Friday, December 05, 2008

Munch Munch

Tonight I get to go hear Jane Brown speak in Austin. I'm sure I will have lots to think about and chew on afterwards. Here is an article she wrote in case you are interested.

Racial Identity Development by Jane Brown

As generally Caucasian parents of Chinese children, we are raising children of a different race. While we rarely have to deal with racism or racial prejudice, our children will have to. Part of dealing with this is having a positive sense of racial identity. PLEASE go and educate yourself about racial identity development (and more specifically, on racial development in transracially adopted youngsters) and PLEASE educate yourself about racism. The word racism, by the way, is NOT interchangeable with the term race prejudice. I went to a PACT's conference on transracial adoption and learned a lot about both racial identity development and development in transracial families.

Providing adult role models of color, placing your children in multiracial/multicultural environments, giving our children access to adult transracially adopted people, and helping our children develop cultural competency as opposed to sampling their culture-of-origin as one would sample a foreign culture as a tourist (or within the segregated confines of an adoptive family support group) is CRITICAL.

One African American speaker said this best: African Americans, Asian Americans, and other people of color are forced to learn how to function effectively in a predominantly white society because our entire society in the United States-- no matter where we go-- is predominantly Euro- Caucasian/white. However, what people of color normally get to have when they go home and when they are doing something within their ethnic community is a BREAK. It is the pause that refreshes. They don't have to worry about who is staring at them, who is wondering whether they belong or not, whether someone is making assumptions about them that are based on race/ethnicity, whether someone is worried that they are going to steal something, or that someone is going to make overtures to them in order to make sure they know they aren't prejudiced-- a form of overcompensating because they DO see and judge people based on the color of their skin.

Others made some observations that I think are important to think about, too. Often, Caucasian parents of transracially adopted youngsters, we choose environments to live in or schools based on what we think are places that offer the "best" opportunities. Yet we make these judgements about what IS best based on Euro-Caucasian standards. That this is sometimes a class issue as much or more than it is a racial one. They pointed out the many wonderful and often overlooked resources and benefits that are sometimes passed over by Euro-Caucasian people that are NOT passed over by parents of color raising children of color. That not everyone values the same things.

In the post I partially reprinted above, I see evidence of a lack of understanding racism and its effects on racial identity development. Whether or not someone is "accepted" and to what degree-- is not even close to being all that helps someone define who they are and how they fit into the broader picture of a very racialized society. That is a very Euro-centric view of persons of color that is problematic in raising children of color.

I think that we MUST understand-- that our children NEED to be with other people of color-- not just a few, isolated children in a school, but regularly in their classrooms, at the park, in their neighborhoods, etc... They also need adult role models of color. It is different and much more beneficial to have teachers and administrators of color than to see adults of color only in menial positions or in very rare instances. It also makes a difference in the curriculum, the way race-teasing is handled, whether or not an anti-racist attitude prevails. When our kids not in these types of settings, White Privilege prevails and is not even recognized! There is absolutely no understanding of how this feels or what this means to a person of color growing up or living there-- by the Euro-Caucasians who surround him or her.

This affects our child much more profoundly than it does the child of color growing up with parents of color, siblings of color, and extended family of color, etc.... These children do not get the "break" the conference speaker spoke of. They do not have adult role models. They have difficulty even KNOWING for sure that they ARE a person of color-- for there is a tendency for them to identify as "white"-- which they are NOT! They don't spend a great deal of time looking at the self in the mirror-- they look at people who are up close and personal and play a MEANINGFUL role in their lives.

Putting a child of color into a classroom of almost-all or all-Caucasian children is like putting a girl into an otherwise all-boy school. The children can and do learn how to effectively navigate in a White-dominated society because Euro-Caucasians are the dominants in our society, BUT their self-esteem suffers and they often have a great deal of difficulty building an accurate or positive racial identity. This is a critical component of identity-- and I think we need to think carefully about this.

I work with adopted children all over the U.S. and Canada-- I have a program called Adoption Playshops. In those sessions, adopted children age five plus share lots with me and the adult adoptees who help me facilitate the sessions about their experiences. It is rare to find ANY child who has not had at least one and often many more than one racial encounter by the time he/she is seven. Most of the time adopted children do NOT tell their parents-- and it is only when a parent witnesses this that he/she knows its going on. The children report to teachers-- and their complaints are minimized or dismissed-- just as HATE crimes often are. Teachers and administrators in school districts where there are few people of color tend to do a poor job of responding.

We MUST, as parents raising children of color, start to question why it is-- after all of these years-- and all of the lip service we pay to treating people equally, valuing diversity, defending people who are discriminated again-- that we still live in a very racially segregated nation where racism continues to flourish. We can't afford to stay naive and not help our children understand and stand up against what is going on. Or think we are doing enough just because we love our kids and expect that others accept them.


Anonymous Barbara said...

Lela - This is so interesting. It is so telling of my Euro-centric life that this thinking is new to me. It's so logical and reasonable and important that I'm glad it's being addressed.

I love that you're so tuned into what's best for your kids that this didn't get by you. Well done!

Hugs - and Merry Christmas!

10:18 PM  

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