#alllionsmatter

I’m a lucky woman. Unlike many of my fellow white adoptive parents of Black children, I really don’t have to deal with overt racists in my social media or IRL universe. I don’t have an uncle with a Confederate flag belt buckle and my neighbors aren’t All Lives Matter hashtaggers. I am regularly invited to Black Lives Matter events by Black and white friends and I am stunned to see some previously pretty uninvolved people I love step up and attend protests and/or begin to sort out their white privilege.

And then there was Cecil.

Now let me be perfectly clear. Cecil the lion’s murder at the hands of an (apparently hideous excuse for a human being) American white guy is tragic. Really! I am in no way minimizing the awfulness of this event.

BUT the sudden and overwhelming volume of posts about the lion’s murder, late night talk show hosts crying, etc gave me a sick feeling in my stomach, especially since the onslaught was nearly simultaneous with the video of yet ANOTHER Black person’s murder (Sam Dubose)  at the hands of a police officer was made public.

After seeing the juxtaposition of posts in my newsfeed, I realized that all of the lion posts were coming from white people and some of my Black friends were posting about how they felt uncomfortable with the focus on the lion, and the push back from white people began.

Why can’t we be upset about both? Cecil’s murder is a symbol of all the bad things happening in the world. There is room for more than one issue.  

NO, and here’s why.

1) Look at your friends list. What percentage of your friends list is Black people? Now, what percentage of the lion posts, in your newsfeed (not including Black people being pissed about coverage of lion but directly about the lion’s murder or the dickwad who shot him) are from Black people? Compare. Disproportionately low I’ll bet.

2) When 9/11 happened, did we need a symbol other than the actual flying of planes into buildings to symbolize the overall fucked-upness of what was going in the world, the 9/11 attacks being one of them? No. We were transfixed. We were horrified. The world came to a stand still. The symbol was the worst part of what was going on in the collective mess! So does anyone actually believe that Sam Dubose’s family, or Sandra Blands’, or Tamir Rice’s family will grieve one iota less than the victims from the World trade Center? Hell no. But the murder of Black people by police can and should be put in the context of all of the bad things going on in the world?? Black murder by police needs a lion mascot??

And here’s a shout out to The People’s Institute’s Undoing Racism workshop that I wrote about earlier this week.

This is something I would have completely missed previously but it’s the perfect example of how, in contrast to how people of other races are seen as a collective, white people are seen (and see ourselves) as individuals and refuse to accept responsibility for the collective impact of our actions.

Honest to goodness awesome people, who I love dearly, posted about Cecil. They are deep down animal lovers. Many of them have also posted about BLM and the murders of Black people by police. Many of them have marched with us. As a matter of fact, one of them posted the Cecil link and within minutes had watched the police body cam video of Sam Dubose’s murder and posted outrage about that. I know this might be hard to understand (because it’s hard to explain) but I really don’t hold any ill will towards the individuals who posted about Cecil.

What I’m pissed about is many white individual’s unwillingness to accept responsibility for, or even acknowledge, the collective impact of white people being upset about Cecil and lumping that outrage in with their outrage about everything else that’s fucked in the world, including the murder of Black people by police.

Because here’s the thing. Where white people’s attention goes, so follows the media, social media, government attention, etc. That sucks but it’s true and we white people, as a collective, need to be better stewards of that power and when called out for individual behavior that creates negative collective impact, deal with it.

And for those white people who consider ourselves allies and have Black friends, how do you think it felt to our Black friends to see the wave of white people posting about Cecil and then connecting his murder with all the other awfulness in the world, Black people being murder by police being part of that? With my personal newsfeed as a guide, I don’t think it felt so good.

You can’t make it into a stuffed animal but actual dead Black people should be the symbol of Black people being murdered.

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Here’s one reason why you can’t take the racism out of the race conversation

As parents of transracially adopted children, we frequently have to answer our children’s questions about why (insert race) people do (insert perceived difference) as in, why do Black people talk differently? We then commence to having a conversation with them about cultural differences and frankly, when I have those conversations, they wind up being really stilted and I get concerned that I’m walking a really fine line between explaining in a developmentally appropriate way and reinforcing stereotypes. I don’t think I’m the only one struggling with this and certainly I don’t think it’s exclusively a transracial adoption problem, but a life and death issue for transracially adopted children.

So last week I participated in the Peoples Institute for Survival and Beyond’s Undoing Racism workshop and one of the many things I learned was why these conversations get so weird and unproductive.

The underlying problem with the way we generally talk about racial and cultural differences is that we ignore at least two basic principles of how racism works: 1) white people are the default in our culture and everyone else is other (Don’t buy that? The evidence is as close as your local Wal Mart: the color of band aids, “nude” undergarments, hair care products -with no qualifier- vs ethnic hair care products) and 2) because white is the default, everything other than their whiteness defines who white people are, therefore white people are seen as individuals, whereas anyone not white is defined by their non-whiteness and thus seen as the collective in their other category: Black, Asian, Latino/Hispanic, etc and the most prevalent representation of category in our media and collective consciousness, which is very likely to be super racist representation in and of itself, defines the collective (ie: violent Black people, sexy Latino/as, smart Asians).

So, when our children ask us why (insert race) people do (insert perceived difference) the answer is not found in explaining cultural differences of the other as a deviation from the default (whiteness). It’s found in disabusing our children (and ourselves!) of the notion that the way any group other than white people do anything is different. Different from what? Different from white people is what our unconscious mind tells us and THAT is where racism lies. In the back of our minds, silently whispering and reinforcing these beliefs.

So, there is NO WAY to explain to children why (insert race) people do (insert perceived difference) in a non-racist way without confronting the default status of white people and the resulting individuation of white people and the collective status of everyone else.

This is not a one time answer. It’s a long term dialogue and it requires us to look at our unconscious defaults, bring them up to consciousness, and be able to explain it to our kids. Over and over again if we are to counteract the oppressive nature of the media etc.

It also requires that our children have strong and consistent relationships with people who share their racial identity so they have first hand experience with the individual traits of people of their race instead of being bamboozled by the collective white supremacy reinforces. Transracially adopted children cannot grow up with a healthy sense of self if their only interpretation of their race is facilitate by white people, whether those white people are the powers that be in the media or their parents.

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The folly of diversity as the holy grail

So we’re visiting a fellow TRA family in another city and one of the parents and I got into a conversation about diversity in school for our children and something along the following came tumbling out of my mouth: “I don’t care about diversity anymore. School diversity is held up as the holy grail of transracial adoption (TRA) and I’ve worked my butt off to get that for her. I’ve achieved it, in TWO schools, but we’ve seen the same thing in both. She’s got Black friends and of course that’s important but that’s not enough. She’s witnessed her Black friends being over disciplined in relation to their white peers and she’s clearly identified for herself that as the only Back child in her grade in the gifted program, she’s not viewed as being as bright as her white peers.” I was honestly surprised by the intensity of my feelings and words. I was really looking forward to having a relaxing summer for us to regroup and heal from this last school year. The combination of a truly anti-racist summer camp and vacationing with TRA kids who share my daughter’s cultural heritage and are like cousins to her seem to be doing the trick for her but I’m feeling defeated and worried. Based on what I’m reading, it seems as though the key to truly equitable education for Black children lies with a high percentage of Black teachers in the school.

But here’s the rub, in the city where we live and one city where I’ve considered relocating (and this seems to be the case pretty much across the country), schools with high number Black teachers fall into two categories: schools that serve predominantly low income students and as a result of the high need to support struggling students, have very limited/non-existent gift program (which my daughter needs to be effectively engaged and challenged) or high achieving schools that are extremely strict, structured, and high pressure (which would not be a good environment for her given her history and personality).

My friend mentioned that she has a friend with TRA family and they experienced pretty much the same at diverse public schools so they moved their child to a private school where the child is the only Black child and they are finding the situation to be much better related to bias in teaching but, GAH, given the research on the damage caused by Black children being academically & socially isolated from Black peers, that doesn’t seem to actually be a good solution.

So here I am again, sitting in my privilege of choices as a result of my education, social and professional connections, and above all, my whiteness, with no real best case scenario choices for my brilliant Black child. THIS is what racism looks like and I cannot believe how invisible it is to white America, because it certainly was to me, though I definitely thought of myself as a thoughtful and anti-racist white ally. I was wrong and I am heartbroken.

Edit: I’ve gotten some comments on a FB group that leads me to believe that I might not have been completely clear. I’m not arguing against putting TRA kids in diverse schools!!! I’m just saying, I naively thought diversity was the panacea and it’s not. I thought that somehow by living in a progressive and highly diverse community and being really diligent in making decisions for my daughter I could protect her, not from everything but from a lot. I was wrong. I honestly think the school where she is is a best case scenario and yet, it sucks. Not because I should move, or change schools or anything else, but because racism is so engrained in American culture and so unconscious, that there is no real and true best option. It’s just shades of suck and pick your poison. My privilege blinded me to the concept that I will be required to make hard compromises in my daughter’s education simply because she is Black, and that’s why I’m heartbroken.

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