A white adoptive parent once came up to me after I had given a talk about interracial and intercultural relations. I had prefaced my speech by explaining that I could not provide suggestions about handling any given situation. Rather, my goal was to challenge the audience to learn to think about how they would like to respond.
But this parent wasn’t satisfied. (And I note a number of other audience members apparently weren’t either, as evidenced by comments left on the evaluation form.) She complained that I did not give her one concrete suggestion for how she might go about creating relationships with people who shared her daughter’s ethnicity. And then she begged me to tell her just one thing that she should do.
So I told her to move to a diverse neighborhood.
It’s not like adoptive parents haven’t heard this before. Prospective adopters have access to a wealth of information provided by adult adopted persons. Some of the transracial adoptees are in their fifties now. Over and over we hear the same concrete suggestion for white adoptive parents of children of color:
Yet overwhelmingly the narrative we hear from white adoptive parents not only ignores this advice, but assumes the opposite is true. It goes beyond simple ignorance, however. It posits the all-white environment as the unspoken norm. Like whiteness, this goes unremarked upon and unnoticed.
Because the narrative we hear from white adoptive parents is about how their children of color adjusted to being “different.” Not only is being different regular and right, but it develops character:
At times you may feel out of place and wonder where you belong. Because you are Asian in a majority Caucasian America, you are more likely to feel the sting of racism at some point. How can you prepare to face these issues?
Be proud to be American, proud to be Chinese. When you are young you might want to be like your friends so badly that you don’t see the beauty of being different, the beauty of your Chinese roots. You can conquer any self-doubts by knowing who you are, the strength of your character, the goodness in your heart, the love that binds you to family and country and the heritage that binds you to China. Learn to love yourself, know yourself and be proud of who you are.
This was forwarded from an adoption parenting list. Here the child is willfully placed in an environment where she feels out of place. It is also one in which racism is not acknowledged. She is “more likely” to feel the “sting” of racism in this situation. How to prepare? Toughen up!
Be proud of your “Chineseness” in an environment where there are no positive role models. Be proud because some white person told you that you should be, even as you ignore the evidence of your eyes and ears and senses. Even as you see that Chinese people are not invited and are not welcome. Even as you see that you are surrounded by people who all look different from you. So when you’re mocked for your looks, when other kids (and adults) make ching-chong noises and yank up the corners of their eyes, remember the beauty of your Chinese roots.
Which have been severed. Except for that love of heritage you’ve been expected to develop in a vacuum. Because ties to culture don’t exist without people. And heritage is about who you are and the people who share those ties with you. How can you love yourself, know yourself and be proud of yourself when you’ve never had the chance to see your own face reflected in another?
In your isolation, in an environment in which you feel out of place, remember that you should be proud to be different and alone in your thoughts and feelings. And remember who brought you there.