Saturday, June 4, 2011

Living in a Diverse Neighborhood

One of the most frequent pieces of advice given to transracial adoptive parents from transracial adoptees it to live in a diverse neighborhood. Consider this heartfelt post from Dr. John Raible, Why do adults force kids into hostile environments?
I’ve reached the same conclusion based on my work in the transracial adoption community. If you follow this blog, you know that I have been trying to get adoptive parents and social workers to wake up to the realities of living in a racially charged and still divided society for three decades—THIRTY YEARS, people. That’s a long time to be waiting for folks in positions of power and authority to finally “get it.” In the meantime, well-meaning parents can still waltz into their local adoption agency, pick out a darling brown child to take home to Whitesville, and never have to take responsibility for working through their own racism. Because in our society parents think they own their children, white APs are not required to consider what it might feel like, from the child’s perspective, to live –without a break—as the token brown person at every social event year after year. White APs never have to question, as transracial adoptees must, when the next time will suddenly pop up and someone says or does something offensive or racist. It seems as if kids who grow up under such oppressive conditions of racial isolation are expected to endure those hostile environments until they are old enough to move out on their own. Only then may they get themselves connected to a friendlier, less hostile, and more understanding community, not until they become adults. It’s too bad we accept this as normal, responsible parenting for transracially adopted children. I’ve even heard parents justify their abdication of responsibility, saying, “Hey, a little teasing makes them stronger. And they’re lucky they even got adopted, don’t forget.”

And consider this from the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute's report on transracial adoption, Beyond Culture Camp: Promoting Healthy Identity Formation in Adoption:  when asked about experiences/services that would have been helpful in forming positive racial/ethnic identities, 70% of Korean adoptees said living in a racially diverse community and 73% said attending racially diverse schools (p. 44).

But oftentimes adoptive parents will say they can't live in more racially diverse communities because they want good schools and low crime, they want to live in "good neighborhoods" that will maximize opportunities for their kids (read the comments to this post from the Rumor Queen). This article (p. 8, Separate is Never Equal) in my alumni magazine offers a perspective on this issue of "good neighborhoods:
It's no surprise that people try to get the best houses in the best neighborhoods they can find.  How does it end up they live so segregated by race?

That's the question that Michael Emerson asked, and he said he hears two common answers.  The first, "It's not race, it's class."

"In fact, that's not the answer," said Emerson, the Allyn and Gladys Cline Professor of Sociology and co-director of the university's new Kinder Institute for Urban Research.  "There is a range of incomes within any racial group, and when we look at where people live by income level, they're still segregated by race.  Segregation by race is substantially greater than segregation by income."

The second answer -- "People like to live with people like themselves" -- is somewhat more accurate, he said, but it's still not the complete answer.  "In current times, many people want not to live with certain people -- people they think will drive down their property values, raise crime and lower the quality of local education.  They use race to decide these other factors."

* * *

A 'factorial experiment' . . . [showed] sensitivity among all groups to high crime rates and low-quality schools. . . .  "But for whites," Emerson, "you get a different story.  They are highly sensitive to percent black and percent Hispanic. Even if you take a neighborhood that has low crime, high-quality schools and rising property values, and you say it's 30 percent black, in almost every single case, the white respondent will say, 'Not likely to buy the house.'"
I'm not doing this as a finger-pointing post -- according to the 2000 census, my zip code is predominately white (though the private school I send my kids to is 30% non-white) (click on this link, and enter your zip code in the geography block to find out the demographics of your neighborhood).

So what do you think of Dr. Emerson's research on race as a proxy for "crime," "school quality," and "housing values?"  


Anonymous said...

I have the opposite problem as far as wanting a "good neighborhood" and "good schools." We adopted our son from South Korea and wanted to live in an area with a large Asian population. But we can't afford it (and my husband and I both work). We worked almost a year with a couple of real estate agents to find something we could afford in a neighborhood with a high or even moderate Asian population that wouldn't put us more than 40 miles (each way) from our jobs. We couldn't do it. It was so incredibly frustrating. We do go to Korean school every Saturday, we have a Korean tutor, we go to Korean grocery stores and restaurants frequently, we cook Korean food, etc. But it is nowhere near as good as it would be for my son to live in a neighborhood and go to a school with more than a handful of Asian-American kids. (Conversely I've heard of some Korean adoptees having a socially tough time going to schools with large Korean/Korean-American populations because of some prejudice against adoptees. I've heard this is much less a problem in the Chinese/Chinese-American community.) I wish I could find a better solution for us.

Deborah said...

I total agree with "don't force your child to live in a hostile environment" but race is unfortunately no the only factor in hostility. Our family has been through a dramatic lesson in this. One of my sons has a Taiwanese wife, when they moved to a new area they chose to go to a Chinese church, he was treated well by the men but she was subject to such shunning by the women because she had married and broken with what they thought was traditional... After 1 year they moved onto a church with many multiracial families and found acceptance. This actually is consistent with our experience with our daughter, we are all far more conspicuous in a single race situation than in a multiracial one. The most likely group actually publicly confront us about our family are Asians who don't know us. Fortunately we also have a number of very close Chinese friends.

Dawn said...

We were lucky that we moved from a suburb to a diverse city neighborhood and a Chinese/Spanish immersion public school opened near our neighborhood this year. We live in a fairly diverse area and our family is multi ethnic so our kids are around people from many backgrounds a lot. That said, I am very happy we decided to send our daughter to a school with a large number of Asian children (30%). We have some friends who are Asian but were raised in all white neighborhoods, who also send their kids to our daughter's school. Our friends felt a lot of hostility growing up and wanted their children to be in a school with a larger Asian population. Her school has quite a few adopted children of a multitude of races as well as children of bi-racial families so having a mom or a dad that doesn't look anything like you isn't a big deal.
We also live in an area where you can choice into any school in the metro area. For families that don't live in very diverse areas but want their kids to have diverse but good schools, a lot of schools that boarder neighborhoods with more diversity are good options. I teach in a very good school that is close to an urban school district that doesn't have a good reputation. We get a lot of students from outside our district and we about 35% non-white. A lot of our students also come to us from all white schools because they feel more comfortable in a diverse community.

Diane Benjamin said...

I'm always interested in white people's definition of a "good" school. The test scores at my daughter's Spanish immersion urban school aren't the greatest, given that a large percentage of the students are English Language Learners and come from low-income households. But the cultural immersion and the fact that she is in the racial majority for both students and staff make it a very "good" school for her.