Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Race Relations

I LOVE my family.  I love who we are.  I love who we are becoming.  And that includes, and is because of, our quirks, struggles, differences, and the WAY we love.  All in.  All the way.

Being weary, or stressed, or frustrated--it doesn't change the love.  If anything it just gets better.  We talk about topics in our family.  Topics like mental illness, sex, race, adoption, pornography, God, atheism.  They broke the mold when they made us a family.  

Race and adoption are normal topics for us.

Listen.  Keith and I didn't go in to the Gladney Center for Adoption as some great white saviors coming to rescue and save a poor child.  We wanted to be a mom and a dad.  And it was not happening.  There were some complicating factors.

We also hope that you can hear this white mama in a way you can't hear of black mama, because of fear or misunderstanding or lack of contact.  I'm praying you can read, really listen, and reflect.  I don't want you to feel defensive with me, because there are things I understand from more than one pair of perspectives--perspectacle glasses.  When black people express their anguish, experiences, frustrations, and fears--PLEASE--just listen.  Open your heart.  All most of us want and need is acknowledgement and validation.  We don't have to all agree.

Now, it might help you to know that I grew up in a somewhat unusual setting back in the day.  My mom has been in a prayer group with a group of women for the majority of my life--like nearly 40 years for them.  This wonderful group of women and their families are our extended family.  They have prayed me through every stage of my life, and celebrated each moment, including being a wife to Keith and a mom to Jerica and Cade.  These women have raised children, survived cancers, lived life-long marriages, celebrated milestones, and traveled together.  They know how to pamper new mamas, equip graduates, throw amazing wedding showers, speak blessings, and mourn together.

Also.  Several women in this group have adopted children.  The majority of the children who joined their families in this manner are of varying races.  This multiracial family is part of mine, my whole life.  So, when Keith and I discussed adoption, our picture of a family was one of varying and wonderful possibilities!  For us, weighing fertility treatments vs. adoption, it was no question.  We wanted to adopt.

We told God.  "We want to be a mama and a daddy.  Give us the child you have for us."  And, wow, did He bless our socks off!  Our chocolate drop, Jerica, made us a mama and a daddy.  Being her mom and dad has completely wrecked us, made us, and wowed us.  And it has fundamentally changed, challenged, and enlightened us.  As a side note, God really wowed us.  It wasn't because we relaxed, weren't stressed or anything like that.  God surprised with Cade 11 months and 1 day to the day Jerica was born.  We wouldn't have it any other way--we have TWO miracle babies.  TWO babies we "shouldn't" have had.

Special Programming Note:
It might be good to note here that I am telling our story as I tell it.  This is how we told our story of becoming a family for many years.  If Keith were to tell you this story now from his perspective, his story is different.  Whatever.  God did it.  I'm good with that.  And Keith knows I love him despite how his atheism upsets my story.

As I mentioned, being Jerica's mom changed us.  We are not a white family.  We do not think like "typical" white families.  As I've said many times, I will never know what it is like to walk in my daughter's shoes.  But I do know what it's like to be her mama--a mama of a black child.  And I understand in the way that I uniquely can what black mamas go through in regards to their children.  I've seen my daughter be treated differently in a crowd, like a black child. I've also seen that tone, look, and treatment change dramatically when the other person realizes I AM HER MOTHER.  AND I SAW WHAT YOU JUST DID.

Being Jerica's mom and dad have let us in to some circles we would not have been welcomed in.  When our black friends tell us what they've experienced, what their parents told them growing up--about how to make it in a white world and how to respond to police and how they'll have to work harder than their white equals.

We rely on these friends because we need them to help us do this with our children.  We have to have these conversations with our daughter.  We have to have these conversations with out white son, because of what he will experience and witness--both in how his sister might be treated and in how his black friends will be treated.  We expect him to act as they do if confronted by police--and to use his white privilege to stand up for and with his friends.

On white privilege.  It exists.  And it is not a thing white people need to get all defensive about.  First, because it is not your experience.  Second, because it's not your fault.  This began many years ago.  With slavery.  And when slaves were emancipated.  And with Jim Crow laws, segregation, unequal educations, and with silence.  Even though I don't even live in a white community, it is still a white world because of who is running our government overall.  And who holds the majority of the power and the wealth.  Recognizing it is not an indictment or an admission of guilt, but it makes change possible.

We rely on our black friends to share and teach and empower Jerica.  We also rely on them to teach us the basics of hair care and skin care.  We promised Jerica's birth mom we would learn all of this.  And girl looks good!  And her black friends still doubt sometimes whether or not she has weave--NEVER.  And if she's sure she's not biracial--FULL BLOODED BLACK BEAUTY.

I want to address some things we've seen and heard as Jerica's mom and dad--and some responses from us.  We want our white friends to think about these things before they say them & to realize why we don't buy them.  First is the comments of others.  Bulleted are my responses/experiences/feelings.

1.  Our young (white) children don't notice color.

  • Children do notice color.  This may not be a problem if they see good role models loving and respecting all colors.
  • White children don't need to be as aware because they live in white privilege.  They're not witnessing what their friends of other races & cultures are experiencing.  Black children do not have this same experience.
  • We SHOULD notice color.  Don't tell us your color blind.  We don't want you to be.  We recognize and appreciate and love what is different and beautiful of other races and cultures.
2.  We have black friends, too.
  • We know lots of people who have friends of other races. We get it.  We also know even more people with black acquaintances or black work friends.  
  • When you say you have black friends, think about how many of them have been in your home--for meals, conversations, laughs, etc.
  • MANY, like the MAJORITY, of Jerica's black friends come in our home.  Regularly.  With many of these boys and girls, they comment that the 1st time they came over was the 1st time they've ever been in a white-er family's home.  We've even have had Jerica's friends ask to come over because they want to experience what it's like in our house.  This tells me there are a WHOLE LOT OF BLACK KIDS and their families who are not truly friends with white-er families.  (I use white-er because we are a white cultural family, but we are not a white family in our experience.)
3.  We don't believe or buy into stereotypes.
  • We all do.  We see it everywhere--tv shows & movies, online, the written word, the news, society, the list goes on.
  • Even as Jerica's parents, before and past and present, we have had to face our own buy into some stereotypes.  Most pointedly, when we joined an almost all black church--a church and friends we still love.  (And who love us.)  I realized that I was surprised at this very large church to see so many black men--black men who loved their wives, are educated and have good jobs, men raising their children.)  And we love and appreciate and recognize and honor these men--the norm of what we saw and came to know personally.
  • I'm not proud that I had to face and deal with that stereotype. I'm honest about it so you know I do understand you as well, my white-er friends.  Facing it did bring change and GREAT change.
  • I also know from these black men that we are the few white people they know who look black men, especially, but also women and children, right in the eye--when talking, when passing in a store, etc.  Black men tell us they see the majority of white people NOT looking them in the eye, especially in passing when they don't know each other.  Keith and I were even unaware of that change in us initially, but we are very aware and purposeful since.  We purposely express our respect in this manner.
4.  Combination of--Racism is no longer an big deal. & Racism goes both way.
  • Neither of these statements are true.
  • Racism does exist.  We have seen and heard racist beliefs and thoughts--from strangers, family members and have witnessed it directed at black friends and our biracial family members.
  • Racism does not really go both ways.  Now.  Stereotypes go both ways.  Fear and ignorance goes both ways.
  • Subtle racism is most prevalent and most harmful, in my opinion.
  • Our most frequent examples:  "That's not your sister"--directed at Cade.  "Are you babysitting?" "Is that your son's best friend?"  "You have your hands full."  "Isn't that wonderful of you to help this child!"  "Were you with a black man?  And a white man?"
  • Including dirty looks, people trying to figure out if I'm a slut or what.
WE ALL want the same things for our children, no matter the race or culture.  We want our children to be loved, cherished, respected, protected, and accepted.  For who they are.  Color, race, culture and all.

This.  This amazing picture that continues to amaze and fascinate me, this is LOVE.  All in.  All the way.  The very best of race relations.

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