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.

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