When the 2002 Washington, DC, sniper serial killer turned out to be a black man, many black friends of mine held their breaths. How would racism manifest against them, since a black man had wantonly and randomly murdered 10 people, and his face was appearing all over the TV and newspapers? The Korean community went through similar issues after the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007. All too often that is how racism works, after all: one person’s depravity or bad behavior or clothing choice gets linked with race and ethnicity, especially if he or she is a person of color.
Today, police in Boston have shut down several cities in pursuit of the Boston marathon bombers, who allegedly are Russian, from Chechnya. I’ve seen lots of posts about Muslim terrorists, crazy Chechens, Russian thugs.
And so I’m thinking of the parents of children adopted from Russia. Like many parents, they are now having conversations with their children about dealing with fears after the bombing (the barrage of grim photos, the interviews with victims, the total press coverage). They are also now talking perhaps with their children about the fact the bombers may be from the same place the children are from. What will other kids say to them? How will other parents look at them? What stereotypes will be visited upon the children, as a result of a tragic, random act?
It’s a painful and unfair burden sometimes to represent one’s race or ethnicity. When my children went to college, and were the only ones of their race in a classroom, they’d occasionally be asked to speak on behalf of the entire African-American race. “Representing” can be a double-edged sword.
In the case of adoptive parenting, the challenge to both celebrate the child’s heritage and to acknowledge the stereotypes and negative views around the child’s race/ethnicity is huge.
So my heart goes out to Russian children today, and to their parents. I know how hard it is to shelter one’s children from the realities of racial profiling and generalizations, and I know how important it is to equip children to deal with them in a positive, proactive way.
May we all find peace and healing in this world.