Kristen Howerton, Deborah Swisher and I got together with our clans one Sunday and made a little video about the #$%@ that gets said to us every day at the mall, the playground, heck, on our front yards! Being in a transracial family is a very visible way to walk through the world. I look at dumb remarks as a chance to advocate for adoption and to educate people who are usually well-intentioned, but insensitive. This video is in that same spirit. Plus, we had a blast making it. Hope you enjoy it. If you do, please circulate it!
Micro-aggressions are described by Chester M Pierce as: brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of other races.
I’m not a comedian, per-se, but I am a storyteller and I often find myself sharing a stage with comics. So I’m pretty comfortable getting in the ring and slugging it out with big, loud racism or sexism, or ability-ism (please tell me the right word for this if you’ve been to a liberal arts college more recently than me, which is to say anytime since the industrial revolution). I’ve cheerfully burned a few professional bridges by standing up at the mic and saying, “Hey, you’re an asshole and here’s why…” I have fond memories of an evening during which a woman stood up ahead of me and told a story in which the humor depended on the collective assumption that she should be horrified that her internet date turned out to have an adoptive kid with special needs. I followed and took it upon myself to point out that I could see why she was staying single.
But micro-aggressions are often more confusing. For some that I face regularly, I have memorized responses (He’s so lucky. No, we’re lucky.). But when I’m caught off guard, I often don’t know what to do.
For instance, I was recently in a doctor’s office getting ready for the painful removal of a surgical dressing, when he told me a story that involved a “big black guy” coming to his door at 6:30 at night. You know- someone who just didn’t look like he, “belonged in the neighborhood.” And I sat there with my mouth shut and didn’t say a thing. My friend in the waiting room heard the whole exchange. She put a picture of Tariku in my face when we walked out the door and said, “You know this is going to be the big black guy who doesn’t belong in his neighborhood, right?” And I was like- sue me. I didn’t want to have a big confrontation with the guy about to rip a bandage off my face, okay?
But then I was at a reading a couple of weeks ago and another reader began by describing a “dark lady with a mustache” on an airplane and I knew we were in for it. He went on to mock her accent and her eager friendliness, calling her “Gunga-din.” And again, I sat silently. I meant to speak to him afterward, but I was talking to readers; I was signing books. Then I had to run out so I could get home and let the babysitter go. I told myself there simply hadn’t been time. But there probably had. I was just overwhelmed with everything going on. I didn’t have the right words.
There isn’t always a mic in front of my face. And even when there is, the situations are sometimes delicate, the offense subtle. I can’t always find the right joke with which to counter. And those are the kind of moments that haunt me for days. Why did I stay silent? Was I being cowardly? Opportunistic? Should I have said something? And if so, what?
I don’t think there’s a way to get this perfect. But I’d like to get better at it. I think that opening up a dialogue is always a good start.
I’m fantasizing about doing a “Shit People Say to Trans-Racial Families” video (with all my spare time, but what the hell). Who’s with me? Leave a comment and tell me your pet-peeve micro-aggression. And if you’re in the LA area, let me know if you want to be in it!
Is he yours?
This is T with Kristen Howerton’s kids, btw. Man, I love those peanuts. I’m totally recruiting them for the video.
Sunday we had a playdate with my blog-friend-turned-real-life-friend Kristen and her amazing brood.
The only danger of hanging out with Kristen is that I immediately want three more children. She and Mark are so graceful about the whole thing that it looks like a completely reasonable option. In reality, I got cold feet about a year and a half ago about our second adoption process and it’s been in limbo ever since. I actually touched base with the agency yesterday and asked them to keep our paperwork on hold for another six months.
I just don’t know, folks. I feel so inadequate most of the time, especially when faced with Tariku’s challenges and needs. I feel like I need to get a better handle on this mothering thing before I add another little being to the equation. But is that completely delusional? Will I ever feel like I have a handle on it? For now I’m checking the undecided box and just crashing the party of Kristen’s big family once in a while.
It’s definitely challenging and overwhelming for Tariku to be around more than one friend at a time. In all, I think he did beautifully. I really saw him trying to figure out how to participate and be kind.
The nice thing about hanging out with some of the other adoptive families I know is that there’s so much less explaining and apologizing to do. They get it. They get that my kid didn’t have parents for a while at a crucial time in his development. It has repercussions We’re working it out. We’re healing. We’re doing great, actually. But our version of doing great looks different that it does for kids who have had a typical attachment cycle in the first three years of life.
I’ve learned so much about all of this- attachment, adoption, parenting, faith, love, community- from my blogger friends. They’ve made me feel less alone on many desperately sad and scared nights. I’m not someone who generally goes to blogging conferences (yet), so it’s a special treat for me to hang out in the flesh with one of my fave blogging moms. One of my fave moms period.
Sometimes I question what I write on this blog. Does anyone really care about my kid’s day out at the beach? Am I engaged in a navel-gazing waste of time when I should be working on an article or another book? And then I remember why I do everything I do- books, plays, blogs, whatever- I do it to connect. And I’ve connected to so much that I value in my life through blogging. I was reminded of that on Sunday.
A few weeks ago, my friend Kristen at Rage Against the Minivan blogged about actions all of us (particularly people who aren’t in a position to adopt) can take to address the global orphan crisis. I woke up thinking about it this morning so I thought I’d share the link to her amazing and solution-oriented post.
Here’s an excerpt:
I’ve written pretty passionately about the global orphan situation recently, and several commenters asked: “What can I do if I’m not in a position to adopt?”
I’m so glad you asked.
Adoption is not for everyone. Nor is it the answer to the world’s orphan crisis. In the best of circumstances, adoption creates a loving family for a child who has been orphaned. But it does not address the root causes of why a child has been abandoned or orphaned to begin with. It is a band-aid on a much larger problem. It is estimated that 99% of the world’s orphans will not be adopted. Adoption is an answer for some orphaned children . . . but not for most of them.
There are two sides to the orphan crisis: finding families for children without, and preserving families that are intact. Prevention is the side that is not addressed by adoption. If we profess to care about orphans, then we must care about the circumstances that lead children to be orphaned. If we care about adoption, then we must care about seeing less children enter orphanages to begin with…
Besides having the best name in the world, Kristen Howerton’s blog, Rage Against the Minivan, is one of my adoption touchstones. They re-aired her appearance on The View today and her blog post about all the things she wishes she had said is a mind blower.
Here’s a tidbit:
I wanted to talk about the deficits that we will have as a white couple raising black children. I wanted to compare it to a single mom raising boys . . . how we will need help from others. I wanted to talk about how painful it can be as a parent to know that, while I can empathize, I will never fully understand my sons’ experiences as African Americans, or as transracial adoptees. I wanted to talk about how every adoptive parent needs to suck up their pride and admit that we can’t do it alone.
I wanted to talk about how much I have learned from reading the writings of adult adoptees, and how their experiences of loss and isolation inform me as a parent, and also break my heart.
I wanted to talk about the persistent question I hear asking why people adopt internationally instead of taking care of “our own kids” in the US. I wanted to talk about how every child, in every nation, is deserving of a family, not just American children. I wanted to say how petty I find this question.