Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Parenting While Not Noticing Race

At, "parenting advice" from the adoptive mother of three children, one of whom is biracial (African-American/Caucasian child), under the title, Skin Color Not Discussed in Our Family:
About a year after we brought our kids into our family through adoption my niece who was 6 at the time pointed at our middle child and said "Aunt he sure keeps his tan a long time". It never occurred to me that she did not realize that he was bi-racial but had strong African American features. If you did not know that his brother and sister were Caucasian and that they all had the same biological mother than you would look at him and see a beautiful black child. Ten years later thinking of that day when we explained to my niece that one of our children was black still brings a smile to our face.

My family never referred to a person by their ethnicity or skin color so I guess it never came up even better she never gave it two thoughts. I guess I just assumed that everyone knew it without it being said.

With our kids when we sat the kids down and explained to the children that they all had the same tummy mom just different tummy dad's. We then did something a little odd, we all poked our fingers with a glucometer tester and we all took a piece of paper and put a little drop of blood on it. Then we mixed up the pages after cute band-aid's of course, and asked if anyone could tell me what blood drop's belonged to who. Well no one could and that was the point, we all have the same things on the inside and what is on the outside is not what matters.

* * *

From that day forward when the kids talk about someone they met or friends at school, they will describe the color of their hair, the color of their eyes and other physical attributes but not one of them ever say what the skin color is.
Where to start?

Oh, the funny things white people say!  It's pretty easy when you're white and in the majority to say that what's on the outside doesn't matter.  When was the last time you couldn't get a cab or get a job or get a date or get an apartment because of the color of your skin? Do people lock their car doors when you walk by, follow you around a department store when you shop, racially profile you when you drive or get on an airplane or walk around in a neighborhood the police assume is too "rich" for your skin? Has anyone shouted at you, "[Racial epithet], go home?" Or let's look on the "positive" side of prejudice -- when was the last time you were told you were a credit to your race? or told that your affinity for math was because of your race? or told that your first-language English was wonderful for someone of your race and (presumed) nationality?

Try walking a lifetime in your biracial child's shoes before telling him or her that race doesn't matter.

You think your children are so evolved because they never mention race/skin color when describing someone?  Not so much evolved, as having learned that such talk is forbidden in your house.  Do you think your child will tell you about racial teasing at school?  Will you hear about it if someone calls him/her the N-word? Will you hear about it when the teacher calls him/her to the front of the room for a mock slave auction in history class?  Somehow I doubt it.

Do you think your kids don't mention it because they don't notice it?  Couldn't be further from the truth.  Kids notice, and at a far younger age than we think they do.  Don't you think it must be confusing that they aren't allowed to talk about the things they notice?  People who are comfortable with race can actually say the words!  If there are two people trying to describe John to me, and one studiously avoids mentioning the quite salient fact that John is African-American while telling me in laborious detail that John is wearing a blue polo shirt and is tall and has black hair and dark eyes, and the other person says, "You know, the African-American dude standing in the back,"  I know which one has a problem with race.  Don't you think your kids can figure out what your silence on the subject means?

And when your child is African-American, and you send the message that race is forbidden talk, how can you expect your child to form a positive racial identity?  Would you say to a child, "I never think of you as a girl?"  Or "I never think of you as a boy?" Those would be completely ridiculous statement, wouldn't they? How would you expect a girl or boy to develop a positive sense of identity if their gender was never acknowledged?  You're essentially saying to a child, "I don't think of you as Black or Asian or Latino," when you refuse to acknowledge that race exists.  You're denying part of your child.  How can that be good?

Feel free to think of yourself as completely evolved on issues of race.  Think of "colorblind parenting" as the progressive cutting edge (despite studies that suggest how bad it really is).  But you have to recognize reality -- not everyone is as "colorblind" as you are.  You have an obligation to prepare your child for the world he/she is living in.  The world where race matters.  The world where racism exists. You prepare your children for the dangers they will encounter in the world, right?  Don't cross the street in the middle; don't talk to strangers; don't smoke, don't drink, don't swim alone.  You teach your child how to cross the street safely when you're not there, you teach your child to swim so they can save themselves from drowning if you're not there.  Don't you think you should also prepare your child to face racial encounters when you're not there?

I just don't get it -- how can parents adopting transracially ignore the race of their children? Do your love your child because of their race or in spite of it?  Loving your child because of his or her race is loving ALL of your child, not just some parts of your child. Please love all of your child, including the color of their skin. Please.


Anonymous said...

I truly hate when adoptive parents dismiss their children's ethniciy/ies and pretend that it is not important. As if the world were perfect and everyone treated fairly and humanely? And what is wrong with acknowledging fact and reality? Different doesn't mean better or worse! No wonder the Natl Assoc. of Black Social Workers advocates same race placement for Black children! At least their heritage won't be dismissed.

My children are black, like me, and adopted from a majority black country. They barely had a concept of race until they came here. It was one of the first thing they noticed here b/c their classroom is very diverse and it was something quite unusual for them - coming from a 100% black classroom.

I acknowledge the differences b/w them (ethnicity, language, etc) as well as acknowledge their commonalities (their humanity, sharing the same teacher, liking the same games, being friends, etc).

I believe I would not be a good parent if I did not respond to or dismissed their questions, or if I let some of their thinking (white is better) go unchallenged. If I don't acknowledge the various differences that exist (they are adopted, I'm not; their closest friends are Asian & Mexican), how can I have frank discussion with them about anything?

Amanda said...

I'm sorry but what is a "tummy dad?" for goodness sakes?

This has white privilege written all over it. It's nice they get to be "blind" to color. But how will that help their child prepare to deal with racism or embrace their roots and heritage--something all of their children should be encouraged to do?

It's sad that they're content to ignore what is most likely the huge elephant in the room for their child, both as adoption is concerned and race.

jena said...

Eye opening and scary. i really didn't think this kind of attitude persisted. am pretty sheltered, even in the internet world - thanks so much for your awesome and thoughtful blog.

Wendy said...

On spot.

I agree with Amanda--tummy dad???

Sunday Koffron said...

“From that day forward when the kids talk about someone they met or friends at school, they will describe the color of their hair, the color of their eyes and other physical attributes but not one of them ever says what the skin color is.” - This makes me NUTS! When white people think it is enlightened to pretend not to notice race.

When I went to work 45 minutes away in another (very white) county I took another coach (one of my BFFs) with me. She was the ONLY black coach there. Parents would come up to me with questions about their kid’s progress or about what their coach was doing and I have to start with, “who is your child’s coach?”

They would go into these long and drawn out descriptions that fit NO ONE on staff, “she has short brown hair, she has brown eyes, she is your height…” and I would go through EVERY ONE who has ever worked there, before it dawned on me that they meant “the black lady” THE ONLY black person in the whole place! I would be so frustrated, after spending 5 minutes on something that could have been cleared up with 3 little words “the black one”! I would snap at them “you know, it really is ok to say that somebody is black when you are describing them.”

GRR! It really doesn’t prove you are not a racist when you refuse to acknowledge the obvious.

Reena said...

Oh my!

My teen age stepkids are white/Hispanic, my pre-Kers are Chinese. We talk about race issues quite a bit.

My 4-1/2 year old started talking about skin color at least a year ago. Everyone in our home has different skin-- and we talk about it. We talk about different hair, different eyes.

We talk about how some people will choose to not be friends with someone based on their skin color and that it is called racism. Yeah, that's right, my pre-kers are familair with the word racism.

They also know that babies grow in a mommy's uterus and get out (their words) through the vagina.

sharon said...

Race is not discussed in our home = We are white. And apparently nobody at sees the problem with a post like this.

Jen said...

Powerful post of truth! So good to see someone address race especially in reference to adoption. Great point that color does count, should be talked about & that the diversity of each individual person should not only be embraced, but discussed, valued, and reinforced! Our family is White, Black, & Hispanic. I love the beauty of God's hand as he created us His image! :)

Teresa said...

My almost-2-year-old was looking at an old magazine with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's kids on the cover. He started naming them with the names of kids in his daycare. Zahara (think that's her name) was the one he named with the name of the only black girl in his group. I was amazed how young he seems to perceive racial identifiers.

Momma C said...

Brilliant post- I did a post on my blog about this and referenced part of your post. Spot on! Social workers really need to screen TR adoptive parents much better.
and really- tummy dad?

Amy said...

We definitely have to discuss race--I think my daughter was only 4 when she started lamenting the fact that she did not have skin as light as mine (she's from China). I can't imagine what ignoring it would do to her sense of self.

Mahmee said...

Well, isn't that special? Geez. Maybe they cover all of the mirrors in their home too? I love your 'rebuttal'!

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I could have been this (white) parent had I not adopted a child of color. I would have sent my white kids to white schools, slected white doctors, signed my up for majority white sports teams, lived in a white community, attended a white church-- all in the name of being colorblind.

Mom of Toddlers said...

Your explanation about blood thing is so inspiring!

Logistics Gal said...

Absolute profound statement!

Zoe said...

race is not the matter of human, important is everyone human.