November 12, 2010

Passive Racism

On Sunday, one of my favorite college gals came into town to interview our family for a paper that she is doing on adoption, racism and human development.  One of the questions that she asked us in the interview is how adopting a child of a different race has changed the way that we parent- and on a bigger level- how we live.

After considering this question, I realized that we are more outspoken about shutting down racist attitudes, comments, and stereotypes than we were before.  While I never thought about it before, I was so guilty of perpetuating racism by simply being passive to racist comments.  In other words, I thought that I was not being a racist if I didn't laugh at someone's racist joke.  Or if someone made a comment that perpetuated racial stereotyping, I wouldn't agree with them.  But I also never disagreed.  And in terms of social justice, I think that being neutral is the very worst form of racism.

Neutral shows that you just don't care enough to have an opinion.   Our silence so many times is mistaken by those committing acts of racism as solidarity.  I can remember during the last presidential election being around a group of elderly people.  As they watched television coverage and debates, they would look at Barack Obama and say things like, "He seems really smart, for a colored man."  And while inside I was screaming that of course intelligence has nothing to do with color, I said nothing.  Looking back on that, I am so ashamed that I didn't speak up.  And I am ashamed for all the times that I said nothing when someone made a derogatory joke about being black/religious/gay/female/overweight or any of the other labels that we use to judge people.  In not laughing or agreeing, I thought that I was making a statement.  But really, in my silence, I told people without saying a word, that I was tolerant of racism.

Since our son came home from Africa, we've heard a lot of comments on race.  Most of them are well meaning.  You have no idea how many times we've heard, "I had a black friend in high school," or "he acts just like a little white kid!" These people usually think they are complimenting Miles. Ummm... yes- sadly we are still in this place in America where people haven't had friends of a different race in over 30 years and still compare one's "whiteness" as a mark of supremacy.

Before we adopted, some people were blatantly mean about it.  Once we were told that we had "no business raising a black child."  But what I've learned is that people fear what they don't understand.  Once Miles came home and added a splash of color to our neighborhood, people's tunes changed.  They realized that he is just a little kid, who likes to play outside and run around with the other kids.  He's just as smart.  He's just as sweet.  He's just as easy to love.  For so many people who have never had meaningful interaction with someone outside of their white bread world, Miles busted down some barriers without even trying.   He just had to be himself.  He showed so many of the people that didn't understand us wanting to adopt transracially, that kids are just kids and people are just people. 

Our intent with our son is never to exploit his race. We love that he's black.  We love his culture.  We love his hair and all its teeny tiny curls.  We love all the things that make him unique.  But, it is not his job as a child to make people think differently of black people.  Somehow that just happens as a bi-product of his very existence.  I also get that as a white person, I will never understand the racism that my son will experience.  I can sympathize with him, but I can never empathize because I have never felt that level of discrimination because of my skin color.  But my hope is that by trying to stand up and speak out on injustice and discrimination, I will be able to show him that I am trying to make his world a better place and that I care about what he will undoubtedly experience.  If there is anything that I have learned from this whole experience, it is that we can not remain silent.  Never again will I let silence speak for me as a passive form of racism.

 To sin by silence, when we should protest, makes cowards out of men.- Ella Wheeler Wilcox

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