Archive for April, 2010


Racism: Is it? Or isn’t it?

The last week has been a rough one for me. Our family is expecting major changes to occur, and the waiting is wearing us all down. So honestly, I’m probably a bit on edge anyway. But Thursday I was in tears over what I perceived to be racist responses to my son. Let me preface this by saying that just about any organized class or activity we do, J is the only child of color there. That’s the case with our zoo class.

It started a week ago actually with some odd responses by a mom in our preschool zoo class, but I didn’t really think much of it. A week later her feelings were hard to miss. The first comment came just as J sat down after gathering up a few plastic animals the teacher puts out for the kids to play with. No one was playing with these toys or even standing near them at the time, so J rounded up about 15 for himself. “Oh, holy moly,” this mom said loudly.

OK, you’re thinking that’s not racist and you’re right. But when another child–a white child–came in a few minutes later and sat down in the seat her daughter had been sitting in and began playing with the little animals she had lined up, the mom’s response was “Oh, it’s OK, my daughter keeps moving around so don’t worry about sitting there.”

Later the kids were coloring a tube that would hold otter treats, and while J and another girl were each coloring one end of a tube. The kids were crowded together and this woman’s daughter, whom last week she mentioned didn’t like or do well with crowds, didn’t have a place to sit and color. Another mom encouraged our kids to scoot back and make room for this little girl in the middle, which they did, but the girl refused to scoot in. Instead of encouraging the girl to participate, the mom who was standing right next to me, said “I know honey, some people should teach their kids to share.”

As the kids visited the otters, the comments continued. If my son even brushed her daughter as they walked, he was being “impolite” while other children could seemingly run the little girl over and no apologies were necessary. She never said anything directly to me or J but made sure she was standing right next to me or looking at me when she made her commentary.

By the end of class I was fuming, but unsure of what to do. What I wanted to do was go up to her and tell her that if she had a problem with me or my son that she should tell me directly. But I chickened out. I tried to let go of my anger and continue our zoo visit.

After lunch we saw several animals and played, but the incident continued to weigh on me. Then back at the otters J began playing with another little girl who appeared to be there with her mom and two other families, all white. I saw that they were playing tag, poking each other to make the other one it. The little girl’s mom saw the poking and seemed to get angry. Then the little girl tagged J and they took off after each other. Then the mom seemed willing to let it go until all of the kids crowded by the glass together, and a little pushing took place as they jockeyed for position. While all of the kids were pushing some, it wasn’t until J pushed one of their kids that the reprimands started, “Hey, no pushing up there.” That’s when I lost it and we left the zoo for the day.

Again, I know maybe it was nothing. And maybe without the comments from the lady in our class, I would have thought nothing of it. But it seems that more and more if there’s “trouble” (pushing, acting up, etc.) the parents see my son as the instigator, especially if he’s the only child of color there. J is far from perfect, I assure you I’m not under such a delusion. But more often than not, he’s the follower not the leader. And regardless, these kids are 3 and 4 so you have to expect that they aren’t always going to share, be impolite, or act they way we want them to.

Once we were in the car, I explained to J that I thought the little girl’s mom thought he was being mean when he was poking the daughter. And I said that some people will think the worst of us because of how we look or because we don’t look like them. I truly believed that’s what happened. I think if a white child had been in J’s place the first assumption wouldn’t have been that he was being mean; that the mom would have taken more time to see what was really going on.

I think that’s the hard part of racism today–it’s so subtle. How someone treats a person of color could be racism or it could be that they’re having a bad day all around. I know I can’t hide from racial issues, but I don’t want to automatically assume an incident is about race either.

That’s why I try to look at the whole situation. I would be less likely to think the mother in our zoo class had racist attitudes if she’d made comments about the white children who displayed the same actions as J. But since the comments were only directed at what he was doing and said in my direction, I assume that racism was playing a part in it.

The whole thing makes me so sad. I’m thankful that I’m educated about race and have an understanding of racism in America. But I’m seeing that I’m not completely equipped to deal with racial issues. These instances are showing me the importance of same race mentors who can use their experience to help our son navigate these experiences when they arise. And we’re working on that.

In the meantime, I think I’ll read Does Anybody Else Look Like Me?by Donna Jackson Nakazawa again. Her talking points and sample conversations start with 4-year-olds so I know it’s a great resource for me to be using right now. Better to be armed for the battle, then left unprotected when the arrows begin to fly.


A Window of Opportunity?

Today we had our first Korean class for adoptive families in our city. It’s a class run by Korean American teens as a way for adoptive families to make connections with each other and Korean American families, as well as provide role models for our kids. And it was AWESOME!

I’ve been looking forward to the class for two weeks now and sometimes when you build something up, you’re disappointed. But not so today; it lived up to every expectation. I love seeing my son in the midst of others who look like him–he thrives in those situations and today was no exception.

But lately I’ve heard from a few other families who’s kids are early to mid-elementary school age that their kids are resistant to culture and talk about adoption. And it’s made we wonder if we as adoptive parents have a window of opportunity in which to bring culture and adoption talk into our families so it’s just normal.

These families admit that their children have had limited exposure to their birth culture, language, and other Korean Americans. And that, while adoption talks have happened in their families, they didn’t start early. Now, as the parents are feeling more like these things should be a regular part of their family’s life, the children seem to have no interest, or are even hostile toward the subjects.

Counter that with a couple of other families I know who have, from the beginning, placed an emphasis on the family (all members, not just adoptees) learning the language, celebrating and observing birth culture, talking about adoption, and being around other Korean Americans. The 10-year-olds and 7-year-olds in these houses enjoy learning Korean and doing Korean things. They’re comfortable around other Korean Americans and seem comfortable talking about their adoption and birth families.

Is it personality? Or is it how the parents have approached these subjects? Nature? Nurture? A little of both?

It’s probably a little of both. But I do believe that the earlier you make birth culture, diversity, talks about adoption and race, part of your family, the more comfortable everyone will be with the subjects. I’ve heard many parents say, “If/when my child shows an interested in Korean things, language, etc., I’ll be happy to provide with them the opportunities they need. I’ll just wait for them to take the lead.”

But it seems to me that by the time they might be asking (7, 8, 9 years old) the door may be closing. They may feel that it’s not acceptable to talk about these subjects because their parents have never shown an interested. Or they may feel that to show an interest will only make them stand out from their family.

I believe another key is for everyone in the family to participate–singling out the adoptee to participate in events or learn the language just further separates him and shows again that he’s different from his other family members. Growing up I always hated it when adults seemed to expect more of me than they did of themselves. And I’ve tried to remember that in parenting.

So often you hear that you really parent by example–you can say something all day but if you’re not doing it, the words have little impact. I think the same logic applies to adoption issues, birth culture, and language. You need to set the example by doing those things yourself; by showing they are important to you.

It will be interesting to see what our son is like in three or four years. We’ve taken a very proactive approach to our parenting but only time will tell if the example we’re trying to set for our son will make a difference in how he feels as he grows.

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