Sunday, November 7, 2010

Racism is Alive and Well and Living on the Blogs

My wife recently caused a storm on her blog when she wrote about a minor incident involving our son, Isaac, being called a “monkey boy” by some of his friends at school. The kids were far too young to understand they’d done something racially charged; in fact the incident seemed playful in nature rather than name-calling. Nevertheless, Laurie wrote about it on her blog and, as with any discussion involving race, the responses ran black and white, from absolute support and gratitude to outrage.

Coincidentally, another mother who had adopted a boy from Ethiopia a few weeks earlier had posted pictures of her son in a monkey costume for Halloween the same day Laurie published her post and started a similar controversy. Some of her readers, one of whom identified themselves as black, commented that they thought the costume was offensive while others supported her costume and rebuked those who were offended. The dialogue between bloggers frustrated and disheartened the mother and she wrote that she was considering taking down the blog.

I’ve had a blog for several years now and have had to confront a false sense of anonymity the Internet gives people. Many readers and writers feel free to write what they don’t have the courage to say in person. From the comfort of their computer, they can tell the black community to get over slavery, that whites have no privileges over anyone else, and that it is “reverse racism” when a black person is offended.

Bloggers need to realize that if your blog is a forum for your opinion, then it is a forum for the opinions of your readers as well. If you want to express yourself without dealing with opposing opinions, I suggest you start a new blog and make sure not to tell anyone else in the world about it.

So to the adoptive mother, let me encourage you to continue blogging. You are now a multiracial family and need to prepare yourself for a lifetime of discussions on race. White people, for the most part, don’t need to discuss race on a regular basis. In fact, discussing it seems to unnecessarily make a big deal about it. One reader posted on Laurie’s blog, “If we continue to teach children that ‘monkey’ is a derogatory term, then we’ll never get beyond it.” Ultimately, the comment implies that if we ignore racism, it will go away on its own. Laurie has been receiving racist comments from an anonymous reader. So is the writer’s advice to us to get over it and stop being so sensitive, or to ignore it and hope it goes away on its own, or is it reverse racism for us to address it?

You’re probably shocked to have to defend your family to strangers. But your blog can be a terrific place to connect with like-minded parents who know exactly what you are going through. If you encounter racism and negativity regarding your blog posts, then you’re going to get them at the grocery store, at church, and everywhere else you go. Laurie and I found the first few months with Isaac the hardest – both with our family and total strangers. We struggled to adapt to staring and inappropriate comments and questions. From other adopted families, we learned gracious and humorous ways to respond, and we’re much more prepared to defend our family. These connections were possible because we put ourselves out there, as did the families that saw our family and reached out to us.

While our parental instincts tell us to protect our children, we simply can’t protect them from everything. Laurie and I are committed to protecting our kids as best we can as well as mourning with them when we failed. Your son will not be able to run from his black skin, and the best thing you can do for him to model how to stand up for yourself.

One reader commented to Laurie, “You are arrogant to believe that what you say to a teacher or to other children is making a difference.” Maybe I am arrogant, but the alternative of remaining silent is too cowardly for me. If my kids grow up too proud of their race as opposed to too timid, I can live with that.


Debbie said...

I love your last line, "If my kids grow up too proud of their race as opposed to too timid, I can live with that."

Excellent post! I've learned so much from my public mistakes via my blog. And as your wise wife said if I can't handle hearing the criticism now can I expect my child(ren) to handle it.

Mary said...

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

Edmund Burke

I commend you and your wife for speaking out in defense of your children!

Sweet Patience said...

I am just catching up on your blog! Working backwards. I did read that post that she did regarding that costume incident, however, I never had the opportunity to comment.

I feel as though people should address issues and not brush them under the rug as if the issues are not here and racism does not exist. Racism is still alive and kicking here in America and to not think it is and not to prepare our children how to deal with it is somewhat foolish. Children are stronger when they understand their identity and culture and are able to articulate themselves in such a way that they are heard when they are confronted with racial undertones.
With the school aged children in my immediate family who are clearly biracial, it was pertinent that we made them understand their heritage, period. Yes, they are biracial, however ultimately, the world is going to see them as African American/Black because of their genetic make up. Period.
Yes, we encouraged them to embrace both backgrounds, however, we made it clear to them, that this is how other will see you and prepared them for society so that they are comfortable in their own skin.
For the most part, the received a little racial tension as younger school age children when certain other children found out they were indeed biracial AA/Caucasian. However, because they were taught to embrace their uniqueness and ethnicity, they are very comfortable in their skin, although they can clearly pass for something else or confuse people ethnicity wise. The biggest thing is not to have the children know who they are and be able to understand what racism is. The worst thing that an adult can do to a child is shelter them to an extent where they assume there is no racism and they are taught a hard and cruel lesson by peers. Education and conversation is the key.
I am sure that you all have encountered a lot of silly comments and stares as a transracial family, however, I am sure that it surely has opened your eyes up to how alive this issue is here in our nation, even among folks who call themselves Christians. I commend you all for standing up for your children and teaching them.