Monday, March 26, 2012

White Adoptive Parents: Keeping Your Children of Color Safe in a Racist World

At Land of a Gazillion Adoptees, Keum Mee asks important questions about the training, knowledge and competence of white transracially adopting parents to teach their children of color what they need to know:
If you have been listening to the news at all lately, you have probably heard the tragic story of Trayvon Martin‘s death. Since adoption is the place my mind is most of the time, I just keep thinking, “How many transracial adoptive parents know that this story is relevant to their own families?” In his Washington Post blog article, opinion writer, Johnathan Capehart, recalls “the list of the 'don’ts'" he received from his mother about how to behave in public when a young Capehart was about to transfer to a predominantly white school. As a black woman in America, Capehart’s mother knew through lived experience the challenges her son would face as a black man in a white world. So when I hear the accounts of adoption professionals like Melanie Chung-Sherman about the lack of attention to race in adoption placement, I worry that our kids of color are not in line to receive valuable skills and information they need to survive as a non-white person in a predominantly white society from their white parents. What if some white parents of kids of color adhere to a our-world-is-colorblind philosophy? What kind of lived experience will they share with their children? What will happen to their children when they leave the protective umbrella of their parents’ white privilege?
So how about you?  What are you doing to help your children grow up SAFE in a world that will make assumptions about them, solely based on their appearance? 

I have to admit, I hate asking this question -- what should the potential VICTIM do to avoid danger?  It's so victim-blaming, like telling girls they're to blame for their own rapes because they wore a short skirt or a see-through blouse.  I absolutely CRINGED when Geraldo Rivera said the solution was for boys of color not to wear hoodies.  REALLY?!  Isn't the solution to END RACISM?! Yes. But. In the meantime, I need to keep my children safe, even when I'm not there to clothe them in my white privilege.  So what do we do?

1. Read. Listen. Learn. I don't have the "lived experience" to know the kinds of racisms my children will face.  So in the absence of that lived experience, I need to listen to people of color, read what they write, and ACCEPT WHAT THEY SAY. No denials allowed.  I can't say, "That doesn't really happen, you misunderstood, you overreacted, that wasn't really racist."

2.  Talk. Teach.  It's imporant to talk to our children about race and racism.  Talk explicitly about these things.  And it's not enough to talk about it as an historical event.  Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks are all well and good, but you can't act like they cured racism in the 1960s, and it's never been seen again.

3.  Recognize stereotypes. Be specific. Do you know the stereotypes associated with your child's race or ethnicity?  Do you know that Asians are thought of as sneaky and untrustworthy? as perpetually foreign?  Do you know that Asian women are considered submissive and sexually exotic?  Do you know that hispanics are thought of as shiftless and lazy?  Do you know that African-American women are seen as sexually available, and African-American men as violent criminals? Do you know how these stereotypes are often manifested? If you don't know, how can you prepare your children to recognize and respond to the stereotypes when they are manifested?  It's not pleasant to put yourself into the minds of people who think this way, but it's necessary to help your children.

4. Lessons.  My children can't absorb lessons about how to respond to the specific racisms they'll face simply by seeing how I face them -- because I won't be facing them.  That means explicit lessons are needed.  We talk about specific situations:  ching-chong speech, assumptions they know karate, the pulled-eyes gesture.  We brainstorm responses.  We role-play situations.  They learn, they feel empowered, they handle the situations when faced with them.

5.  Role models. Since our children can't learn from OUR lived experiences, make sure there are people in their lives who have lived the experiences they will likely face.

So what are you doing to keep your child of color safe in this not-colorblind world? What have I left off the list?

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