It has become all to apparent in the past few months that racial prejudices abound and are threatening to tear apart the wonderful diversity that makes up our country. A diversity that started as differences between Catholic and Protestant, German and Scandinavian has evolved to differences in skin color and Christian vs. Muslim. Many of us believed that the election of our first black President ushered in a new age of equality. Unfortunately, I believe it gave voice to those who believed this country should be ruled by a white male majority.
As the mother of both white (biologic) and non-white (adopted) children, I have the unique perspective of my own social experiment. Many of the friendships I have made as a parent involve families that look like ours. Their stories add to my experiences. As our children have grown up, we have seen the evolution of how society views our children. When our non-white children first come into our homes, they were seen as adorable children with beautiful skin tones and lush dark hair. When seen in public, they were under the watchful eye of their white parent. Ignorant questions were usually whispered as an aside at the playground or in the grocery store line, out of the hearing of children. Questions such as, “Does she eat with chopsticks?”, “What language will she speak when she starts talking?”, “What mix is he?”. But kids grow up and become separate entities from their parents. We are not around when they venture out on their own in middle and high school. They are now seen and categorized by their skin color and facial features without regard to the fact that they were raised in a white family. The adorable baby with beautiful skin and a mass of dark hair cradled in his white father’s arms is now a Latino male strolling the mall with friends who may share his same features.
I have come to believe that White America views some races more favorably than others. My daughters are Asian – they receive very few negative comments about their race and are seldom singled out for higher scrutiny. This is not as true of my friends’ children who are Latino or Black. A friend was recently traveling with her adopted sons, both with dark skin and still in elementary school, when the boys were pulled aside by TSA and questioned about the identity of the white woman (their mother) that was with them. Another friend’s son, who is Latino, has seen much different reactions when he is out with a group of white friends as compared to when he is seen with Latino friends. My daughters were part of a recent Korean culture camp and felt very uncomfortable when they ate at a Chinese restaurant with a group of their friends, also Asian. All of the other diners in the restaurant, who were white, watched them as they ordered and ate their meals. And I don’t think they were looking for chopstick lessons!
When international adoption first started in the 1950’s, social workers told parents that race didn’t matter and you as a parent should just love the child as if they were your own. We are now aware that this can create harm as children quickly understand that they don’t resemble their parents or the rest of their extended family. Adoption advice now includes information on building self-esteem thru positive race specific role models, cultural events, art and food. Rather than ignoring race, celebrate it and the diversity that it brings to your family.
But how do I equate the celebration of diversity with the current headlines regarding restricting immigration, increased scrutiny of members of the Muslim faith and violence between police and members of the black communities? Do my Asian kids that belong to white parents get a pass? Why doesn’t President Obama get a pass, as he was raised by white grandparents in a predominately white culture?
I have race prejudices that I acknowledge and probably some that I don’t. The way forward is to start talking about our prejudices, both with those who agree and more importantly, those who don’t. Shouting at each other across the divide doesn’t work and never has. Open and honest discussions may help us to move forward, both as an individual and as a country. This country was started by immigrants and has flourished because everyone brought something different to the table. Let’s keep it that way