Oct 9, 2007

Race and Culture: stepping out of the comfort zone

I've been reading up a lot on transracial families and transracial adotpion. One of the overwhemling messages I'm getting is how important it is to bring our adopted Ethiopian children in contact with their birth culture and with African Americans, as they will be identified as such in society.

It's funny... I have been such a naive, white girl, all my life. I grew up in a community where 80% of the population was not only white, but white, middle-upper class, yuppie, liberal... (well, except for all the retired people moving up from the baby area, but that started after I left home, mostly). The biggest source of diversity in our area were the yoga artists and hippies that lived up on the ridge and occasionally came into town bearing piercings, weave clothing, and touseled-haired children who went by monikers like "summer rain." (A real-life example).

I have realized, as I seriously contemplate adopting a black child into a white family,white community, that I have been color blind.

Meaning, completely unaware of color. What makes an African American? What makes a Latino-American? I have never been around enough diversity to figure these things out, other than basic rudimentaries: eg skin color and cheesy sitcoms like Fresh Prince of Bell Air.

A piece of my color blindness, I think is based in an unwillingness to see that there actually is prejudice, yes, even in my own wonderful, warm, virtuous community. Here in utah, a black or hispanic person will be pulled over far more frequently than a white person will be. He or she will be followed around in department stores.

There is even a family on my yahoo list in northern utah who recieved a threatening message on her answering machine.

What does this mean for my family? I will have to teach them about ugliness. I will have to explain to them that they may be treated differently based on the color of their skin, and not the content of their character.

But one thing I'm continually realizing as I get more and more warmed up to this whole, very alien situation/world/circle of human beings is that I will also have a chance to teach my children about beauty in a way that I never though about before: the beauty of difference, of startling similarity in the face of physical diversity, and I will be able to teach them humility in a way that I would never have been able to otherwise, because this experience has been extremely humbling to me.

Try walking into an all-black congregation, who meets specifically to support black members of the church. Nobody knows you, and you're obviously not black. You get looks, nobody really socializes with you afterwards, there is not a familiar face or even a comforting similarity. That's how it seems at first, and then you shake hands with the man at the door and he hands you a program and gives you such a welcoming smile that you decide you're not going to turn and run, you're going to sit. And listen, and be amazed at how much more diverse the ways of expression testimony and spirit are.

It's akward. But we're going back again, and again, and again. And eventually, it will be more comfortable. And all the akwardness will serve as a hint to me, what my own adopted children might go through, standing out so clearly amongst their peers and even their family.

God really works in mysterious ways, and I find my resolve and peace become more and more firm and powerful as we continue on this journey. In the end my greatest comfort is this: we are supposed to do this. Our blessings and growth as a family will be unimaginable, and the happiness that will come from these challenges will be overwhelming. I can sense that now, and I look at that as our end goal, because in the meantime, there's lots of work to be done.


Sherpa said...

First, a black or hispanic person anywhere in the country gets pulled over more often than a white person. Very sad, but true.

NPR did a week long segement on adopted kids and several of those segments were bi or black kids adopted to white families. Very interesting stuff.

NoSurfGirl said...


I listened to several of those, and they were pretty amazing. NPR also did a special just recently on a family who had adopted a couple of older girls from Ethiopia, it was a very fun and thought-provoking interview.

Lucy Stern said...

Living in Houston, we have all kinds of people around us. My kids grew up around all kinds of ethnic backgrounds. One of my best friends is a black lady 20 years older than me. She kind of became my surragote mother, when my own mother died.

I always look for the real person inside the body before I even look at the color of their skin.

NoSurfGirl said...

That's great, Lucy... I'm kind of jealous of you, in fact. :( I haven't had the opportunities you have, and it's coming harder for me than it probably would for you, if you were adopting children from Africa and not me.

texasblu said...

Hmmm... I'll try not to go overboard. This is a huge issue with me.

Prejudice comes in all shapes and sizes - it really has nothing to do with race anymore. You can be slighted for your race, how fat or thin you are, your religion, etc.

We were asked to leave several homeschool groups in TX BECAUSE we were LDS - "Oh, you're a nice family", they'd say, "but we don't want Mormons in our group." It hurts on any level - but right or wrong it's their right to choose. That's something we all have to respect - the person's free agency, whether they use it correctly or not.

You asked for us to picture what it would be like to be the only white person in a black congregation. Done that - we had a lot of fun. They aren't kidding about those southern meetig with the clapping and singing. Black women are so fun!!

I loved Mrs. Gibson, Mattie, & Ernestine (black). We had lots of fun with Marco, Robert, and Delila (hispanics). I loved Delila like she was my own sister - unfortuantly, my sister married her brother, and the culture differences should have been addressed. She ended up abused (not just from him - she was physically attacked by Delila's sister and her mother) and divorced - one of her sons, who is whiter than the older one, was called "white boy" and while the one on would come home with new clothes and toys, the "white" one would come home with rags and nothing. My point is - they were prejudiced against HER & her son - because they are WHITE. Does that make their atrocities any less because they are oppressed hispanics? No. It is ugly in any form, from anyone. Does that mean I no longer associate with those of hispanic decent? No - in fact, we had a hispanic over not to long ago in our home to teach us how to make tamales - that was a blast. :)

In Texas, we had a family that was the only Black family in our congregation - they came every week, and it roused some questions about what to do when the children got older, looking for someone to marry. These kids told us that they were choosing to marry in the temple - that they would go to BYU or Ricks (at the time) to find someone of their own color, but still within the church. They refused to date until they found someone that met that criteria. I thought that was interesting. I'm not faulting them - I think it's wonderful. Just interesting.

The trick is not to teach them reverse predjudice. It all boils down to attitude - reverse predjudice has to do with the entitlement attitude. There are plenty in this country that overcame the barriers simply because THEY WANTED TO. I am not saying it's not there - there are those that will always make it difficult for those that have a true desire to succeed.

What I am saying is that strangely it isn't those that have overcome that are screaming that there is predjudice keeping them back. They just keep moving forward until they succeed. And it can be that way for anyone - race, religion, size, etc. Just have an attitude of persistence. I think it's time to quit throwing the word around and move on.

Our job is to love each person at the level they are at, just like the Savior met the woman at the well on her level - he did not spurn her like others, regardless of her status (which was very low at the time - she was a, um, "tainted" woman). If we can set the example others will follow.

It's great that you are looking so hard at the question of this and how to approach it with these children when they get older. It will serve you well.

NoSurfGirl said...

Gosh, texas...

I loved your comment. It really helps to have people weight in like that. After all, I'm sort of stumbling around in the dark on this issue, all I have is others' experience to guide me at this point. Well said!

marlajayne said...

Living in the American South (God's country--tee hee), I've seen lots of prejudice unfortunately. It used to be directed more towards African Americans, but now since there are so many Hispanics (or the PC term of Latinos and Latinas...or so I've been told), I see a shift. Unlike Texasblu, I still see race as an issue, but I also see size, appearance, disability, religion, age, gender, and just about everything else you can throw in as "isms." I have a friend who refers to herself as vertically challenged and thinks she's been slighted and treated differently because of her petite stature.

I try to remember that we're spiritual beings having a physical experience and to look at the "packaging" as just that: the exterior. What's inside is what matters, and I think that education and exposure could help bring some of the barriers down.