race

Episode #2 - The Adopted Life

In July, Bryan and I traveled to Los Angeles, where I interviewed two sets of transracially adopted siblings. All four of the teenagers had bottled up a lot of their adoption-related feelings. When their interview time came, it was as if they were ready to explode! It was an incredibly humbling experience for me to assist in allowing their truths to come out. What a privilege! 


In addition to extending positive thoughts towards these four brave individuals, I'd encourage you to use the sentiments they've shared toward the betterment of the adoption community by sharing the video with your friends and family. You never really know who may be impacted by adoption and may also find power or healing through these voices. 

In case you missed Episode #1, you can find that HERE

10 Year Old Discusses Selma, Christopher Columbus and Race

Angela & Eridon
Angela & Eridon

10 year old Eridon, an aspiring Radical Brownie, caught my attention at a #BlackLivesMatter event in Seattle. As the only child in the audience, she courageously posed questions for the powerful panel of Black scholars and activists. Eridon's mother is a transracial adoptee of the 60's which has undoubtedly provided fodder for her young, inquisitive mind in learning about race relations in the United States.

For this installment of The Adopted Life, I've chosen to interview Eridon (Because of my readership audience, It should be clearly noted that Eridon is not an adoptee). Watch our conversation here:

 

Personal note: Ava Duvernay's film; Selma, has expanded the minds of our youth (like Eridon). I'd argue that this means way more than an Oscar!

The Whitest Black Person I Know

I recently led an audience consisting primarily of Caucasian folks through an exercise where we identified common racial micro-aggressions. We discussed what behaviors, language cues, social skills etc. hobbies etc. constitute receiving the label of an ethnicity as an adjective.  Upon finishing the session I was greeted by an attendee who gushed; “I just love how you break down tough, controversial current topics on race relations. I was really challenged by your words, and was surprised by how comfortable I felt around you. You are like the Whitest Black person I know!

I won’t spend time delving into the personhood and personality traits of the person behind these specific comments, because this is not a singular incident. I hear this sort of sentiment quite frequently, and after having conversations with others, I know that I am not alone. It is worth noting that the great majority of folks who have made statements like this are the type of "good white people" Brit Bennett describes in her article. I shall also frame this blog post around the truism which is that we all emit unconscious stereotypes via microagressive comments, and the great majority of us are certainly not seeking to offend others.

However, even when microagressions don’t consciously seek to offend, they still hold weight and have far reaching implications for those on the receiving end. The various ways I've been tagged as the Whitest Black Person has left an impression on me. For example, during my high school years, the comments actually prompted feelings of pride and relative success - I felt it to be a compliment to fit in with my predominantly Caucasian peers. During early college, comments alluding to my "articulate nature" encouraged a feeling of positivity around perceived academic success. Within the work force being told that I made my clients feel "surprisingly at ease" resulted in feelings of self-adulation as I took it to mean that my work ethic and professionalism was noted. A black friend with whom I've recently conversed about this very topic concurred in stating that some micro-aggressions made him feel a similar sense of haughtiness, even conceit as well.

I generally give people the benefit of the doubt and offer an understanding affirmation of their well-intended comments, rather than to address the qualms in suggesting a betrayal of my own culture. During times where I have felt clear headed and rational enough to push back (thus effectively speaking out against the effects of marginalization), I’ve found that there is no inverse. That when folks state that I am the Whitest Black person they know, that this does not also mean that they have interacted with someone and deemed them the "Blackest White person" ever. This discrepancy (and others) leave me wildly curious. I wonder which aspects, in addition to the obvious implicit racial biases, are at play during these moments.

My incessantly curious brain can’t help but to wonder about the antithesis of these statements. If I’m “surprisingly safe" and "put people at ease” then what wouldn't be surprising?  If others are shocked that they are able to have difficult conversations about race, this automatically implies that other black, young adult, female, transracial adoptees have shut them down in the past? Similarly if acting more professional equals acting White, wouldn't that suggest that Whites are the status quo and the basis for which we measure white-collar jobs (no pun intended)? It seems that this could explain the sense of pride and conceit that I sometimes feel after receiving a comment like this. It makes sense to me that any compliment favoring the status quo may be initially perceived as a positive trait.

Inserting other ethnicities as adjectives have also helped me to put the pejorative sentence in to perspective. I've asked myself if a comment such as; “You’re the Asianist Latino I Know!” would be met with a rational understanding, or a sense of positive self regard? It's unlikely. Most would feel a knee-jerk reaction to the overtly racist and offensive nature of the comment. Why then wouldn’t being the “Whitest Black Person” around come with the automatic visceral reaction of disgust?

Can I posit the idea that no one is born the stereotyped adjective that currently personifies their race? People are born with a certain amount of the melanin chemical that colors our skin, but we have learned how to act like our specific race within the social confines of the region in which we live. Herein lies the racial training that must occur for Whites raising Blacks, and vice versa. For transracial adoptees, learning with which adjective that we will align is a lifelong and formative process.

To some, I may be the Whitest Black person they know, but I know that having Black skin cannot equate to that specific person's definition of what it means to act Black or White.

I'm Trying To Believe That "Black Lives Matter"

Black Lives Matter It's an undeniably trying time to be black in America right now. There is simply no way to ease the shockwave of this  truth.  I have found myself working exceptionally hard trying to believe the #Blacklivesmatter hashtag that is plastered all around me in my social media life. I have suppressed the daily involuntary body cringes that follow statements that begin "I am not a racist, but..." or "They mean well... [but it wasn't like the murder of the black guy was premeditated or anything]..." I've noticed my self-esteem shrink ever so slowly while engaging with those who've found it necessary to argue that the movement should shift from #blacklivesmatter, to #alllivesmatter - effectively shutting minorities up...yet again.

Britt Bennet's piece in Jezebel encapsulated my thoughts well where she wrote about well intentioned White people who've taken an ally approach throughout this mudslide of black carnage, but who, are still missing the point.

Over the past two weeks, I have fluctuated between anger and grief. I feel surrounded by Black death. What a privilege, to concern yourself with seeming good while the rest of us want to seem worthy of life.

-Britt Bennet

I recently stumbled upon Cipriana Quann's interview for the I Am What's Underneath campaign. This vulnerable campaign interviews folks unearthing not just what's physically underneath their fashion and style, but it simultaneously asks them to strip down emotionally, combining to create a reverent yet simple display of the power we already possess.

Cipriana Quann

Cipriana's interview has is allowed me to look in the mirror and to leave behind the suppressed, yet ever present uncertainty of my skin tone, and instead to begin to fathom that black just might be beautiful, indeed.

Watch her full interview here:

http://youtu.be/zPdWh6KcSNo

While describing the traumatic childhood moments, Cipriana maintains a beautifully dignified, ambitious and proud stature. If only the intensity of her memories combined with her obvious physical beauty could serve as a blueprint for any humans struggling with self doubt.

Jillian Mercado has also taken part in this project. While Cipriana's message centers around the elevation of black women to places of health and positivity, Jillian speaks about how she confidently looks in the mirror and is wowed by her own beauty. Every day. Both having disabilities, and working within the field I am pummeled with the notion that being beautiful and having a visible disability are mutually exclusive. Not so. Jillian Mercado

"Wow! I'm so pretty today!"

The campaign does not focus specifically on race, but interviews a range of people, with large bodies, small bodies, androgynous bodies, pregnant bodies, post-cancerous bodies and more, working to challenge what it means to be beautiful. We are challenged through this project to no longer find our self-image in the products that television, magazines and corporation wants us to buy, but from within. One interviewee so beautifully claimed her own by saying

"My skin is what I like most about my body. You can't buy it at the store."