As many of you know, last week, I made my blog public to friends and family via Facebook. The last few days have been full of preemptive phone calls and messages, to notify family of my doings and reassure them that yes, I am still part of the family, that I love them, and that indeed, I can still have a critical perspective of my experiences and the systems that have shaped them. These phone calls have generated interesting conversations, about the role of racial difference in our family and how it plays out at an interpersonal level.
I’ve also used these phone calls as an opportunity to emphasize that when I’m thinking, or talking, or writing about race and racism, I’m usually not referring to racism that unfolds at an individual level, but rather systems that are informed by a legacy of race and racism in the United States, and how they are embedded in interpersonal dynamics. Systems I think critically about are shaped by hundreds of years of oppression faced, primarily by Black and Native American people in this country, primarily for the benefit of a very small group of folks at the top. And while this certainly is a much more complicated issue than what I can state in one paragraph, it is still important for me to recognize and openly acknowledge this truth, in part, because it has shaped the way that conversations relating to race are had, or not had, in my own family, here in the United States.
One example of racial consciousness, or lack thereof, plays out in the form of parents and families who consider themselves to be, in effect, “colorblind”. This is a common tendency in well-meaning folks who, due to fear of being called “racist” for recognizing race (the social construction of it, anyway) and racism, refuse to openly and honestly acknowledge differences in the way people of color (aka their children or siblings) move through the world. Being colorblind is a privilege that happens primarily among White parents and caregivers in the context of transracial, or transnational adoption. However, I have also witnessed it play out among the foster youth I work with, and experienced it in my own family at various points in time.
(Note: For those transracial families who openly acknowledge differences in racial identity and seek to connect their children with racially (or culturally) relevant connections and upbringing, this is the part of the post where I pat you on the back and yell out a resounding thank you, and good job. Keep going.)
A colorblind mentality can be especially harmful because adoptees and fosters who only receive the socialization of their parents or caregivers lose out on the guidance or information necessary to operate in the context of their own racial identity. There is a real loss in that, which must be acknowledged and addressed for what it is. With transracial placements to White parents or caregivers, in particular, adoptees and fosters may benefit from White privilege (for example, by not having to think about, or see race) by virtue of their very membership to the families they grow up in, but may experience cognitive dissonance when that privilege is disregarded outside of the family.
Here’s an excerpt from a documentary on transracial adoption (with an icky title) that I think is rather interesting:
As a woman of color, I was given the same privileges and opportunities as my White brothers within my own family, but at times felt confused when, in my White community, I was treated in ways that highlighted my racial difference. Because I identified as White, for a time, I concluded that this difference was a result of ignorance on the part of those who didn’t realize that actually, I was just like them (which is saying a lot). Having done a significant amount of personal work around my own racial identity (which will never be over), and hearing stories of other transracially placed adoptees or fosters of color, I have come to recognize that I, too am privileged by virtue of my very ambiguity. That I can straighten my hair and not be questioned as to “what I am” is a privilege that my Lightness has bestowed me with. That I did identify as only White for so long is a testament to my own capacity to buy into White socialization. Unraveling that identity has taken years of work, and will continue to be a lifelong process of reclamation and healing for me.
This, of course, is a loaded conversation that brings up much to think and talk about, but which cannot comprehensively be addressed in one blog entry. The point being that the more White parents and families of transracially placed adoptees and fosters can own up to their privilege, and acknowledge racial differences in the way they move through the world as compared to their transracially adopted or fostered children, and in turn put their children in touch with those who can guide them through the process of forming a racial identity that honors all of who they are, the better equipped those children will be as adults to face a world in which their own privileged upbringing is deemed irrelevant.
More on that later.