Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Coddling of America

I have often written about racism, white privilege and microaggressions.  These are fairly common topics for consideration by the adoptive parent; we are taught to be aware of them because our children may well experience racism in various forms and we must be ready to help them understand and cope with it.

However, where does the line between informing one's child end and brainwashing them - putting a chip on his shoulder - begin?  As I have written, I have become acquainted with the "Angry Adoptee", the adopted child who rather resents his adoption, greatly dislikes his adoptive culture, constantly or near-constantly feels great mental / emotional stress from being a non-white person in a predominately white culture, and may even hate his parents.  I have come to believe that these feelings are, frankly, TAUGHT to them by their parents and, later in life, teachers and professors.  To that end, I offer this article.  While it is written explicitly about college students, it speaks to the sort of "brainwashing" that I think goes on in some adoptive families.
[V]indictive protectiveness teaches students to think in a very different way. It prepares them poorly for professional life, which often demands intellectual engagement with people and ideas one might find uncongenial or wrong. The harm may be more immediate, too. A campus culture devoted to policing speech and punishing speakers is likely to engender patterns of thought that are surprisingly similar to those long identified by cognitive behavioral therapists as causes of depression and anxiety. The new protectiveness may be teaching students to think pathologically.
In other words, by teaching college kids - and, I suggest, adoptees - to see racism, white privilege and microaggressions everywhere as attacks on them, their parents and teachers are, in a real sense, turning them into paranoids.  Further, the authors state that, by aggressively attempting to shield them from what they fear (the "vindictive protectiveness" refered to above), the parents / teachers are doing the exactly wrong thing to help the kids learn to cope with their fears:
According to the most-basic tenets of psychology, the very idea of helping people with anxiety disorders avoid the things they fear is misguided. A person who is trapped in an elevator during a power outage may panic and think she is going to die. That frightening experience can change neural connections in her amygdala, leading to an elevator phobia. If you want this woman to retain her fear for life, you should help her avoid elevators.
This makes sense.  If a child is afraid of monsters under the bed, it makes no sense to tell him that every stray sound in the house, every draft he feels on his neck, or every unusual smell is a sure sign that there is, indeed, a monster under the bed (and in the closet, in the nightstand, under the dresser, &c.).

I do not mean to suggest that racism isn't real.  Obviously, it is.  The idea, though, is to teach our kids to deal with it in a way that DOESN'T foster paranoia on their part and leave them unequipped to deal with the real world where there are no "safe spaces", "time outs", or parents / academic administrators who will punish the malefactors and where somebody who cries "racist!" all the time will find himself a pariah at work.  The authors recommend cognitive therapy for college students, and this seems to me a good thing for parents to try to teach their children:
The goal [of cognitive therapy] is to minimize distorted thinking and see the world more accurately. You start by learning the names of the dozen or so most common cognitive distortions (such as overgeneralizing, discounting positives, and emotional reasoning...). Each time you notice yourself falling prey to one of them, you name it, describe the facts of the situation, consider alternative interpretations, and then choose an interpretation of events more in line with those facts. Your emotions follow your new interpretation. In time, this process becomes automatic. When people improve their mental hygiene in this way—when they free themselves from the repetitive irrational thoughts that had previously filled so much of their consciousness—they become less depressed, anxious, and angry. 
Clearly, too, communication is key.  The children should know, implicitly and explicitly, that they can come to their parents with their problems and fears and find a fair, sympathetic and helpful ear. However, I think that they should not merely get reinforcement of their fears and anger, but rather some help to put these things into perspective and develop strategies for dealing with them in a constructive manner rather than making destructive generalizations about their society, their parents and even themselves.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

White Privilege

This subject came up on a Facebook group for adoptive families that I belong to.  There are trans-racial adoptive parents (hereafter: AP's) who believe that this is an important subject for AP's to understand and discuss with their children.  And there are those parents who... well... not so much, to put it mildly.
White privilege (or white skin privilege) is a term for societal privileges that benefit white people in Western countries beyond what is commonly experienced by non-white people under the same social, political, or economic circumstances.
A popular theory is that AP's - most of whom are white - need to understand this so as to be able to discuss the racism and prejudices that their non-white children will likely face in life.  A side issue is "honorary whiteness", which is the idea that non-white children get the advantages of being white only so long as they are with their white parents.  Once out of the magic sphere of whiteness - such as when they go to college or enter the work force - they are suddenly non-white, which can be rather shocking for them.

Well, what to make of this?

It is no surprise that many white parents - including me - find this entire concept offensive.  SHOULD we?

I think that a reasonable person has to admit that, IN GENERAL, it is "easier" to be white in our country than not.  In the same manner, is it generally "easier" to be male than female, straight than gay, Christian than non-Christian, rich than poor, young than old, &c., &c.  Yes, there are exceptions: there are plenty of white people who've had a hard-knock life, whose families have gotten the dirty end of the stick for generations, and who can honestly ask, "What is this 'privilege' of which you speak???"

But supposing that we accept - and I do - that it IS easier to be white than not in our country.  What follows?

If we left it at that - a neutral observation - then all would be, if not well, then at least not something to fight about.  It is something of an obvious statement, like "It's easier to be rich than poor" or "It's easier to be well than to be sick" or "It's easier to fit in than to be an outsider".  After all, white people don't CHOOSE to be white.  However, it seems to me that "white privilege" has become NOT a simple observation on life in America, but rather a cudgel for beating white people.  We are apparently not only supposed to recognize that we profit from this privilege, we apparently are not only supposed to feel guilty for it, we are also supposed to - somehow - atone for it.  Constantly and forever.  From the idea of white privilege flows Critical Race Theory, that our society is thoroughly and irremediably racist, and from that comes the idea of microaggressions: white people are naturally racist and routinely commit racist acts even though they have no intent or even consciousness of their actions.

White AP's are especially subject to some veiled (and often not-so-veiled) attacks because we have adopted non-white children.  The idea is that we stole the children from their birth cultures and that we've even been complicit in what amounts to child trafficking: because there is corruption in the adoption "industry", every adoption becomes suspect.  Worse, this entire corrupt structure exists because privileged white people in America and western Europe whipped out their check books and, wittingly or no, hired some nasty people to snatch brown babies from their families, shove them into orphanages, dummy up a lot of documents "proving" that the children are abandoned / orphans (these are not the same thing), and then arrange for the joyous white parents to swoop in, grab the confused, frightened and helpless little tykes up, and head back to the Land of the Big PX to raise their new non-white children in an alien white culture that will forever despise them and NEVER see them as anything but non-white (you may insert the racist term of your choice here if you wish; you get the idea).

This sort of thing makes some AP's a little bit... cross.  They... um... tend to dislike talking about it.  Well!  If they refuse to make the necessary obeisances, they are Refusing to Listen to Adopted Children's Voices!  They are NOT being "allies" of adopted children!  They are trying to Ignore Racism!  Colonialism!  Exploitation!  White man's burden!

And so forth.

I think that it's one thing to be honest about adoption with one's child(ren).  As they get older and their understanding becomes more sophisticated, one can and should discuss uncomfortable subjects like the One Child Policy, the history of race relations in our country, the history of the relations between the United States and the country of the child's origin, and how to cope with people who are racist or otherwise hurtful to the child.

But it also seems to me that a little "White Privilege" goes a very long way, and that there's a very short jump from "this is a concept that you need to know about because you'll hear about it as you go through life"* and "I and all your white relatives are a pack of exploitative villains who have everything that we do because we stepped all over people of color - people like you - to get it."


(*) It has struck me that the older "angry adoptees" learned about how their white parents did them the dirty from other white people, such as professors in college.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

What would you do?

ABC had an interesting and hard-hitting video as part of their series "What Would You Do?"  A girl adopted from China is publicly bullied by her older sister, the biological child of their parents.  The reactions of the onlookers is... interesting.  [EDIT 8-12-15: I am told by Pingping's mother that the girl portraying the older sister is an actress and not actually Pingping's sister, and also that she is a very nice and kind-hearted girl who had a great deal of trouble playing such a nasty, hateful role]


I am glad that ABC did this.  We know that our children may well be the target of some very ugly bullying, and this video is a good spur to thinking about how we can handle it.


I have (I hope!) changed the video link to make it easier to access.  I have also had a few more thoughts.

1.  The reaction of the onlookers, even those who didn't speak up, was clearly one of outrage and repugnance.  This, it seems to me, is a clear refutation of the idea, bruited about by "Angry Adoptees", that society undervalues them because they are adopted

2.  That ANYBODY confronted "Scarlett" in this day when saying anything to another person's child can have highly unpleasant consequences from a very public fight with the parent(s) to a visit from John Law, is encouraging.  Again, contra the rantings of Angry Adoptees, these (almost all white) people were horrified at what Scarlett was saying and clearly on the side of Pingping; they didn't "join in the fun" of bashing the non-white adopted child

3.  I have read some highly critical opinions of this segment by several adoptive parents.  Some felt that it would have been too shocking for their children to see.  Others thought it was too extreme because "that doesn't really happen".  Still others thought it was too hard on the actress who played Pingping, with not-so-veiled accusations that "Scarlett" ("Pingping's" actual sister) really meant all that she said

Personally, I like to have problems stated in bald and even extreme terms: I dislike sugar-coating.  I have read enough from adopted children - including some who commented on this video - to know that this sort of thing DOES happen to some of them.  There ARE adopted kids who are ridiculed and bullied by their non-adopted siblings, other relatives, and even parents.  It does us no good to pretend that this doesn't happen, or that "it isn't THAT bad in real life" or other such excuses.

I understand why people find the video shocking.  I understand why it makes them uncomfortable.  I can understand why they might not want their children, especially very young ones, to see it.  But... Is that the right attitude?

I say no.

We know as adoptive parents that our children are possibly - even likely - going to deal with problems that are outside our personal experience.  They may well be the target of racism, from innocent questions that make them uncomfortable to blatant, malicious bullying.  That this COULD come from non-adopted siblings or other relatives adds a layer of viciousness.  It seems to me that our tasks are:

1.  Understand that this sort of thing happens, and that it may be EVEN WORSE than we think

2.  Prepare ourselves so that we have some idea of what we ought to do.  When a child comes home sobbing because some little b@stard has called her a "chink" or made slant eyes at her or said "ching-chong-ching-chong", this is not the time to be thinking about what to do, or to react with hysteria, or to tell the child to ignore it or "suck it up".  It seems to me that how WE react will guide our children in establishing their own boundaries and ideas.

Honestly, this scares me: if I react the wrong way and send the wrong message, there may not be another chance to get it right.  Downplaying something that bothers my daughter may give her the idea that I don't care about HER, which is the last thing that I want to do.  Conversely, overreacting may give her the idea that she hasn't got to stand up for herself and / or rob her of those skills

3.  Realize that preparation really ought to begin long BEFORE the little b@stard shoots off his mouth.  While there's a line between talking to our children about what can happen and putting a chip on their shoulders, it seems to me that having - initiating - conversations about racism, bullying, family, adoption, "beauty" and all the other potentially nasty subjects that can come up tells our children that we are a resource for them, that we are there for them, that we will face their problems side-by-side with them.

Watching videos like the "What Would You Do" segment COULD be very useful conversation starters, though due consideration must be given to age and just what WE might say about it

4.  Realize that, especially as they get older, our children will naturally be less inclined to come to us (I wasn't especially communicative with my parents as a teenager, and I don't think that I was especially unusual in this regard).  We have to be watchful for signs that all is not well and do what we can - which, I hate to admit, may not be enough no matter how hard we try - to be not only open to our children but actively solicit their feelings.  Again, I think that there's a line between conversation and indoctrination, between making them aware that there are some bad people in the world and putting a chip on their shoulders, but I don't think anybody wants to learn, years later, that their children were miserable and never said a word about it because "You didn't care."

So... What do we do?

--- "Baba, little Johnny made his eyes look funny and said 'ching-chong' to me at school."

--- "Baba, we had to do a family tree in school.  Teacher said I didn't have to because she said I don't know who my family really is."

--- "Baba, why did that woman at the store think you aren't my father?"

--- "Baba, people keep asking me if I speak Chinese."

--- "Baba, that man asked how much you paid for me."

--- "Baba, I want to be pretty like the other girls at school."

--- "Baba, this girl at school said my real parents didn't want me."

--- "Baba, in a movie we saw, white people were fighting with Chinese, and the Chinese were the villains."

--- "Baba, am I really part of this family?"

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Of race and Rachel Dolezal, pt 2

Some international adoptees are not too happy about the horrible Rachel Dolezal.
Transracial adoptees and their allies are speaking out about Rachel Dolezal's and other's use of the term "transracial" in conversations wrestling with her identity, arguing that it does not mean choosing to change one's race, rather it means the adoption of a child, usually a child of color, by a family of another race, usually a Caucasian family.
A number of trans-racial adoptess have written an open letter on the subject.
This past weekend the world took to social media to dissect the events surrounding Rachel Dolezal, the former president of Spokane’s NAACP chapter who came under heavy scrutiny for falsely representing herself as black. As part of this real-time discussion, the term transracial is being co-opted to describe Dolezal identifying as black despite being born white.
As members of the adoption community — particularly those of us who identify as transracial adoptees — we are deeply alarmed by the gross mischaracterization of this term. We find the misuse of “transracial,” describing the phenomenon of a white woman assuming perceived markers of “blackness” in order to pass as “black,” to be erroneous, ahistorical, and dangerous.
About the rest of the letter I will say nothing.  I am familiar with several of the signers and find their views about trans-racial adoption... a little extreme.

Nevertheless, this is another dimension to the sorry tale of Rachel Dolezal that is important to those of us in the adoption community.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Of race and Rachel Dolezal

The now-resigned president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, Rachel Dolezal, has been much in the news lately because it came out that she, born to white parents, has been representing herself as black.
Dolezal's estranged parents have spoken to the media about her supposed misrepresentation. 
"We are her birth parents," her father, Lawrence Dolezal, said Friday. "We do not understand why she feels it's necessary to misrepresent her ethnicity." 
CNN contacted Dolezal last week, and she declined an interview. She said she stands by her record of service. 
Her adopted brother, Ezra Dolezal, said she took him aside three years ago and asked him "not to blow her cover" about her alternate identity. 
"She said she was starting a new life ... and this one person over there was actually going to be her black father," he said.*

Dolezal then and now

To put it mildly, I am outraged.  Quite aside from the issue of this woman lying for personal gain (I think I may be excused for supposing that, had she identified as white, she NEVER would have gotten a presumably high-paying position in the NAACP), what am I as a trans-racial adoptive parent to make of what she's done?

From our first classes as prospective parents of a non-white child, we were warned of the problems that race can cause.  Trans-racial adoptive children often report feeling "somewhere between": they feel part of their (usually white) parents' culture, but when they are not with their parents, nobody automatically assumes this (the term, I believe, is "borrowing whiteness").  Now we have a very prominent case of somebody outright claiming to be another race and being supported with the frankly ludicrous idea that race is something that one can simply select as he would a suit of clothes.  Dolezal "made" herself black by lying about her past, co-opting others to do so, and disguising herself by dyeing her skin and changing her hair.  Familiar?

FILE - This 1927 image originally released by Warner Bros., shows Al Jolson in blackface makeup in the movie "The Jazz Singer." Historically, blackface emerged in the mid-19th century, representing a combination of put-down, fear and morbid fascination with black culture. Among the most prominent examples: Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor. Today, there’s a fine line between mockery and tribute. (AP Photo/Warner Bros.)
Al Jolson in blackface, 1927

We have spent decades in our country trying to get past the idea that race ought to play a role in how we deal with each other.  We have spent decades trying to convince ourselves that people of a given race ought to be proud of it (Black History Month?  HELLO!).  Now, we're told that race is not only vital to how a person ought to be seen, but that it's a matter of personal preference.  Presumably, a person can be whatever race he chooses on any given day.  Might come in handy for some job interviews, I suppose.

Let me be blunt: Dolezal is a horrible, horrible person.  Her disgraceful efforts to wear blackface - to PROFIT by wearing blackface - are a slap in the face to every person in our country, especially those who have felt the lash of racism.  I hope that she is roundly condemned for what she's done.


(*) http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/15/us/washington-rachel-dolezal-naacp/ 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Discrimination against Asian-Americans in college

I have written before about discrimination against Asian-American students in various colleges.  This, apparently, is an ongoing problem, so much so that businesses have opened to help prospective college students... look less Asian.

From the Boston Globe:
Brian Taylor is director of Ivy Coach, a Manhattan company that advises families on how to get their students into elite colleges. A number of his clients are Asian American, and Taylor is frank about his strategy for them.
“While it is controversial, this is what we do,’’ he says. “We will make them appear less Asian when they apply.”
[James] Chen founded Asian Advantage College Consulting 20 years ago in response to what he considers bias against top Asian students in elite college admissions. His firm, which is based in Alameda, Calif., also has clients on the East Coast, he says, including Boston.
“The admissions officers are seeing a bunch of people who all look alike: high test scores, high grades, many play musical instruments and tend not to engage in more physical sports like football,” Chen says.
If students come to him early in high school, Chen will direct them to “switch to another musical instrument” or “play a sport a little bit out of their element.” 
And for the college essay, don’t write about your immigrant family, he tells them: “Don’t talk about your family coming from Vietnam with $2 in a rickety boat and swimming away from sharks.”
To put it mildly, this sort of thing makes me see red, and I like to think that it would do so even if my daughter wasn't Asian.  We tell kids to work hard in school, to get good grades, to take harder classes, to study, to go out for sports and other extracurricular activities, to volunteer after school, all with the goal of getting into the best schools to give them a leg up when they enter the job market.  

But not if they are Asian.

The article continues:
In a 2014 lawsuit against Harvard and the University of North Carolina, the nonprofit Students For Fair Admission allege that both schools discriminate against Asian applicants in favor of less qualified African-American and Latino students. The suit cited a 2009 Princeton University study of seven top colleges that concluded an Asian applicant needed an average 1460 SAT score to be admitted, while whites with similar academic qualifications needed 1320, Hispanics 1190, and blacks 1010.
Harvard’s general counsel, Robert Iuliano, defended the school’s admissions policy. “As the Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized, a class that is diverse on multiple dimensions, including on race, transforms the educational experience of students from every background and prepares our graduates for an increasingly pluralistic world,” he said.
Ironically, that our daughter is adopted and has an Anglo name may work to her advantage: no admissions officer will automatically shuffle her application to the bottom of the pile as he might if her last name was Chen or Liang or Qi.
We come then to the question presented: does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other "tangible" factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does.
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954)

Who knew that we'd gone back to 1953? 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

One year

A year ago, my wife and I, still very tired from a long plane flight yet unable to sleep from excitement, boarded a bus outside our hotel with two other families and took a short trip into forever.

What can I say about the year that's gone by?  Magical?  Miracle?  Wonderful?  There aren't words enough in the English language.  Caroline - our daughter - has been nothing short of a blessing for us.  She's playful and affectionate and loving and smart and adventurous and sometimes obstinate.  A smile from her makes my day.

Almighty God, thank you for my little girl, and make me half as good a father to her as she is a daughter to me.  In Jesus' name, Amen.