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?"