racism

The Colorblind Parenting Approach Makes Me Want To Yell "#StayMadAbby!"

The #StayMadAbby hashtag has been one of my favorite hashtag activism moments of the entire year.

The Story behind #StayMadAbby:

In 2008, Abigail Fisher was denied admission to the University of Texas at Austin and decided to sue the school for race discrimination— claiming that as a white student, the university denied her admission because of her race. Only 47 students admitted to University of Texas-Austin that year had lower GPA's and test scores than Fisher. Of those 47, 42 were White and five were minority students. During the recent affirmative action arguments, Scalia suggested that some black students belong at “slower-track” universities. He implied affirmative action puts minority students in elite universities that are too challenging for them.

How does this pertain to transracial adoption?

I've often heard well-intentioned trans-racial adoptive parents speak about how much they love their little bundle of joy, and that they've chosen a colorblind approach to parenting. Many view colorblindness as a good thing, elaborating on their desire to take MLK seriously on his call to judge people on the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. They want to focus on commonalities between people, such as their shared humanity, and the fact that they are now a fully intact family-unit. What's so wrong with that?

How does the Colorblind approach sound to adult transracial adoptees?

Speaking for myself (not all adult transracially adoptees) what I hear is that this parent doesn't see that bad, ‘colored' part of me - that black part. If they ignore that part, then I'm a good kid, worthy of love and attention. Even when assuming that these parents are well-intentioned, and want to provide the best possible life for me,  it still occurs to me that one of the basic tenets of anti-racism is to understand that although one has not chosen to be socialized into racism, no one is neutral or exempt from it. To not act against racism is to support racism, thus the colorblind philosophy cannot remain. Since true human objectivity is impossible parents must reject the urge to avoid sounding prejudice by making this statement.

Since people of color cannot be racist*, the line of white privilege and oppression can feel especially blurry.  From my experience, adoptive parents desperately seek to create environments where their adopted children and their marginalized voices can speak freely and honestly. How can we do this if you've chosen to remain staunchly colorblind or pushing back against the truths of how white supremacy continues to reign? The strategy of disregarding race effectively covers up injustice and allows it to continue to permeate many aspects of society.

Robin + Angela
Robin + Angela

Robin DiAngelo, a white woman who "grew up poor" recognizes that her experience of poverty would have been different had she not been white. The mere fact that this sentence lives in her bio, stuns me. I view her choice to include this tidbit amongst the plethora of other impressive accolades as a way to educate anyone who dare seek out her presence. The reason this sentence spoke to me as, I've heard many white people speak about their own experience of marginalization as an effort to obscure and protect racism. Examples of this includes; "...I grew up poor, so I know what it's like...",  or "I have a black friend...", or "I grew up in the South, so I know all about that..."

In the words of Robin DiAngelo, "If you are white and have had many experiences, world-wide travels, diversified workplace, speak multiple languages etc., but have not explored your own racial identity then you are ignorant and ill-informed." 

Next time you bring up the impact of race on Donald Trump, american policing, Daniel Holtzclaw or topics that have seemingly less obvious racial implications (like the Star Spangled Banner and voting rights), and people respond by stating "race has nothing to do with it," or asks "why do you always bring race into the conversation?" perhaps respond with a simple statement like; "White people are unconsciously invested in racism" or "given our socialization, it is much more likely that we are the ones who don't fully understand the issue," or, do as I do and yell "#StayMadAbby" and walk away. I'm just kidding, I don't yell at people.

**Yes, you read that correct, people of color cannot be racist. Everyone is prejudiced but only members of a dominant group can be racist.

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.

Engage The Culture. Be An Ally.

Seattle Pacific University held a symposium on Ferguson and race relations with a panelist of four professors. Upon hearing of the event I posted the event flyer on the door to my office, hoping the University would use this event platform to bring justice to Michael Brown by allowing his spirit to live on through the voices of our academic community.  Immediately prior to attending the event, I drank tea at Storyville, a boutique coffee shop that reeks of privilege and safety, located atop the trendy, and upscale Queen Anne hill of Seattle. A quote on the wall taunted me the entire time I was there. It read "Love everybody, never ever hurt anybody." In an ultimate paradox I left the coffee shop for the event eager to discuss institutionalized racism, and how it continues to hurt so many. IMG_0034 As I walked on campus I noticed the school motto plastered on all of the banners; "Engaging the culture. Changing the world." I couldn't help but wonder how students could dutifully engage our culture and make systemic change to the post-racial status of our world while attending a University where everyone within senior leadership is White. The University took a giant step in the right direction for the predominantly white, privileged higher education culture, by employing the voices and intellect of well-liked professors on our campus in hearing their thoughts and then allowing for a time of Q&A/reflection on Ferguson et al.

The first of four panelists (a white male) began the evening recounting an allegory from the book Divided by Faith; Evangelical Religion and The Problem of Race In America, admitting feelings of guilt in not fully realizing his own white privilege until reading this book in adulthood. He calmly related the police brutality seen today with some of the recent events to the horror he felt when first watching the videos of the Rodney King beatings.

Next to speak was Professor Brian Bantum (the only black person on the panel), a theologian who began by stating that his body shakes with rage when even thinking about Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Michael Brown and others. His visceral bodily reaction was one that few others in the room could identify with (which may help to understand the demographic of the university). His passionate directive that "our society was founded on the inhumane treatment of dark bodies" made some audience members wriggle in their seats, while others - primarily members of SPU's Black Student Union - let out cries in agreeance. He implored students to rise above complacency and to acknowledge that "Darren Wilson is either a criminal or really bad at his job" adding that passivity is what is killing blacks.

While hoping for more racial diversity amongst the panel, I understood that in order for people to feel safe and thus truly moved to action it makes sense psychologically to hear the call from someone who racially mirrors ourselves. Tonight's well attended and robust event was a clear indication that SPU has a community of students who want to make change, but who first need to learn more about how their own privilege may stand in the way of garnering true change. Black folks aren't asking how to feel angry by Ferguson or Trayvon Martin it's practically innate, but this question was voiced anonymously (via texting in questions) tonight. I can only assume that many student's feel stunted in their action (or lack thereof) out of this same fear as well.

Rather than the current lofty and unclear motto, perhaps a more inclusive tagline, targeted toward our specific student body could read; "Engage the culture. Become an ally." Ally's are people who band together towards a common cause regardless of whether or not they are directly impacted. In other words, they don't need to be Black in order to feel raw emotion about Ferguson and seeing images of police traumatizing an already broken town with tanks and military weapons. Similarly, one doesn't need to be adopted to feel outrage towards an adoptee's loss of their basic human rights, like knowing the identity of their natural parents.

Knowing that white privilege is largely invisible to those who have it, I can't help but wonder how tonight's symposium will impact our predominantly white student body. Will white, middle-class students feel moved to become an ally to those suffering the first hand injustices in the US? Would our students readily go join in the protests with those in Ferguson?

Change begins with great leadership. It looks like we are in good hands with a transparent [Caucasian] president who is obviously committed to engaging in discussions about race relations.

Black Ownership of the Words "Natural Hair?"

80472210
80472210

When I type the words "natural hair" in to the search box on Pinterest, my feed is automatically flooded with pictures of black women confidently wearing their hair au naturel. I find lots of information about natural hair care, afro styling suggestions, braiding techniques and encouragement to stay away from straighteners. Instagram and Google provide more of the same. It seems as though the words natural hair have meandered its way into mainstream Black cultural lingo. My Caucasian friends who aren't wearing wigs or weaves don't describe their hair as "natural hair," and photos of natural caucasian hair never pop up in these searches...can we then classify this as black terms? Obviously, neither the words "natural" or "hair" are inherently or exclusively Black...

To some extent every group participates in code switching in one way or another. The relationships that particular sub groups have to languages happen as a result of different groups living together as a consequence of historical events, human migrations, redlining etc. Although it may seem that attempting to fit in and ascribing to a cliquish mindset will only serve to keep unwanted racial barriers, languages and word associations of various ethnic and cultural groups is critical for uniting communities and preserving our identity.

Many transracial adoptive parents ask me styling questions about caring for their children's black hair. Whilst being steadfast in my encouragement towards wearing black hair au naturel, I openly acknowledge through words and photos that my journey towards ridding myself of wigs and weaves did not happen overnight. I also know that peer pressures (for both the child adoptee and their parents), finances, weather, access to black hair salons and politics are factors when deciding upon natural hair. After NYC Mayor de Blasio's son donned his afro I read a tweet by political correspondent Hunter Walker who stated that de Blasio "...should probably encourage Dante to give his hair more than a weekly washing."  This culturally insensitive comment is not unique - a once per week or once every other week hair wash is easily understood by the black community, but other ethnicities may think this to be unsanitary. Though comments like these may feel to be a jab in our weary armor as we continue to be embrace our natural selves, let's plod and take a cues from Esperanza Spalding and Lupita N'yongo as they help to redefine the rigid lines other cultures have drawn for us.

I'm curious what minority subgroups may take over next? Perhaps instead of the general public stigmatizing adoptees as adorable, cuddly, black, orphaned babies, we will begin to be seen and heard as articulate and intelligent adults? We, adoptees are making progress via sites such as The Lost Daughters and Land of Gazillion Adoptees, but truthfully we still have a ways to go until we gain as firm the grasp that Black women have on the term "natural hair." 

***This post is dedicated to 22 year old, Karyn Washington, who took her own life last week. She was the creator of the website For Brown Girls, and worked hard to empower black women everywhere learn to love their complexion and themselves. She seemed to have so many things going for her. It's important that we check in with each other often - especially to those for whom we think may 'have it all.' ***