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White Privilege–with Great Power Comes Great Responsibilities August 2, 2011

Filed under: adoption thoughts,KAAN — Elizabeth @ 3:10 PM

I am gearing up to write some posts about KAAN.  First, I will give you some of my overall thoughts about the conference, in general.  It was much smaller than I expected.  I had no point of reference, but I figured there would be thousands of people there.  There SHOULD have been thousands of people there, but there weren’t.  I would have to guess there were about 200 attendees.

Which brings me to my next point.  There were almost NO parents there with kids our age.  I say “our” age, because most of you reading here are about my age, or at least our kids are about the same age.  And let me tell you, our group was NOT represented well.  And there was only one couple there who were prospective adoptive parents.

And it’s true, it is hard for those of us with small children to travel to conferences like this.  It’s expensive, we have to find someone to take care of our kids, and did I mention that it’s expensive??  Truth be told, I don’t think I would have made it to KAAN this year if it hadn’t been within a pretty close driving distance.

All that being said, I still think it’s important for us to be at these conferences, and I’ll tell you why.  Because while our group was NOT represented well at KAAN, there was another group that was.  Parents with older teen, young adult, or adult children.  Parents who for the first time were hearing accounts from adult adoptees about their struggles with identity and race.  Parents who were shocked to find out about the different issues their children had faced, because their kids never really knew how to articulate them.  Parents whose adult kids had said that all they wanted for their birthday was for their mother to attend KAAN with them.

I know one thing–I do not want to be 50 years old and look at my son and say, “I had no idea–I never knew that you felt that way”.  Because while the parents of the earlier generation never had things like this at their disposal, we do, and thank God for that.

Okay, so now that I’ve got you all ready to register for KAAN next year (it will be in Albany, NY), I’ll talk about some of the sessions.

One of the sessions I attended at KAAN was about white privilege.  I know I had talked about bringing my netbook with me so that I could take notes, but that didn’t work out so well.  First of all, we just sat in chairs with no tables or anything, so it would have been awkward.  Secondly, sometimes when I take notes, I feel like I am missing out on the conversation and not participating like I’d want to.

So I don’t have a lot of concrete notes to reference on this topic, but I will give you some of my thoughts and impressions.

First of all, white privilege is kind of hard for me to define.  However, I think an African American would be able to explain it very well, having lived on the opposite end of it.  So I will tell you what I consider to be some examples of white privilege.

White privilege is me grabbing a box of Band Aids off the shelf at the store and not even thinking about the fact that they are specifically made to match my skin tone.  White privilege is me thinking that my lifestyle, my culture is the “norm”, and anything that deviates is different.  For instance, if I were to describe someone to you, I might say “a tall, thin girl with short brown hair”.  I would not say she is white because white is the “norm” and I would assume you would know that.  But if I was describing a person of color, I would lead with the fact that they are black or Asian because that is “different”.  And have you heard about this edited video that misconstrues the words of a 4-year old black child?  You can read about it here if you want to know more, but I can tell you this–that NEVER would have happened with a white kid.

And those of us white parents who are raising children of color need to realize that when our children are out with us, they are walking under our umbrella of white privilege.  People make different assumptions about them seeing that they are being raised by white parents.  But when they are not with us, that umbrella of protection is no longer there.  If I am in Arizona and get pulled over by the authorities with my children in the car, they are not going to question my son’s citizenship.  But when my son grows into an Asian man and he is driving alone, and gets pulled over in a state such as Arizona with their strict immigration laws, he may not be so lucky.  He will be questioned and assumptions WILL be made.  He will be treated differently and with more suspicion.  As Jennifer Fero pointed out, your child will have their Korean face forever, and you will not always be there to make things better or smooth things over.  There will be no asterisk there telling people “but I was raised by white people”.

My other big takeaway is that we really need to be using our white privilege to make a difference.  Just another reference to the Arizona immigration law (or fill in the blank with any law that affects minorities)–when passing a law like this, who are the lawmakers really going to give more credence to–Hispanic laborers who may not be able to articulate their ideas due to the language barrier or white people who have a problem with it, even though they have nothing to gain by changing it?

If there is a black child is getting bullied on the school playground, who are the administrators going to listen to more–the black mother who might be viewed as someone who is overreacting or the white mother who simply does not want to see this behavior tolerated in her school district?

Lastly, I think we all know that we should be raising our kids in a diverse environment.  It’s important that they see others who look like them (as well as people of all colors and ethnicity) as they go about their day-to-day life.  And I think that most of us take actions to ensure this.  But we musn’t neglect the diversity of the people we bring into our home and have around our dinner table.  It’s great if our kids see diversity at the library, at restaurants and in their preschool class, but what does it say to them to never see an adult Asian face at our dinner table or invited into our home.  This is something I absolutely have to work on and I plan to.

Those are my thoughts on white privilege–I’d love to hear what you think.  I will also be sharing the information I learned about dual citizenship, identity, and sharing your story.

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7 Responses to “White Privilege–with Great Power Comes Great Responsibilities”

  1. Lori Says:

    I had a good friend tell me one time that she certainly wasn’t racist, but she just didn’t have black people in her house. I was appalled, of course, by how racist the statement was and the fact that she prefaced it by saying she wasn’t racist!! And then it occurred to me that while we do have different races to our house and Joel (Chinese) practically lives with us:), the majority of the adults we have in our home are white. It was a HUGE wake-up call for me that I have got to be more intentional about raising Jack in not only a diverse world, but a diverse house as well. It sounds like you got some great information. I can’t wait to hear more!

  2. deb jacobs Says:

    that is just awesome. you have to raise them with both cultures. and in describing people of color, i NEVER say “that black lady” or whatever. i use the same kinds of descriptions as i do for white people. unfortunately, many people will then say”oh you mean the black one?” to which i willjust say yes. i think you are doing a great job with matthew.

  3. Jenny Says:

    Thank you for telling me why I need to be there, I needed to hear that and I’ve always wanted to go to NY!

    when I saw the schedule this was the one I most wanted to attend, it’s one of the things I feel most passionately about (a desire equality in our country and being aware of the way my children’s race will effect their life). I love the umbrella example that is very helpful for me to think about.

    All that said it is hard to build up a multi-racial community for my family (I would say especially in the south and in the town I live in, it was not as hard where I grew up in MD). So finally I decided to just start asking God to provide this for us, b/c I was totally failing. Slowly I have seen answers to my prayers and currently we have “adopted” a Korean woman who is here for school and she comes for dinner once a week and bible study once a week, it is such a great joy to have someone in my children’s lives who looks like them. But I know this is something that I will have to diligent about, it would be TOO easy to go back to only being surrounded by white people.

    Ok I could go on forever. I appreciate you so much!

  4. christine m tomberlin Says:

    I am committed to NEVER saying, “I am not racist.” Everyone is racist. There is always an “us” and a “them.” We just have to all work on it all the time and try to be more conscious of where it has invaded our culture and personal lives without our realizing it. And I agree, we all must try to advocate for others whenever possible. It is simply a life long pursuit–and a constant learning process.

  5. mew Says:

    I have also always wanted to attend a KAAN conference & we are lucky to live within driving distance of Albany NY so will be there in 2012. I have already recruited 2 other moms to go with me. Can you tell me if they have activities for the entire family and/or sessions for younger adoptees (my son w/b 13 next year)? Thanks for sharing — would love to hear more about your experiences.

  6. Thanks for speaking out on this issue. One would think that living in the south most of one’s life would dull the shock of racist statements, but for me, I just never get used to it. I love the point about the band-aids (never thought of that, but SO TRUE!) and Lord knows there must be a million other little things like that about our culture that we take for granted as the white majority. I think that there is no question that every human being suffers from racism (us vs. them) and it comes down to having a commitment to defeat it one household at a time, no matter what color we are. Good for you for taking that on and urging all of us to do our part.

  7. Pix Says:

    So love this post! I’ve been working through some similar thoughts over here and I’m with you sister! I hadn’t thought about the umbrella of white privilege though, and I love the thought of using that umbrella to speak out. Can’t wait to see more of your posts on this subject. Thanks!


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