Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Two steps backward

I wonder what Martin Luther King, Jr would say about this AP article?

The title is, "Do Whites Need Training Before Parenting Black Children?"

Try to swallow that with an open mind, and then dig into some bigoted thought patterns revealed in the article. On first read, it sounds like a one-sided, uneducated, 20 year old, sad commentary by empathy-free people who believe they have the right to subjectively judge whether I'm "good enough" to parent a child that desperately needs a mom. Then, when I took a deep breath and went back through it, though I agree with education in general, I still oppose throwing out the "color blind" policy currently in place for US adoptions.

The word choice by adoption professionals saddens me. The idea of "race" instead of "culture" says that your color determines something deep about you.

It is like my friend saying "I have two REAL children and one ADOPTED child." I believe we choose to give up certain vocabulary to move forward. I don't tell my kids they aren't my REAL kids because they didn't come out of my body, and I don't tell them their race determines who they will become.

Their culture is a part of who they are. The color of their skin is part of the tapestry that makes up our world, but it does not define what they are inside. I'm sad to see adoption foundations use this language.

My guess is that MOST PEOPLE who don't mind having someone of another "race" in their immediate family have a smidgen of sensitivity to other cultures.

There are some good quotes in the article. Some truth, like this, "All children deserve to be raised in families that respect their cultural heritage." Yes. That is one of the enjoyable side benefits of adopting a child born in a different culture.

And, "child welfare agencies should strive to find permanent homes for black [i'd say ANY rather than black] children among their extended families before placing them in foster care." Duh. If social workers can't figure that out, then why do they think these same people can determine if I'll bring enough black culture into my daughter's life?

I'm sick of people spewing out of one side of their mouths that society needs to integrate - which I believe it is doing and has been doing and will continue to do - while at the SAME TIME setting up these scenarios where an enlightened few determine proper racial boundaries. Isn't that racism?

We need to look forward as a country. We are a melting pot of cultures and I think our kids are getting that concept, and they are seeing people as individuals who embrace the cutures they love. I respect my white friend Lee Ann, who embraces west African drumming and the culture around it. I accept that my friend Laura embraces some of India's yoga culture and has integrated it into her life. I respect the black woman who embraces hair straightening or Latin Catholicism. It's all integration. It's not necessary to divorce individual dignity from culture.

I think the main thing that burns me about this article is NOT that adoptive parents need training. All parents need training. It is that the article makes it a "black" thing. Adoptive training should - and from my experience does - include cultural awareness training on many levels, for all parents. Let's promote education across the board and get over the need to define people by groups.


Anonymous said...

This article continues the trend of the idea that we as a people are separate and apart. While it is true we don't live in the idealized world of no one looking at skin color to base opinions on each other, forcing parents who are seeking to bring home a child of color to call their own to endure a version of parental sensitivity and awareness training
is kind of big brotherish and overbearing. As an adoptive parent I am already required to be assessed by a social worker and cultural awareness is a part of that curriculum of discussion. In fact, I had to take 10 hours of classes to be prepared to raise my child who is of another cultue than what I was raised in. That is not enough? And then who sets the conditions and then who assesses whether I am a white parent that "gets it" It seems very subjective, dangerous and also brings us back rather than move us forward as a society.

On the one hand the article acknowledges that the black community is not standing in line to adopt and raise these foster children so I don't see how it is productive to create more hurdles for willing parents to go through (anyone who has adopted knows how to jump hurdles into oblivion).

Also, this idea is a narrow view of what these children experience or need to overcome the pain they have felt in their lives which are varied and deep and often far more grievous than the issue of race... the issues of abandonment, loss, grief, anger, drug-culture, etc come to mind for many of these children (and that goes for black and white children in the foster care system). This blanket statement and idea is in and of itself racist.

Having said that what about a white woman who births a black child? Who is going to train her on her birth child's "race?" The whole thing just reeks of wrong...

Anonymous said...

I admit that I have not scrutinized this article. But I have read a lot of people's opinions.

As a caucasian mother of an adopted Ethiopian child this does touch me. I think it is important that I am aware of race issues in this world as it will become my responsibility to help my daughter navigate these issues as she gets older.

This weekend I met 2 women who adopted from China and live in a small town community and I questioned them about race issues their children might face. Both said they had never thought about it really. And they had not yet experienced any racial issues. I was surprised by this only because I was required to take an online class dealing with cultural issues and I was required to have a conversation with my social worker during the home study process about race issues. Was I required this because my child would be from Africa and they were not because their children would be from Asia?

And like the previous person who left a comment I wonder about those who have birth children of a different race. Six months after my daughter came home from Ethiopia my sister gave birth to her daughter who has an African American father. I had to be "approved" to become a mother. My sister had to have a one night stand. I had to read about racial issues and discuss them with a social worker. My sister refuses to acknowledge that her daughter may face racial issues because "she is also caucasian" unlike my daughter. I am all for education. I am all for exploration. And I am all for equality. I want to learn how to raise my daughter to be a proud woman. I want her to feel comfortable in this world. I want her to think she is beautiful. And I will continue to educate myself in hopes of passes that along to her. However, I have to question why I would be required this and my sister isn't. Afterall, she is raising a girl who will likely be viewed as African American just like my daughter is. Does giving birth mean she doesn't need the education but I do?

Heidi Mehltretter said...

I find your comment about your friends who have adopted from China interesting, and I have witnessed similar scenarios in families who adopted baby girls from China. I have yet to meet a person adopting from Ethiopia, who says they have never thought about race issues. Interesting.

Thank you for taking time to share your heart.

Anonymous said...

I agree completely with what I see as your main point--children are not different because they have a different color skin. They are all just children. Will there be cultural issues because of the difference in skin color--oh, course. But the child is basically a child.

Bradshaws said...

Okay, off topic, Zion is getting so big!!!! That pic makes her look like such a big girl, Wow!
And Beautiful as ever!!

Me and Me Alone said...

As a minority child adopted by a white family, I wish they would have spent more time on my birth culture than just trying to let me be so called normal.

While I know my parents did the best they could do, I discovered my black roots by reading and asking questions of others.

I also wish they could have spent more time finding a black or latino hair dresser. I could go on and on. But I have to say yes to the training.

The Warren Family said...

I don't know if I feel as strongly as the rest of you do. My husband and I are also adopting from Ethiopia. I feel I am willing to put my pride aside and accept the idea that I need training and that this is what is best for our child. race does matter in today's world and I don't think a colour blind approach is a smart one. Sure in an ideal world I would like to think that we could be colour blind, but that is not the world we live in. I agree with a lot of what you had to say and I live my life by the same sort of philosophy...but we also have to come to terms with the fact that many people out there will respond to our children based on their "race" and not just their "culture". We need to be prepared for that.

Heidi Mehltretter said...

Thank you for taking time to post. I need to work on my writing if I am giving the impression that all of us do not need training - and I'll even give into calling it racial training if during the training we can keep ourselves from grouping solely based on skin color. We all need training in these issues.

But, I don't think ONLY people adopting "black" children need this training and need to be segregated. My issue is lumping these kids together and separating those of us who adopt them from those who adopt kids who look more like them.

Taking my son to Chinese school each week, and talking with Chinese people has helped me raise him in a way that I hope validates his Chinese heritage while living in a mixed family. I don't think my Chinese son's culture is any less important than my daughter's Ethiopian culture.

And, I do see horrific racism (I'm a filmmaker living in the South and have done many interviews in this area). I see it in every country and in every society. And, I believe it stems from ignorance and fear and we must combat it on many levels, including recognizing that it is not only a black thing and that ALL people benefit from training.

Thanks again for helping me clarify my position on this issue, I know I have SO MUCH to learn in many areas and I appreciate the discussion.


The Warren Family said...

I enjoyed reading your post and your reply. I think that was a great point that you made..that not only people adopting "black" children need training. I understand where you are coming from better now. Thanks!! Great discussion you got going on here!

Shannon (-: