The first thing about racism

Often the first comment we get from white people and specifically white adoptive parents isn’t an expression of solidarity. It isn’t a thoughtful mention of some community action they were involved in and how that affected them. They don’t talk about their own anti-racist actions. They aren’t outraged by the things that we report.

No, the first thing they have to say is about how racist I am.

This is what compels them to post. This is what makes them angry. Not a word on black men who are tasered until they die. Nothing about the treatment of immigrants. Not in response to calls for justice for Filipino war veterans. Not about any of the everyday racism faced by people of color. Not even about the deportation of adoptees.

No, the issue that drives them is the “racism” of people of color. Because that is the pressing issue facing all of us today.

How am I supposed to take your assurances–that you are anti-racist, that you’re interested in listening, that you want to learn–when the first thing you feel compelled to address is that of the “racism” of people of color? Because when the two are spoken in the same breath, I feel like the attempt to establish your anti-racist credentials ring false.

How should I be convinced that your assurances are true? When your protestations of your anti-racism are removed, I cannot distinguish your words from those of other racist white people. I haven’t seen any demonstrations of your anti-racist commitment.

R101 #13 reads “People of color are not responsible for the education of white people.” In the same fashion, we are not responsible for providing you with palatable words. I blog because I have something to say, because I like to make connections with like-minded people and because I like to engage in thoughtful discourse about race. I blog because I like having the freedom to speak my mind. I do not blog for white people and I specifically do not blog for white adoptive parents.

I have these types of experience in the real world as well as the virtual world. White people who have heard me speak about racism come to me to vent their anger about “racism” by people of color.

In the real world, if I have this type of encounter with some Well Intentioned White Person™, I might just walk away. Maybe this is an error, because I know white people sometimes interpret my lack of response as assent.

In the real world, I encounter a number of white adoptive parents with children of color. And I think the fact that I walk away is a measure of our inequality.

But other times I do in fact “go there.” And it hasn’t been a pleasant experience, because even though I try very hard to be gentle and palatable and not that Angry Person of Color, the defensiveness makes white people angry. Angry at me.

I am especially exasperated by white parents of children of color because undoubtedly they replicate their privilege in their conversations with their children. But what they don’t recognize is the wedge that they drive between us is the same wedge they drive between their children.

You know, I never thought it had to be explained, but sometimes being a person of color in a white-dominated society is tiring. And enraging. And upsetting. And part of the way people of color experience racism is by denial of racism, or by discounting of racism, or by the red herringization of racism.

Sometimes I say, “I hate it when white people …” and I know that my white friends and allies know that I am talking about the systemic nature of racism and the privilege of whiteness. They know that I mean “some white people” and not “all white people.” They know I am talking about specific instances and not broad generalizations. In a way, it’s a type of shorthand, speech among people who understand each other’s background. Anti-allies want none of it. Instead of addressing the issue, they want to address my “racism” or the way I speak or the way I convey myself.

And sometimes when I respond to white people with children of color, it isn’t because I believe I need to be their educator. Although I will admit to being guilty of having assumed that role at times, often with disastrous results. But I tell them because I cannot imagine that they do not recognize how the ways in which they discount people of color affects their children.

I see white parents pull their children close to them around me. I see the way their children look at me as if they themselves are white and I am the other. I see the way white people who enter the POC community marginalize people of color by reenacting privilege in a space that should be sanctuary.

When some day your children say, “I hate it when white people,” will you immediately jump to say “All white people are not like that!” or “You’re so angry; I can’t hear you,” or “Your statement is really racist against white people”?

I think that you might, and sadly I know that you do. And you might not even realize that you’re hammering that wedge. Because you never thought about that first thing.

7 thoughts on “The first thing about racism

  1. Ah ha! So you’re the racist!


    Well, as a white person w/ children of color, and a formerly colorblind, can’t-we-all-just-get-along kind of gal, I would ask all of my fellow white parents of kids of color out there to please pay attention to this part in particular:

    …because undoubtedly they replicate their privilege in their conversations with their children. But what they don’t recognize is the wedge that they drive between us is the same wedge they drive between their children.

    You may be thinking, “my family’s different.” Guys, your kids may be young now — you may be able to protect them and control their environment to a certain extent for now. And they may go along and act just fine on teh surface for a while, because they want to please you, and because they hold you, as their parent, to be the ultimate authority. But that can only go on for so long, and in the end, they’ll have been shortchanged, and ill prepared for reality.

    My kids DO say “I hate when white people …” and you know what? There’s a reason they say that. I don’t take it personally, that’s their experience in this society. Shoot, lots of times I “hate when white people …”. I’ll tell you what, I’m glad when I hear them thinking critically and calling it out when they see something racist or oppressive. They’re safer and stronger that way. I would much rather have that than to watch them trying to fool themselves that the world is colorblind, and if they’re just ____ enough, they’ll fit in it.

    We all want to be the best parent we can, we all love our kids and want to spare them from racism. Well we can’t. It’s harder to face that you can not make an easy, colorblind world for your child.

    As Resistance said, it is not the responsibility of POCs to educate us. So that means that when a POC does go to the trouble to tell us something that we may not know or understand, I’d consider being appreciative and doing some serious listening. I’m not saying you have to agree every time, but listen and consider. This is the one area where we are not the experts, but where our kids NEED us to learn.

    OK, done soapboxing, sorry for bogarting the comments.

  2. Ding ding ding ding ding ding ding!
    We have a winner! More cowbell is the 2,000th commenter on the blog.

    More cowbell, I’m always glad you’re among us.

  3. What?! Hellyeah! I won! Is this somehow connected with the lottery?? Oh … just the prestige of being #2000? OK. I’ll get a T-shirt. “Resist Racism 2000”. Kind of catchy, no?

  4. More cowbell: You are a WINNER!

    (Just thought you might like hearing that. I tore open a candy bar that was running a contest and the inside of the wrapper read, “You are not a winner.” How rude.)

  5. Thank you for posting this (and more cowbell for your comment). I can tell you that I fall into the category of hoping to gain an education here, although I hope I don’t come across as expecting it, but I might. As I’m sure more cowbell will agree – you can learn a lot just by reading the perspective here and following the links.

    There are so many seemingly subtle things we adoptive parents screw up that we have no clue about. My daughter is not talking a lot yet, but the people in our lives already seem to be making excuses for her brownness and pretending she’s white inside, rather than actually seeing her as brown, KWIM?

    I have a million questions I could ask, but see you’re point that it’s my responsibility to find the answers.

    Dangit – I’m sorry I missed the 2,000th commenter spot. You had to know I’d be too tempted NOT to respond to this post!

  6. I can understand your tiredness. I feel it too, in circles of which I sometimes venture to educate those with more power and privilege than I. It’s something that I’ve tended to walk away from more than I engage in, mainly because I just don’t have the strength to deal with oppression and education.

    I enjoy your writings. Know that some of us white people are hear in supporting you.

  7. Ok, may I soapbox a bit too?! As a white mother of two awesomely beautiful adult daughters who are my biological daughters, not adopted, and are women of color even though they are also half white, I’ve had it up the yin yang with all the craziness of some of the white folk around me. But, that is not the thing that bothers me at the moment. I’ve come to grips with that in spite of the absurdities.

    This week I took a very dear friend, about the age of my daughters to get her fingerprints for her green card the the USCIS. This was my first experience taking some one for this service and I was embarrassed and ashamed that my country treats guests, immigrants, refugees with such disdain and rudeness. I could not believe what we experienced. The sign said that the hours were from 9 AM to 4 PM and her appointment was for 2 PM. We got there and a group of people was standing outside the door so I asked if it was closed and the other people, interested in getting the same service said, that we had to wait for someone to come to let us in. Then when the official came to the door they only allowed the individual in needing the services and these individuals were not allowed to carry a purse, cell phone or anything. I was holding my surrogate granddaughter in my arms so her mother could do what was needed, but they told me we were not allowed to enter. The room inside was very large and had chairs for about 50+ people to be able to sit down. What kind of foolishness and stupidity is this? It was cold and drizzly. Do they do they same thing in colder climates where it might be snowing and there’s ice on the ground? This was totally insane and although I haven’t contacted them officially, I believe I will since my primary place of employment is with refugees and immigrants and this just made me feel utter shame, disgust and anger for such thoughtlessness. I can’t imagine any plausible justification for such treatment of humanity. We have to lock the door after each person, can’t allow you to bring anything inside, not even your minor child . . .
    What a broken system!

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