Parenting is complicated, but transracial and international adoptive parenting is doubly so. I've been an adoptive parent for 15 years, and the concerns tend to come and go. Sometimes issues of identity come to the fore, sometimes the lingering effects of institutionalization, sometimes race and culture, and sometimes you're just trying to get everyone out the door in the morning.
This past month has been a big one for racism. Maybe it's because of Halloween, which tends to make people think they have a license to be offensive. Maybe it's the coming elections; I came across two separate posts on Facebook recently in which people made fun of the president using a stereotypical "Stepin Fetchit" black dialect. And maybe it's just a thing that happens from time to time; we've recently had another round of schoolchildren doing the "slant eyes"* gesture at one my kids, a recurring problem.
What puzzles me, perhaps even more than the offensive remarks, is the defensiveness people immediately throw up when you call them on racism. The responses are so predictable you could play Racism Bingo. Even the most gentle, light, or heartfelt of admonitions -- "You know, that's considered to be an offensive gesture," "Not cool!" or "I am offended by that" -- bring out all the old chestnuts and flippant remarks: "Why does everything have to be so PC these days?" "Chill out!" "I didn't mean any offense, so it's okay."
I've been around and around with people about calling kids like mine "China dolls." Many people are honestly unaware of the history and connotations of this term. I understand this. There are still innocents in the world. What I don't understand is why they want to argue with me when I tell them why it's offensive. That's not ignorance. That's arrogance.
It's so simple. Don't say or do things other people find offensive. Don't tell them it's not offensive; that's not your call. Apologize if you say something offensive by accident. It doesn't matter how you "meant it." Refer to groups by the names they prefer. Don't argue with them about their choice. You don't even have to understand it. You just have to know.
Especially if you are white. You do not get to be the arbiter of what is and isn't racist any more than men get to be the arbiters of what is and isn't sexist. The group in power does not get to tell the group that is in the minority/oppressed/marginalized what's offensive. Oppressed groups get to retain that right, at least.
I knew this before I adopted transracially, but I didn't feel it in my bones. Now I do. And it has been humbling. I feel weird talking about race. I feel weird pointing out racism to my kids. I feel weird talking about my whiteness. But I think it's the right thing to do, and I'm going to keep doing it.
And I feel good when I see that they really do understand about racism and will be able to take up the battle on their own, in their own way.
A couple of weeks ago we were watching an episode of "Dance Moms" in which the African American mom was trying to make the dance teacher understand why it was not okay to put her daughter, the only child of color in the group, in leopard-print leotards and Afro wigs (there was more, but it was too awful to repeat here). The dance teacher held her ground and insisted that she was creating more opportunities for the little girl.** May snorted, "Racist much?"
All three girls are getting pretty good at seeing racism aimed at themselves and others. They are well aware of the stereotypes that other people are going to try to push onto them. They know it's not okay for anyone to make "slant eyes" at them, and they speak up when it happens.
This is what we promised to do for our children, isn't it? Our adoption agency required us to read books, attend classes, and respond to questionnaires about race and culture. We had to have a plan for how we would responsibly raise a child of color in a white society.
I feel like some people didn't get the memo.
*I'm sorry, I can't think of a better word for this. Angry Asian Man calls it "chink eyes," but I'm not sure I can say that.
**Why on earth doesn't that mom pull her kid out of the school? She shouldn't stand for it.