Friday, January 7, 2011

Race matters (well, to some of us at least)

I’ll be the first to tell you that I haven’t had to fight for a whole lot in my life. I’m 24 and I’ve been a student for the majority of those years. Academia is territory where I’ve always thrived and I’m soon to be a master’s level social worker. I’ve always had food to eat, clothes to wear, a roof over my head and a loving family. I have my own car and the means to entertain myself at restaurants, movies etc. And all of these things are a hell of a lot. They’re more than many people have or will ever have. You could say that given the life I’ve led so far, I’ve had the luxury of being able to choose my battles. For most of my life, I’ve been a quiet, reflective person who preferred to be unobtrusive, to not make waves or argue. Heck, I don’t even really enjoy debating for fun. If you keep your mouth shut, no one can tell you you’re wrong or stupid because they’ve yet to have any evidence.

But when it comes to race, I’ve realized that I don’t want to keep my mouth shut and I feel as though I’m beginning to face the consequences. Ever since I started this blog, I’ve taken myself on an exploration I never dared to pursue before. I came to reject the colorblind perspective and recognize that issues raised by transracial adoptees are incredibly important. I came to value my identity more and more, to be proud to be a minority woman. From my perspective, I am growing into the person I want to be and it means the world. What I hadn’t planned on was the reaction of others around me regarding this change. I keenly feel that a few friends have distanced themselves from me and I suspect that they are not comfortable with my interest in race issues. It’s probably different when you’re white. One thing I’ve learned over time is that many (not all) white people are much more comfortable adopting the colorblind perspective and are self conscious about being viewed as racist (can't blame them given history). I’m not here to point fingers. My belief that race matters is just that: a belief. It is not a universal truth and probably never will be. I guess I just never expected some of my own friends to pull away over this. I’ve tried to be sensitive and I never, ever push my beliefs onto others. Maybe I didn't try hard enough. I feel hurt because I read their distancing as a rejection of this part of me which I am finally embracing. It makes me step back and question myself. Am I wrong for believing this way? Is it worth losing friendships over? I value my relationships so much, but I also value being true to myself.

I’m starting to think that this is only the beginning of my struggle. Standing up for race issues feels like an uphill battle. The reality is that a whole lot of people just don’t care and don’t see the point. But to me, there will always be a point. We may have a black president in the US now, but that does not make up for the overrepresentation of black children in the child welfare system or black individuals in prison. That does not make up for the blatant racial profiling in Arizona. That does not make up for the uncertainty I have felt at numerous times in my life when someone else targeted me/mistreated me and I never knew if it was because I was Asian, but always wondered. If you read my last post, then you should know that this is definitely not a request for pity. It’s a request for people to open their eyes, see each other for who we are and love anyway. No, we are not all the same! We are beautifully different and why can’t we just celebrate those differences? I’ll get off my soapbox now.


  1. My husband and I are white and in the process of adopting from Korea, and one of the biggest ideas I've encountered so far is the fact that being color-blind isn't really the goal... that race matters, and it's real, and we need to raise our child so that he understands and appreciates his Korean identity and roots. Those things will make him different from us, and that's OK. ("Different, not better or worse!" as my fifth-grade teacher used to say!)

    Thanks for writing about your experiences online. I hope that your white friends are just unsure of how to react--they might be really afraid of seeming racist, or they might just not know what to say!

  2. As a MSW and a white Mom to an Asian son, I feel I get it. Our race is how we have experience life, my son will NOT live the same life I do. I am maybe too preachy about this to my family but white privilege tends to breed ignorance. I will truely know what it is like for my son to not have toys or cards that look like him in stores, and so on. However, this is what shaped who we are, and you are right...true to yourself is the most important.

    Okay, off my soapbox now...

  3. I'm sorry it's this way for you, for everyone.

    It's not easy at all speaking out on issues of race or racism. I only have my personal experience to draw from and that's being a non visible minority which is in my case, because of where I live, white.

    I've only once been somewhere briefly where I was a minority being white so really have no legitimate clue how that feels. I have many, many times (every time) spoken up when a racist joke or comment was being made in my presence and it's never, ever a popular thing to do.

    I think it's hard for people to discern between race mattering when it comes to acknowledging the wonderful differences and experiences, cultures, and it not mattering when it comes to employment, marriage, skills etc.

    Being equal doesn't mean being the same. Men and women are equal but they aren't the same.

    It's hard to picture, based on the way you write, that you wouldn't be anything but thoughtful and careful in discussing these matters with your white friends. If it's any consolation it could be partly an age issue (and that's not meant to be ageism!). My almost 21 year old son just recently started to "get it" after reading a book on the life of a well known jazz guitarist. Prior I hate to admit I raised an eyebrow once or twice at his views on race.

    I was much relieved!

  4. I appreciate all of these comments! It's good to hear from APs who 'get it' without being offended. In my coursework, white privilege has come up and the number of classmates who took it poorly startled me. I cannot speak to what they feel as I am not white myself, but future social workers of all professions getting defensive over the issue just scared me.

  5. Race DOES matter. It matters to all of us, whether we realize it or not. It just so happens that when you are in the racial majority, it's not a topic you have to consider on a daily basis.

    Sorry to hear that some of your friends are uncomfortable with your interest in racial issues. I think people who have not had much experience discussing race with a person of color, are unsure of themselves.They aren't sure what's appropriate to ask, what to say, how to talk about it. And unfortunately, it seems that the responsibility to educate them about how to have these conversations falls on the person of color.

    I have a wonderful friend who has really opened my eyes to race issues and we've had some incredibly candid conversations. But I remember the first ones we had... I was shaking! I'm thankful that he was so patient with me, and was willing to take the time to teach me. It's ridiculous that I was so ignorant about racial issues, but I was definitely willing to learn. Hopefully this is a journey that your close friends will be willing to go on with you too.

  6. Oh geez, I'm sorry, Campbell! I have clearly not been very observant as of late. It's great to hear from a fellow adoptee. :)