is welcome. I am mixed — both POC of various cultures and white descent. I don’t believe in fences between the races simply because race doesn’t exist biologically and only exists as a social construct to disempower some peoples. Speaking for myself, I’m not so much concerned with white people always doing or saying the right thing as long as I know their heart is in the right place and they are sincere about their anti-racism journey. I’m very patient about un-pc language etc. as long as if I correct them they’re open to it. You don’t need a special motive or applause for having POC friends — you can befriend poc’s simply because we’re people. We don’t resent whites, we resent white privilege. Let me put it this way, if almost on a daily basis your father was harassed for driving a nice car, your mother was followed around stores like a shoplifter, waiters gave you inferior service, your doctor gave you inferior healthcare (despite having a high economic level) your child made great grades but wasn’t put in an AP class, on and on and on, wouldn’t you resent that? You wouldn’t resent the race of people as a whole but you would resist being treated like dirt. For example, whites disproportionately commit drug crimes while POC’s are disproportionately imprisoned for them — wouldn’t you be mad if you were a POC? Wouldn’t you hate that the media always represents pregnant drug addicts or drug dealers as POCs? Wouldn’t you get tired of the fact that inner city schools are seen as dysfunctional when drugs are more common in the suburbs? Wouldn’t you hate that you never hear white dysfunction mentioned when instead Obama stereotypes blacks as lowlifes who feed cold Popeyes chicken to their kids for breakfast and gets applauded by whites as a progressive guy? That’s what we resent.

    Donna, its one thing to not have encounted POC’s but very very few white people never see POCs — obviously if these people know where to find Poc’s after adopting they can find them beforehand. My problem is with ppl who don’t care about POC’s until it’s time to acquire a child. You say white ppl can’t win b/c it’s wrong to want POC friends solely for racial reasons — they can win if they want POC friends just b/c they’re people! If you look back through the other entries on adoption, you can clearly see that race does matter to adoptive parents of POC’s – there are many racists with children of color.

  22. Donna’s point is well taken. I am Chinese. I feel the same way towards white people.

    I am reluctant to interact with White people and usually don’t, unless I am forced to for work or in a retail/restaurant setting. I have never felt like this had anything to do with privilege. I just find it difficult to interact with them. I feel like I am always doing or saying the wrong thing. I don’t wish to make matters worse, since I am in the 7/10ths of Chinese who don’t think they’re racist……It makes me sad but there are just so many barriers. I don’t want to come off as the person who wants White friends to prove they aren’t racist. Or the person who thinks they’re a good person for being nice to THOSE people.

    Just as well. Donna, don’t feel bad about not giving me your phone number :-)
    I don’t want it.

  23. Donna–I’m white and your post sure reminds me of what some men said in the 1990s when sexual harassment at work first made headlines. They’d say, “I just feel like men can’t win, first we’re told to hire women and then we’re told we can’t say anything we want to them, so I just try not to talk to women at all any more at work, because there’s such a strong likelihood that some woman will call whatever I say sexual harassment. It’s sad, really, because this probably means that we just won’t hire as many women, but women have just made it impossible for men to accept them in the workplace.”

    That was a load of crap then, and it’s a load of crap when the discussion is about race.

    My advice? Try to think less about “being a racist”–like it’s an eternal state of being, like being an ogre. Marge Piercy said something like, “If someone says to you that you said or did something racist, don’t leap to the conclusion that they’re saying you are outcaste and unclean or have terminal cancer; think of it instead of them telling you that you have a booger at the end of your nose. Wipe it off, and thank them for letting you know.”

  24. On the disingenuous thread, I was amazed to discover only a year or so ago that friends of mine who are also POC had had experiences where people had wanted to be their “friends” because of their non-whiteness. It IS a pretty revolting image, eh?

    I honestly don’t think I’ve ever had an experience like that. But maybe it is because I have a very strict definition of what a friend is, and maybe it’s because I quickly ditch people who don’t correspond to that definition. It seems to me that there is no harm in targeting POC as potential friends, as long as you are really aiming to get to know them, to share your experiences and your thoughts and feelings with them, and not just to occasionally socialise with them for the benefit of your children.

    Adoptive parents who occasionally socialise with other adoptive parents just for the benefit of their children are also disingenuous.

  25. Panracial: thank you very much for your well thought out and helpful comments. You have made me feel a lot better and made me think about things in more productive ways.

    Overseas Chinese: thanks for posting. I am sorry I offended you. That was not my intent, I thought I made this clear but apparently not. I guess, if the phone doesn’t ring, that will be you.

    And thank you also Lori. I hope to find people who *will* point out these things.

  26. Panracial – thanks for understanding that I’m trying to learn something here. Race is discussed on this blog and a few others more openly than anywhere I’ve found. I think we AP’s motives must be challenged.

    You’re right, I could never understand POC’s. I don’t really want to try, but I do wish to find the best ways to be an anti-racist parent to steal a phrase.

    Donna – try not to think about it in terms of winning something. What I’m learning that we need to do is simply be humble, caring, and genuine. If our actions are motivated by trying to impress POCs or win them over in some way, then they have a right to charge as being disingenuous. I haven’t quite figured out the right approach either. But Sang-Shil called me out on my motives above in terms of why I was seeking friendship – and rightly so.

  27. Amazing that so many of us not only believe we know what someone we don’t really understand is doing, let alone why they are doing it.

    The only way to cross the lines we make between each other is to get to know each other. And that requires giving up the idea that you can classify anyone by the line that stands between you.

  28. I think them not recognizing you may, in this particular case, be less of a racial thing and more that people don’t look at their service personnel. I’m white, and I’ve had the same experience when I worked jobs in cleaning and food service– people who knew me from work wouldn’t recognize me outside of work, and vice versa.

    I know wearing a different shirt and a nametag or whatever shouldn’t make much difference, but I’ve found it really, really does. People often just don’t look at the ones serving them, regardless of skin colour.

    It very well may be a class thing, but it happens to white people in service industries too. I know it’s a bothersome experience. It was something I never really got used to working those jobs. Sorry it happened to you. [R101 #15, WHIB #16]

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