Kaepernick: Patriotism, Racism, and Adoption

Ever been to a public sports event, say, an NFL game? When the national anthem is played or sung, does everyone stand quietly and respectfully?

No. Drunk people shriek and yell during the national anthem. Sober people talk and stare at their iPhones and bobble in the hot dog line, all during the national anthem.

Colin Kaepernick sat rather than stood through the national anthem, with intention, in the tradition of civil protest, and calmly explained why.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

We all need to sit with his statement, before conflating it with disdain for all police or hatred for America. This may especially be true for white adoptive parents of black children.

Kaepernick is a transracial adoptee, raised by white parents.

White adoptive parents: Can you see Colin Kaepernick as your black child, protesting the oppression of people of color, and then being vilified from many quarters?

Have you consulted with black friends as to their perspective?

Have you read through theroot.com and blavity.com or hiphopwired.com for their take? Have you read through the many social media sites that reflect the views of black people?

The world is going to see our children as black men and women. Whether we want to believe it or not, we live in a racist society. Our white privilege will not protect our children. It’s not protecting Colin Kaepernick.

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How would you handle your black child repeatedly and publicly being called “nigger” and told to leave the country, because he protested the oppression of people of color?

How will you explain to your black kids that there are people burning Kaepernick’s jersey, in a manner reminiscent of hanging effigies? Those folks are not writing commentary or thoughtfully tweeting: they are setting fires and posting videos. It’s not a peaceful dialogue. When you reflect on lynching and strange fruit, what will you say to your kids?

How will you explain “patriotism” to your children: as speaking up for people of color in a legal, non-violent way in a country founded on freedom of speech? Or as standing for a national anthem that, as it turns out, is rooted in racism?

I stand when the national anthem plays. I take pride in many aspects of being American, and I recognize the many privileges and advantages we have.

As a white parent and grandmother of black children, I also stand with Colin Kaepernick, as he has shown intentional advocacy in raising awareness of the racism in our beloved country. Colin will be fine, and will weather the attacks and the ugly vilification that are the tradition of responses to civil rights protests in America. It will take time, it’s a hard road, and we all have to travel it.

 

 

 

 

“Racial Identity” Is a Safety Issue for Children of Color Adopted by White Parents

Prior to adopting, should white parents be able to show proof that they can provide a strong, genuine sense of racial identity to their adopted children of color? Should “strong racial identity” be considered a standard of safety for transracially adopted children?

I know children of color can thrive even when raised in all-white areas, if the white parents are genuinely willing to do the hard work involved. I also know of way too many cases of adoptees of color who have struggled mightily with their racial identity, to the point of depression and worse. Some examples are here, here, and here. The recent, highly publicized case of the black adoptee in rural Idaho is especially tragic.

Bullying based on race, micro aggressions, racism directed at the individual and the larger racism imposed on the racial group–these are huge realities for children of color, and can be overwhelming. Many times, white adoptive parents do not become fully aware of the realities of racism until their children of color are school-age or older. A lot of damage can be done by that time.

Permanency–a permanent family–is a legitimate, important goal in child welfare advocacy. Children need families. Permanency and safety, though, go hand in hand.

To me, “safety” should mean that white adoptive parents of children of color, as well as the children themselves, deeply understand what it means to be a person of color in America. They should have multiple resources nearby, including racial role models and mentors, and have access to appropriate therapies and options for adoption- and race-related trauma, behaviors, and questions. The children may not be safe if they do not have a strong sense of racial identity and awareness.

Consider these child welfare definitions, the standards by which children are deemed to be safe or unsafe.

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” ‘Safety threat’ means family behavior, conditions, or circumstances that could result in harm to a child,” according to Oregon’s Department of Human Services, which, similar to other states, oversees and advocates for vulnerable children.

Could not having role models and racial mirrors result in harm to a child?

” ‘Unsafe’ means there is a safety threat to which the child is vulnerable and there is insufficient parent or caregiver protective capacity to protect a vulnerable child from the identified safety threats.”

Does an unstable, shallow, or nonexistent racial identity make a child unsafe, especially if the child is racially isolated?

” ‘Vulnerable Child’ means a child who is unable to protect him or herself. This includes a child who is dependent on others for sustenance and protection.”

Are children of color who are adopted and raised by white parents “vulnerable” if they have no contact with people who look like them, or no contact with the culture/country into which they were born?

Are the children “vulnerable” if the parents provide only white privilege and/or white fragility?

What would happen if we made “racial identity” a focal point from which children of color are placed with white parents in non-diverse areas, and demanded it as a matter of safety?

Would it mean we would work harder to better prepare and screen white adoptive parents, or to recruit more families of color for children of color, or what? Would it mean that fewer children of color would be placed with white families? Would it mean that fewer children would be adopted? Would it mean that child welfare policies would insist that white parents immerse themselves in communities of color before they had a child of color placed with them?

I say all this in full awareness of my white privilege and my own biases and failings. It’s a lot to think about, and it needs to be thought of well before adoption, for the safety of a vulnerable child.

More often, though, a child of color adopted by a white family is safe within that family, and then encounters a new, harsh world as a teen and adult outside of that bubble, a world which sees him or her only in terms of race. In our current racial climate in the U.S., that child had better be genuinely prepared to grapple with, fend off, and heal from racist assaults, large and small. Otherwise, that child is not safe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“What Do You See?” Music Video: Family, Struggle, Resilience, Awe

“What Do You See?” is a lovely song by the talented musician-singers Mr and Mrs. Something.

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Today, they released the song, as well as a music video that has a story line about family, parenting, struggles, and resilience. When you watch the video, you will see and hear Mr. and Mrs. Something, and you will see my daughter, my granddaughter, and me. The video is available here.

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Bryan Tucker and Brian Lee, filming Mr. and Mrs. Something, August 2015.

The director of the video is Bryan Tucker, who directed and produced the prize-winning documentary Closure (the story of Angela Tucker‘s search and reunion), among other works. Bryan came up with the story line concept, a merging of the lyrics and a story of a family, and approached us about being in the video.  It was a brand new experience for us, and was a lot of fun. I have a whole new appreciation for the art of making top-notch videos–so much time and so many details.

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Bryan Tucker and Brian Lee, filming the video for “What Do You See?” August 2015

The lyrics and the music are strong and challenging:

What do you see…the dream that has died, or the hopes yet to be?

Someone who’s loved and lost, or someone who’s learned patiently?

The song and the video are about everyone: the struggles, the failings, the fallings, the willingness to get back up. They are about mothers and daughters, parenting, interracial families, raising children, loving each other, being angry or hurt, laughing, cheering each other on, hanging in, showing up.

We’ve heard today from dear friends who saw the video and know us (including in our unpleasant, imperfect, not in the video moments), and from strangers who saw themselves in the lyrics or story: adoptees, Ethiopians, single moms, women of color, grandmothers, dancers, aspiring ballerinas, adoptive parents, step parents, mothers, daughters, fathers, sons.

Wherever we are, we can choose to see the best in each other and ourselves, even in the midst of all our imperfections.

‘Cuz I see a will to rise again from every fall.

I see a soul that’s filled with awe at the wonder of it all.

What do you see? 

You can (and should!) download the song for free, for the next 2 weeks. Mr and Mrs. Something’s album Setting Sail will be released on November 17, 2015. We are honored to have been a part of it.

 

 

 

 

The Tempest of Rachel Dolezal

The story of Rachel Dolezal doesn’t have legs: it has octopus arms and labyrinthine twists. Its reach and longevity have been astonishing, and speak to the fragility and pain of understanding race in this world.

I wonder about giving so much attention to someone who has not brought something good into dialogue. That, of course, is too often the nature of information and media today.  The people laboring in civil rights and human rights–doing positive, life-changing work–will never get the kind of coverage that Rachel Dolezal has received.

Among the many mysteries of the Dolezal story has been the role of adoption and the meaning of “transracial.” As the white parent of four transracially adopted children, now all young adults, I’ve never been and never will be black or biracial. I believe I’ve been an imperfect ally, aware of both racism and of white privilege, aware of the need for mentors and role models for my children, aware that exclusion, indignities, and micro aggressions are part of my beloved children’s lives.

The novelty of Rachel Dolezal has captured many keyboards, many hours of time by many people. As someone long involved in transracial adoption issues, I hope to see conversations about race and identity continue, especially in a public forum, though not necessarily focused on one individual. We have such a long way to go, and so many people in our racial and adoptive community continue to be voiceless and vulnerable.

All that said lol, as an ally, I’d be remiss if I did not mention these articles about the realities of transracial adoptees in light of the Dolezal discussions. Important words here.

“Transracial Lives Matter: Rachel Dolezal and the Privilege of Racial Manipulation”

“Rachel Dolezal Draws Ire of Transracial Adoptees”

“Open Letter: Why Co-Opting ‘Transracial’ in the Case of Rachel Dolezal is Problematic”

 

Ethiopian Adoptees and Black History Month: A Great Video

Four Ethiopian adoptees have made a thoughtful, provocative video for Black History Month, talking about what it means to be black, Ethiopian, and African, in the US and in Canada.

Their “I Am Black History” video is available here.

I congratulate Aselefech Evans, Rahel Tafere, Annette-Kassaye, and Mekdes SOulgarden for their willingness to share their valuable perspectives. It’s about adoption, it’s about identity, it’s about race, and it’s about empowerment.

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Kudos and gratitude also to Bryan Tucker, the producer of the wonderful documentary Closure. Bryan gave his time, expertise, and talent to “I AM Black History,” and that means a great deal.

This video is groundbreaking and personal. We need these conversations. Many thanks to everyone involved.

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Racism, Trauma, and Adoption: Wake Up

Racism, trauma, and adoption are far more entwined than many people want to admit.

As a white person, I will start by saying this: Racism is real, pervasive, mostly implicit, better than it once was, and currently is damaging our culture, children, and future, in a genuine and tragic way.

As an adoptive parent of children of color, let me say that if you adopt transracially, you must make every effort possible to raise your child in a home where he sees you have friends who look like him, where she sees other children and adult role models who look like her, where you understand racial microaggressions and are comfortable talking about them, and where your approach to the child’s culture of origin isn’t an ethnic restaurant on special occasions or just artwork, dolls, and music.

Enough.

Here are two Wake Up Calls, for adoptive parents of children of color, though truly for anyone who wonders about racism and its impact.

The First Wake Up Alarm:

A 69-year-old black man, walking in Seattle in July 2014, using a golf club as a cane, was arrested, because the police officer says he threatened her with the golf club. Problem: The police department’s own video shows no such thing.

While the incident took place last summer, the video only came to light yesterday. It was obtained through a public records request by the Seattle-based paper The Stranger. Read the article with the videotape here.

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I’ve long known about DWB (Driving While Black),  but OMWWB (Old Man Walking While Black) is a new one.

Racism in the Seattle Police Department has been well-known for years, and the department is under federal investigation. Read more here.

This could be your grampa. William Wingate is a US Air Force veteran. He drove a King County Metro bus for 20 years. He was walking in daylight using a golf club as a cane. He is not mentally unstable, nor was he threatening anyone. He never swung at the police officer. He needed help getting into the police wagon, since he was handcuffed, and almost 70 years old.

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William Wingate on the way to jail. Image taken from police videotape.

He was arrested and spent a night in jail, something that had never happened to him before in his life.

If the videotape were not requested by The Stranger, we never would have known what happened to this man.

The Seattle Police have apologized, as of yesterday.

For me, this is a tipping point. As if Ferguson and Michael Brown and Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin weren’t enough. For me, it’s seeing, on videotape, an old man, who’s clearly hard of hearing, being accosted and jailed for nothing. It’s all on the videotape. The officer said in her report she was fearful of being assaulted by him. The officer, Cynthia Whitlach, has been reported as posting racist comments on Facebook along the way as well, per this The Stranger article.

I have written recently about “Being Black in Seattle: Rewards and Challenges” and “Being Black in Adoption: Seattle and Elsewhere.” It’s a sad coincidence that this case of William Wingate–the man with the golf club–should reach headlines today.

The Second Wake Up Alarm:

Racism, both violent incidents and the accumulation of micro aggressions, is a form of trauma. Don’t believe me? How about the medical profession’s bible, the DSM?

Medical Daily reported in 2013 that proposed changes in the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) could increase the potential for better recognition of race-based trauma in racial and ethnic minorities. In Psychology Today, Dr. Monnica Williams, a clinical psychologist and the associate director of the University of Louisville’s Center for Mental Health Disparities, said that in “earlier versions of the DSM, racism was recognized as a trauma that could potentially cause PTSD, but only in relation to a specific event. There had to be an incident of intense fear, helplessness, or horror for such consideration. For instance, if someone was assaulted in a racially-motivated event, then racism qualified as a sufficient trauma to be categorized as a cause of PTSD.

But now, under the new DSM-5 definition, the requirements for fear, helplessness, and horror have been removed, making room for the more lasting effects of subtle racism to be considered in the discussion of race-based traumas.”

That is an important and groundbreaking bit of news. Subtle racism can include microaggressions, which over time can erode people of esteem, energy, and hope. Microaggressions have been written about in many places, including American Psychologist and the Journal of Counseling and Development. The abstract for that latter article says that “This study examined the relationship between racial microaggressions (subtle and unintentional forms of racial discrimination) and mental health. Results from a large sample (N = 506) indicated that higher frequencies of racial microaggressions negatively predicted participants’ mental health and that racial microaggressions were significantly correlated with depressive symptoms and negative affect. Differences in the types of microaggressions experienced by various racial groups (Asian, Latina/o, Black, White, and multiracial) and counseling implications are discussed.”

Another perspective on racial microaggressions can be found in Buzzfeed. It’s received close to 3,000,000 views.

Add to that a discussion of whether adoption is a form of trauma. I wrote a post Does Adoption Really Equal Trauma? which has been shared on Facebook close to 950 times.

What happens to transracially adopted children, who may well have experienced trauma, and who are subject to racial microaggressions (if not explicit racism) as well?

The issue of trauma is a spectrum, and is influenced by individual experience and resilience. Not all adopted people, not all Asian (or other race) adoptees, and not all black people experience trauma or PTSD.

Some do, though.

For adopted children, especially but not only those of color, we need to have big, courageous conversations around racism. We need to be aware of trauma.

And we need progress in mental health and in adoption-related services.

We need more therapists of color, who have life experience with racism and with racial microaggressions, who can help their patients of color feel comfortable and safe in seeking help, and who can help educate their white colleagues as well. Can white therapists treat people of color successfully? Yes. But let’s get more therapists of color so that our children of color see themselves reflected in mental health professionals.

For adopted children, we need to value the life experience and perspectives of adult adoptees who are clinical therapists. There are increasing numbers of white, Korean, Colombian, and African-American adult adoptees who are doing excellent, important work in adoption.

We need more counselors and therapists across the board who are well-trained in adoption competency. One such approach is Training in Adoption Competency, affiliated with the Center for Adoption Support and Education.

A quote from TAC:

“What are the core knowledge areas for an adoption competent mental health professional?

An adoption competent mental health professional understands the nature of adoption as a form of family formation and the different types of adoption; the clinical issues that are associated with separation and loss and attachment; the common developmental challenges in the experience of adoption; and the characteristics and skills that make adoptive families successful. An adoption competent mental health professional is culturally competent with respect to the racial and cultural heritage of children and families and the culture of birth families.”

Another strong training resource for professionals is Dr. Joyce Maguire Pavao’s Certificate Program in Adoption Competency. My point: If you are an adoptive parent interested in therapy for yourself or your child, insist on adoption-competent therapists.

I don’t know if William Wingate, the elderly black man I wrote about at the beginning, experienced trauma. I’ve no doubt he has experienced racism. I wish him well, and I think he deserves much more than an apology.

For transracially adopted babies, children, and teens, who grow up to be adults, let’s talk openly and honestly about racism in the United States, and the intense damage it is doing to all of us. Let’s do that for all of us.

 

 

 

 

Being Black in Adoption: Seattle and Elsewhere

I’ve lived in Seattle about four years, and it’s still a culture shock for me to go to places like restaurants or malls, or Seattle Town Hall, Elliott Bay Bookstore, the Seattle Public Library, or wherever, and not be surrounded by black people. That was the norm in Prince George’s County, where I had lived for almost 30 years. My four children, all adopted transracially, all of whom identify as black, were raised in Prince George’s. They attended schools with black, white, Latino, Asian, and mixed race kids. There was no shortage of role models, or of people who looked like them.

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Birthday Party 2006. © Maureen Evans

Of course, at the end of the day, my children were raised by white adoptive parents. My children travel in at least two worlds: the one at home with people who love them unconditionally as amazing sons and daughters, and the one outside our home, with people who saw and see them as black people first, not as beloved children.

Had they been raised in Seattle, they would have seen far fewer people who look like them. Even in Prince George’s County, a highly diverse area filled with black people, their sense of identity was challenged, by white and black people. Being adopted, and then having white parents, brought extra layers of complexity.

My daughter Aselefech, adopted from Ethiopia when she was six, is considering moving to Seattle with her 8-year-old daughter. Aselefech and I have given a lot of thought and discussion as to what this move could mean for her and for her daughter.

I recently attended a program called “The Rewards and Challenges of Being Black in Seattle.” It was held at the Bush School, and was part of their Intercultural Speakers Series. The talented Tonya Mosley led the program, which included a wonderful panel: C’Ardiss Gardner Gleser of Rainier Scholars, William Witt of the Seattle Police Department, Jonathan Cunningham of the Experience Music Project Museum, and Daudi Abe of Seattle Community Colleges. You can read more about it here.

Serious subjects were discussed. Some hard truths. These conversations are valuable for everyone, including white adoptive parents of black children–especially when the family lives in a non-diverse area and the children rarely see others who look like them.

Prospect or Suspect?

The audience of about 100 people for the program was predominately white, like Seattle itself. By the end of the 2 hours, a lot of territory had been covered. A lot of voices had spoken up. One black man in the audience offered the powerful idea of “prospect versus suspect.” Are black people (including children and teens) seen by others as prospects, as people with potential and talents, or more often as suspects, people who probably committed some crime or misdeed?

The cloud of “prospect or suspect” can start hanging over children when they start school. Seattle has a troubled history with African-American school suspensions and graduation rates, starting in the late 70’s.

Th notion of being a suspect, of course, links easily with discussions about police and radical profiling. The U.S. Justice Department said about a year ago that their “investigation in 2011 found that Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers often exhibited confusion between a casual, social contact (where a person is free to leave) and an investigative detention short of an arrest, also known as a Terry stop (where a person is not free to leave). Some data and community input suggested that this confusion – as well as other problems with training and oversight – led to inappropriate pedestrian encounters that may have resulted in a disproportionate number of people of color – in particular youths – being stopped where no offense or other police incident occurred. Incidents of overt discrimination and the fact that excessive force disproportionately occurred against minorities also gave the department concern and lead to the inclusion of these issues in the settlement agreement.” Read the press release here.

The dispassionate government language is a window to the realities of being a parent of black children, and especially of being a black person subject to “overt discrimination” and disproportionate “excessive force.” It resonates for me as an adoptive parent knowing and loving my sons and daughters, worrying for them when they are seen, unfairly, as a threat or a suspect.

I hope that other white adoptive parents who are hugging their sweet little black boys and girls will recognize what can happen later in life, and surround their children with people who can teach them what it means, the good and the bad, to be a black person in America.

Hair Care, Smiles, and the Freeze

If they move to Seattle, my granddaughter will come home from school to her black mother, a role model who has experienced bigotry, and who can help her daughter navigate through racism and difference in a way that I could not do with my children. One surprisingly complex issue is hair. I did a pretty good job with my children’s hair, but there was definitely a steep learning curve. Hair is a big issue in the black community. It was only briefly mentioned at the Rewards and Challenges program, but I’d love to see a forum where the rewards and challenges of black hair are addressed. I think it would open a lot of white people’s eyes, and it’s especially important for white adoptive parents of black children.

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Updo Style © Aselefech Evans

 

One of the heartfelt suggestions provided by a woman at the program was that we all look at each other when we are walking by and say hello. She was a high school teacher. She said she was black and Filipina, and she exuded love for her students. Let’s look at each other’s faces and smile, she said. Let’s say hello to our neighbors.

Can that help race relations? It could surely help human relations. The “Seattle freeze” does not refer to weather, and it does not care about race. It’s the phenomena here of people being polite, but not especially friendly. I would guess that, for black people, their small numbers and the potential for isolation are exacerbated by the Freeze.

The Freeze makes me think of snow, which brings me to some of the reasons people love Seattle: the lack of snow and of humidity, the mild temperatures, the beautiful mountains and lakes, the hiking, the biking, the boating, the skiing. My next post will talk about some of that beauty, and its attraction for all of us. What might it mean for my black daughter to be a skier and a hiker out here?

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San Juan Island © Maureen Evans

 

 

 

Aselefech’s Ethiopia Journey: Adoption, Family, A Film

This is, of course, my daughter Aselefech’s story to tell: what it meant to her to travel back at age 26 to Ethiopia, the land of her birth and where she spent her first six years of life. What it meant to sit with her Ethiopian mother and siblings outside the house she might have also lived in, had she not been adopted. What it meant to her to see the cities and the countryside again, the breathtaking beauty and the breathtaking poverty. What it meant to consider what was, what is, and what might have been.

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She will be talking about that, about the film now in development, and more, on her newly launched blog. I’m incredibly proud of her. Please go read and share it!

It is Aselefech’s journey. Still, the thing about adoption is that those of us who love her also accompany her.

This past August, Aselefech, her then seven year old daughter Zariyah, and I spent about 20 days in Ethiopia, visiting with her family, cheering her on in a 10k trail race, and spending time with friends in Addis. It was my third trip there, Zariyah’s first, and Aselefech’s second since arriving in the US with her twin sister in 1994, when she was about a year younger than Zariyah.

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Aselefech and Zariyah in Addis Ababa.

It’s Aselefech’s story. The thing about adoption, though, is that it reaches far beyond the adopted person (the “adopted child” grows up). It’s more than the birth mother–it’s also the father, and the siblings, nieces, nephews, neighbors, grandparents. It’s more than the adoptive parents–it’s the siblings, partners, and the children of the adoptee. A very big family portrait, in which smiles and sorrows appear, disappear, and appear again. Sometimes.

We were tourists on the trip this summer, some of us less than others. We were accompanied by translators, tour guides, drivers, a talented photographer, and an insightful social worker. We didn’t all speak the same languages. We loved the food. We were saddened, inspired, enlightened, challenged, and blessed.

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Zariyah and I outside the Hilton in Addis.

The film about this trip will share Aselefech’s story, and that of her Ethiopian family and, to a lesser degree, her American family. I look into the eyes of my beloved daughter and  granddaughter, and know that while we have no biological connection, we are inexorably connected. I embrace my daughter’s Ethiopian mother, who is also Zariyah’s grandmother, and who share the same blood. So beautiful, so simple, and so complex.

Zariyah is amazing in the film clip, by the way. She is a gem.

One final note: Aselefech and other Ethiopian adopted adults have been networking and connecting with their fellow adoptees around the globe.  For anyone who is or who knows an (adult) Ethiopian adoptee, please take a look at Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora. Please “Like” the page. Many thanks.

Also, a big shout out to Gazillion Strong and to Red Shiba Media for their partnership with Aselefech. Powerful.

 

 

 

“You Are Like The Whitest Black Person I Know!”

As the white adoptive mother of 4 transracially adopted children, I know so much more now about race and racism than I did some 30 years ago, when we started down the path of building a family through adoption. “Blinding ignorance does mislead us. O! Wretched mortals, open your eyes!,” wrote Leonardo da Vinci some 400 years ago. Living with and loving my children deeply, my eyes have been opened. Now young adults in their 20’s, they were raised in a diverse, predominately black Maryland county by a white mom and dad, were surrounded by various role models, and have lived with racist micro aggressions, as well as with overt, systemic racism. I live with white privilege. We all get up in the morning and go to work or school, do laundry, hang out with friends, travel, and buy groceries. And the world often (always?) sees us, and we see ourselves, through very different lenses, because of the color of our skin.

I continue to learn so much.

I first met Angela Tucker at the April 2013 premiere of the brilliant documentary Closure. The film is about Angela’s journey as an adopted person to find her birth parents. Whether you have any connection to adoption or not, you should see this award-winning documentary. It’s on Hulu, it’s on DVD: information is available here.

Angela Tucker and I after the April 2013 premiere of Closure

I am old enough to be Angela’s mom, and I can identify with some parts of her and her family’s journey of search and reunion. Angela and her husband Bryan Tucker, who filmed the documentary, have appeared at many screenings across the country and have been featured in many conferences. Closure is not their full-time work, though Angela has been a sought-after and insightful speaker at many venues. She is also a talented writer. Her blog The Adopted Life has provided much food for thought.

Her most recent post is eye-opening, and should be required reading for transracial adoptive parents–really, for anyone. Angela’s experience and her thoughts speak powerfully to the state of race relations in the US, maybe around the world–the fragility, the intensity, the confusion, the reality.

With her permission, I have reprinted Angela’s post here. Please read all of her posts at The Adopted Life.

 “You’re The Whitest Black Person I Know!”

By Angela Tucker

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.

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An Ethiopian Adoptee’s Thoughts on Ferguson, Being Ethiopian, and Being Black

In response to the indictment decision in Ferguson and to conversations about race, my daughter Aselefech offered these thoughts to adoptive parents about what it means to be Ethiopian and to be black in America:

Reflections on Ferguson, and on raising black children:

It’s one thing for Ethiopians in Ethiopia to raise their children as Ethiopians. It’s completely different for white parents raising adopted Ethiopian children in the United States.
By adopting an Ethiopian child, what obligations do you have to your children? How embracing will you be of black culture? Will you take the path of least resistance and teach your children to only take pride in their Ethiopian heritage, or will you acknowledge the realities of being black?

White America will not give your Ethiopian child a pass. Your child will be subject to racial bigotry and unjust laws. Your child will be pulled over by the police. Your child will be admired for speaking good English, as if that’s a novelty. Your child will look like the majority population in U.S. prisons. Your child will rarely see herself in fashion magazines as being beautiful.

It’s not enough to eat doro wat at an Ethiopian restaurant or listen to Teddy Afro. Ethiopian children deserve to be raised with black role models surrounding them, loving them, and teaching them. We Ethiopian adoptees are Black in America. I am proud to be black, and to be Ethiopian. I want young Ethiopian adoptees to fully understand their truth.

Aselefech is a founder of Ethiopian Adoptees of the Diaspora, a columnist at Gazillion Voices, and a contributor to The Lost Daughters. On Twitter: @AselefechE.