Separating Adoption from Race – and a Momma’s Overdue Outrage

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Racial mirrors matter. Watching “A Snowy Day” together.

So far, the blog posts I have written about race have been placed in my “adoption” category on my home page. It’s not enough. Blackness and adoption are obviously not the same thing. In our house, maybe they have been the same thing, for too long now. But our son is getting older. He understands his skin color is different from ours.

He’s hearing what people say to him. When we are together, he gets a near-constant stream from white peers of “Is she your mom? But you’re black!” From Black peers, he gets “Is she your mom? But she’s white!” He already asked me not to come to lunch with him at the cafeteria again. He firmly asks me not to chaperone any of his field trips. That’s okay with me… cuz I have potty training twins… but I wish I could be inside his head for a little while.

It’s time to add a new category to this blog. Should I call it “Race”? “Black and White”? It can’t just be about one color, because I’m going to have to add a lot of stuff about my own white privilege. Remember, “if you don’t think white privilege exists, you are already enjoying it.”

Just because a problem isn’t YOUR problem doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

As my son matures, so do his understanding of adoption and race. As his brain or body has a growth spurt, so do his anger and his grief and his knowledge. But you know what? SO DO MINE! I have been living in a white bubble for 37 years and I think it’s finally popped. I think – I hope – my eyes are opened. And now I’m using those eyes to try to see the world through my son’s eyes, just a little. I am learning. I am asking questions. I am reading, reading, reading. I am listening. I am growing.

This growing hurts. And you know what? IT SHOULD HURT.

I SHOULD be uncomfortable. I have growing pains as I realize all the ways I’ve been ignorant. Downright wrong. I have regrets as I realize that I wasn’t paying attention until I had a Black son – until I had to pay attention. Where was my anger before?* Why did it take me so long? Because I have white privilege, that’s why. I was completely blind to that fact. Now, I am having growing pains as I realize just how different my life, as a white woman, has been from a Black boy’s life. (And it will continue to be different, no matter how much outrage I have.) I have growing pains as I realize just how incredibly hard it will be to raise a Black man in the American South. How much it’s going to hurt to do, and to watch.

I can’t ever go back. I have opened a door and gone through. My old life with blinders is completely over. As the inauguration looms over us, “Black & White Thoughts” is a now new category on this blog, and in my life. You are going to hear about it.

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*This week’s episode of the TV show “Blackish” delivered a very powerful speech about this topic. The main character, Andre, addresses the way white people (including me) were more surprised by the election results than were People of Color. He wonders why we white people were not paying attention sooner. He says, “You think I’m not sad that Hillary didn’t win? That I’m not terrified about what Trump’s about to do? I’m used to things not going my way. I’m sorry that you’re not and it’s blowing your mind, so excuse me if I get a little offended because I didn’t see all of this outrage when everything was happening to all of my people since we were stuffed on boats in chains.” Read more about it here. Watch the full episode here.

I’ve Got to Pop That White Bubble (or, The Rap Incident)

We were driving along in the stupid beige minivan, windows open to the lovely fall air. We stop at a stoplight beside a Black man with his windows down too. He is playing rap music. My Black son said, “Momma, that’s bad music.”

WHAT?! I whipped my head around to face him. I try to act casual, but I’m shocked. “No, that’s not bad music. It’s called rap.” I turn back to face the wheel. The light is still red. I see my son in my rearview mirror. He is still staring at the Black man. I twist around to see him. “Baby, why did you say that is ‘bad music’? There were no bad words. Who told you that was ‘bad music’?”

He stared at me with a slightly alarmed look on his face. I knew he would never be able to answer my question. Whether someone had given him that idea, or he somehow inferred it on his own, he would never be able to explain it to me. I had to let it go. But I couldn’t.

I zoned out as the light turned green. Why did he think rap is “bad”? Is it because we only listen to rock? Is it because only white people listen to Radiohead? Is it because we never play anything that resembles hip-hop? The Beastie Boys must be the closest we get.

Or worse: did he say the music was “bad” because it was being played by a Person of Color? Is my son already an accidental part of implicit bias? That is not okay.

I have failed.

Our world is white. So white. Yes, I have plenty of racial mirrors for my son, if you count dolls. Or if you count armfuls of carefully chosen and well-reviewed books – books that  both feature kids of color, and also overtly explain race. Not good enough. Our real world? It’s white. All our family. Our entire church. All our friends. And apparently, all our music. Despite living in an extremely diverse part of Virginia, we have managed to raise him in a white bubble. Our white bubble.

I’ve got to pop our white bubble.

I’m gonna start by changing the station.

What Happened When I Made “Black Lives Matter” My Profile Picture the Day After the Election?

meme4I lost friends. That’s what happened.

Two hundred comments in 24 hours. That’s what happened.

I made people very, very angry. That’s what happened.

All because of a simple black meme with three powerful white words on it: Black Lives Matter.

You know what else that profile picture did? It defended my Black son. And it defended every other person made to feel an “other”. I took a stand. I silently protested against the election of a deplorable man. I faced off against people who don’t agree with me, and I didn’t back down. I turned my back on the dirty parts of my Southern heritage. I let go of people who shouldn’t be around my son anymore. I sifted the wheat from chaff.

Did I do it on purpose? Yes. Did I know what would happen? Yes.

I have friends who, right after I did, also changed their profile picture to that same exact black meme with three words on it: Black Lives Matter. Do you know what happened to them? Nothing. Not a thing. Not a single comment. What does that mean? What does that say? Maybe it says that my friends list needs weeding. Sifting. Maybe it says that I live in the South and they don’t. Maybe it says that I have more right-wing conservatives on my list. Or maybe it says that I have extremely vocal acquaintances (not sure “Friends” is the right word anymore) who aren’t afraid to yell at me – in all caps. If I dig really, really deep and try to be optimistic, maybe it means that I have some friends who are also willing to engage with me and ask questions.

Yes, that’s true. I did spark lots of discussion – some of which was even productive. I had people who asked questions, who genuinely were seeking to learn and do better. There were people who thanked me for helping them process some stuff. I didn’t change everyone’s mind. I don’t know if I changed *anyone’s* mind. But I made some people think, and allowed them a space to do so in depth.

The best part? I had people rising to defend me. There were six types of responses to my photo:

  • The silent “like”
  • The scream-at-me-in-all-caps-and-then-disappear
  • The I-disagree-and-I-will-keep-disagreeing-with-you-and-never-hear-a-word-you-say
  • The I-disagree-and-here’s-why-and-what-do-you-think
  • The please-explain-why-and-where-can-I-learn-more
  • The Defenders

Some defended me eloquently. Some defended me with (sometimes justified) cursing and name-calling. Some defended me eloquently until they bloodied their knuckles against walls of ignorance and then defended me with cursing. (By the way, “FFS” is my favorite new curse word acronym for extreme frustration.) Not gonna lie: it felt really freakin’ good to have people have my back like that.

I take that back – they weren’t defending *me*. They were defending MY CHILD. They were defending all People of Color. They were defending the Black Lives Matter movement. They were defending everyone who has been silenced and discriminated against and made to feel fear at the outcome of this election. (Okay, there was one friend who was actually defending ME. She said something like, “Melissa is too nice to cuss you out, so I’m going to do it for her.” HA!)

I’m an introvert. I can be a shrinking violet at times – but not when it comes to my kids. Like any mother, I will morph into Mama Bear in milliseconds when the need arises. I’ll cut you. Watch me. Electing a man who has emboldened people to use the n-word with glee, scream at minorities, make children fear that their undocumented parents won’t be there when they get home, grab women, taunt the handicapped, graffiti cars and homes and lockers with swastikas and epithets, cause people to hide their sexuality again,  and cause women to take off their hijabs for the first time…. Well, that is not acceptable. My child is one of those. And this is one pissed-off mother.

If you don’t agree with me that Black Lives Matter, we have a problem. If you are willing to talk to me, ask questions, message me privately, read an article I send you, explain your side calmly and then ask me to explain mine…. Well, then, there is hope for us. If you refuse to do any of those things, I have swiftly realized that you are not allowed around my son.

I need to be more careful. We do not feel safe.

Change starts with me. My first change is tightening my circle of friends.

BLACK LIVES MATTER.

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But, yeah, also, 200 comments in 24 hours? I didn’t get nearly that many when we adopted a surprise baby with no notice after six years. I also didn’t get that many comments when I died and came back to life during the dramatic childbirth of my twins. Pfffft.