Monday, July 27, 2009

So what's the BIG DEAL?

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

What’s the Big Deal? A week ago, in an incident teeming with allegations of racism, profiling and the abuse of police power, one of the most educated and respected men in the USA was arrested for breaking into his own home.

Mr. Gates was royally pissed off for coming under suspicion for HWB (“Housing While Black”), and according to the Cambridge police incident report, yelled “This is what happens to black men in America!” to arresting officers and onlookers.

Consider this: Gates has been lauded and honored for his integrity and has credentials at Harvard; Time Magazine chose him as one of their top 25 most-influential people in the nation. Yet, many commenters chose to believe that Gates handled the situation poorly - that he had over-reacted by expressing his anger and frustration over a humiliating experience, that he should have borne his mistaken accusation like - well, like a white guy would have ("gee, thanks for stopping by Officer - I’ve really got to get this front door fixed! Thank goodness we have a Neighborhood Watch!”)


Why wouldn’t we believe one of the most intelligent, most honored, most scholarly men in our country when he actually yells foul? Why on earth wouldn't we believe a man with Gates’ background, reputation, and work when he publicly identifies and calls-out racism? Would it be our cultural eyes-averted reaction to race, and our denial of the potential for racism and white privilege in Gates' situation?

The Big Deal is This: Transracial adoption makes the Gates story personal. I discussed the Gates story with my daughters from China, and I plan to mention it in my workshop at Colorado Chinese Heritage Camp next weekend. Adopting the Asian 'model minority' only means that imbedded, culturally acceptable racism - the invisible tiger - is harder to see, and harder to deal with it when it finally shows.

What are you so mad at?
I was only joking!
I didn’t mean any harm!
Just keeping the neighborhood safe…

Gates, a 58 year old black man needing a cane to walk and suffering jet lag following an overseas flight, stood his ground on his own front porch and identified the tiger’s stripes loud and clear. He was arrested for ‘disorderly conduct’ on his own property.

May we all be aware enough to teach our children of color what racism looks like (especially when it hides behind Niceness) and how to call it by name. And may we be brave enough to examine our own 'socially acceptable' first responses.

Honestly, I'm not sure what my initial reaction would have been if I had been a resident of the Cambridge neighborhood watching the ‘break-in’. How much racism do I secretly own? I need to remember that every time I ‘make nice’ to gently bigoted remarks, or try to reframe a racist incident, I am driving a silent wedge between me and my daughters.

And that is how the tiger works…


Friday, July 24, 2009


LOCAL NEWS ITEM: "Creative Endeavors Gift Shop at the Community Center invites area seniors age 50 and over to sell their arts and crafts at the shop."

This one stopped me cold. I will admit, at age 53, that I could be in age-denial. But arts and crafts at the senior center? I mean, WHERE EXACTLY DOES THAT FIT IN? I have a 10 year old for god's sake. Now, my 10 year old might actually like to do crafts with me, but it hasn't happened yet and likely never will. We are too busy going to raves together and renting R-rated movies...well, that's our attitude, anyway.

CONFESSION: In a sick fit of guilty self-flagellation, I ordered Family Fun magazine from our school's fundraiser last year. This magazine turns me to stone. I open it up and am completely horrified by my own inadequacies...yet I read on!

"Who ordered this?" my 19 year old asked, seeing Family Fun on the table one morning next to my coffee cup and Donettes.

"I did", I answered. She raised her eyebrows at me.

"But Mom, this magazine is about crafts and scrapbooking and baking cupcakes," she explained.

"I've decided there's still time to parent your sisters more productively than I parented you, " I said pointedly.

Ahh, but who am I kidding. The only thing worse than reading Family Fun magazine is reading the magazine's "Mailbox" section. This is where I am forced to face the facts: there are moms out there who actually DO these craft projects with their kids, and they document their alien acts of Quality Time with photographs and lively captions.

YES, but...none of these Family Fun moms are 53. I recently read a "Throw a Family Reunion Camp-Out" article in the August issue, and it took me a moment to realize that the attractive 'mom' model featured in the article's inter-generational photo spread was actually supposed to be the grandma. I was sort of relating to her, too, and thinking she might pass for 35 if she got rid of the gray.

I guess my real problem isn't with my age (AARP offers the absolute best hotel discounts), or with my inability to engage in crafts. My problem is with the schizophrenic way our culture deals with older moms - like we are just not supposed to exist. Apparently, I should either be retired and selling my bird houses at the Creative Endeavors Senior Shop, or be 26 and directing the kids in making a "Woven Tie-Dye Wall" (I am not joking. This is the name of a real Family Fun project). Older mom demographics seem to mystify Marketing and Advertising; add an Asian child or two to the mix and I think they all just throw up their hands.

After I read an issue of Family Fun I practically fall to the sofa with inertia. I am not jealous of the young moms who do fun things with their children - I am jealous of their energy. I am tempted to start my own magazine for older adoptive parents, featuring lots of sugar and caffeine. I will offer articles on retirement-parenting, and on living cheap in Costa Rica on depleted investment funds. The magazine will be realistic, witty, wise, with big print. Sorry, no crafts.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

WTH: Nice People

1) Lily, my 13.5 year old, belongs to our church youth group. She recently went through an intense, year-long Rites of Passage Experience (ROPE) with thirteen of her 8th grade cohorts - culminating in a wonderful trip to Boston. Great kids, great parents, exceptionally liberal church. One of Lily's ROPE friends, Emma, is a Korean adoptee - the only other girl of color in this small church group. Lily was born in China and (I must say this), the two girls look nothing alike.

I bumped into one of the other church parents and her ROPE daughter at Blue Lake Music Camp last weekend. Lily was in the orchestra, and the mom and daughter were at the camp performance to see a relative. "We didn't expect to see you here! Is Emma in the concert?" the mom asked. "Is Emma here?!" the daughter enthused.

"Well, I don't know if Emma is here, but LILY is in the orchestra" I answered. This went over as you might imagine. I watched nice people visibly deflate and fumble for words, and so I automatically did what I've been culturally molded to do: I tossed them a conversational lifeline.

"It's okay," I said. But it wasn't.

It diminished my daughter. It stripped her of her individuality. It was hurtful.

2) A couple of weeks ago I sat with another ROPE family at a graduation party. I really like the mom and dad, and their red-haired son, Grant, attends both church and school with Lily. Lily was disgusted with Grant, however. She told me that he was friends with her at church, but that he ignored her at school. Grant was apparently 'cooler' than Lily's group of largely Asian-American friends, and simply wouldn't hang with her when popularity was at stake. This was my white mom take, initially, BUT (and this is huge) I was looking at the situation via MY OWN high school pecking order perspective.

Big mistake. I tend to forget (still!) that RACE MATTERS.

Lily got what was going on, and set me straight. She was angry, and had every right to be.

At the grad party, Grant's mom asked me who Lily had gone to the 8th grade dance with. I mentioned a boy with an obviously Chinese name, and the dad nonchalantly interjected, "They all like to hang together, don't they?"

"THEY all like to hang together because little racist a*holes like your son treat 'them' like shit at school" is what I said.

In my head. About two hours later.

I am able to confront the haters and the skinheads, but I am obviously needing to learn how to better deal with the clueless 'nice people' - people I usually really like, people who have chosen to live in a diverse community, and who attend a liberal church alongside my own family. This is where transracial adoption leaves a's tough to educate a child on the actual, real-life mechanics of living as a child of color when you are a white parent on your own learning curve. It's not like I didn't know this - I've read the books and listened to the speakers and have even written the articles - but I am seeing COLOR DEFINE more as my daughter from China grows into teenhood and high school. It affects her peer group, her socialization, her dating.

I'm sure Lily has had her own What-The-Hell moments over the last school year. She is a popular and savvy child, but she has an Asian face and white girl 'insides'. So far, this double helix has given her a 360 understanding...which is 180 degrees more than what I currently possess.

So... I listen to my daughter, I validate her, and I learn.