Like many people here in America, currently in racial turmoil over grand jury decisions not to indict police officers who have killed unarmed black men, I shared this image on facebook. A few days later, articles appeared berating the photo’s manipulation and message. Clearly, other people think harder than I do before sharing. The first thing that came to my mind after the criticism was, E.J. Graff’s article, “The Lie We Love.” It’s a similar indictment – that we all know the system is rotten, but we choose to ignore that in favor of the love-knows-no-color image like above.
Quote from The Guardian article:
Liking this picture as a definitive image of America’s race crisis is the equivalent of locking yourself in and turning up the volume to weep at Frozen while the streets are burning outside. Which is exactly what white Americans apparently want to do.
While I wouldn’t call it a definitive image, I might be guilty of seeking self-soothing while the streets burn. Yet here I found myself promoting this picture, this soothing lie of a picture that says “there there, everything is actually okay.”
The back story behind this image is that the boy in tears, Devonte Hart, is a little black boy adopted by a white family. Like most black parents, Devonte’s parents can accompany him to a protest but they can’t accompany or protect him all the time. Unlike most black parents, Devonte’s parents, I would venture to guess, haven’t a clue what it feels like to be a daily target of suspicion, disrespect, insults, and violence. I think I can sympathize because, like most white parents, my parents didn’t know what it felt like to be taunted, subjugated, patronized, and continually solicited to for exotic sex acts – like their yellow daughter did.
I was told/programmed during my formative years to believe that racism was dying and we were living proof of the end of it. I was told that racism is just ignorance and that racism would end in my lifetime. I just had to believe. Easy directives from those who are not stake-holders. But as a child I didn’t really have a choice and so I lived a life in service to color-blindness. But despite what your adoptive parents tell you and despite the environment they try to craft for you, white society tells you race matters because you experience racism while they don’t, when nobody else white does. We were also frequently reminded we were “chosen,” the implication being that we’d made it – we were privileged from others of our race or those orphans left behind. Being severed from our race was the key component to saving us. Thus severed, we are isolated from communities of color in any meaningful way. You realize this when you try to bridge the gap. You realize this when you try to help and your efforts are as misplaced as your adoptive parents were. And one day, as in the NPR Story Corps recording below, you realize that racial matters can’t be willed away and ignorance of them could kill you. Your adoption status doesn’t mean jack to those judging you on race.
Alex Landau, above, knew his rights and asserted them – like any white person would have. He forgot that he was black. That’s what happens to transracial adoptees – we think we mirror what we see – we forget that we aren’t white too. Here’s what he looked like after the police got done with him:
So, robot-like I find myself staying safe at home posting hopeful lies of self-soothing on social media. It feels like a default action, a well-trained action, a very white upbringing action. Am I my brother’s keeper? I would like to be, but they recognize my privilege and generally don’t accept me.
The recent events have me very depressed, weeping without tears. I cry because so often I recognize my white upbringing in my own actions. I cry because my mother’s voice admonishes me to lock the doors whenever I drive through a black neighborhood. I cry because at this moment the last thing I want is to feel white and privileged, because I have always identified with anyone who has been forced to live a life not of their own free will. I cry not only for the huge list of people of color killed by white police officers and the erosion of civil rights, but I cry for all the people of color I never get to know because my world is so segregated.
I just really question whether taking children of color and raising them in white privilege really builds multi-cultural anything. It just seems to me to be another lie we love.
So to me, being adopted to a so-called post racial world means forever battling the white privileged perspective I carry but didn’t ask for, a perspective that increasingly disgusts and horrifies me – probably the only part of myself that I loathe.
What does it mean for you?
Please answer and comment liberally. Thank you.
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I am so glad you wrote this. Every time I watch the killing of Eric Garner I sob and cry. Each time it hurts me. I want to scream. My husband is African-American and told me he could be shot tomorrow right here in western MA where we live. He grew up in Harlem in NYC. He knows how to survive.
From an early age I fought the racism of my adoptive parents. I fought back with defiance. I fought it by befriending the only African American student in my high school in Wisconsin.
We are not in any post-racial world, my husband reminds me. As a Native American-Euro mix, I know he’s right. I wish he was wrong.
Thanks so much for posting this, I really donty have anything to add,but I am reminded of Adam Pertman’s self-serving (personal and political]) from a a few years ago. Promoting international and transracial adoption he had the gall to suggest that such arrangements could bring word peace (or some such drivel), because “we” wouldn’t want to kill our own children’s birthparents. Really???!!! I need to find the quote tI;s much more awful than my paraphrase,
Lara/Trace, I have always been drawn to the African American community growing up near Detroit. But even there I was raised in total segregation and it was nearly impossible to mingle. It is definitely my loss.
Marley Greiner, That is jaw-droppingly incredible. And par for the course, sadly.
I like to be around people of color – if only to remind myself that I am not white. Because I forget. I enjoy being around people of color. But black and brown people are shut out of the profession I’m in. I feel deprived of culture – never mind my culture of heritage – I feel deprived of any culture, especially African American culture which has so shaped and informed and enriched this nation. Instead I was made to adopt white racist culture. The disconnect, being a person of color. The disconnect…makes me ill. Makes me feel like Frankenstein’s monster.
In a way, I see that was the intent with adoption. To make us into something we are not. But once you see the disconnect, you change. You are not a monster anymore.
I think the intent was to comfort my confused parents and allow them to say:
I am not a racist.
I think the intent was to be the best white person they could be, which is to mean magnanimous to those they actually marginalize, i.e., narcissism.
I think the intent was also a facade to continue allowing a discreet and sophisticated racism to persist on the new post-racial stage. People with a child of color couldn’t possibly be racists, after-all. We are the perfect foil to that accusation.
Thing is, they actually believed they were being progressive. Such is the power of the lie we love.
I was also brought up by them to revere Martin Luther King, etc., so I have always felt / seen the disconnect. These kind of conflicting messages is what in-forms the post-racial adoptee. I am a twinkie: stuffed with all manner of cancer-causing artificially flavored and preserved industrially processed milk fat.
That I find myself wanting to love the lie too shows just what a mind fuck transracial adoption is. It’s going to take the rest of my life to slay this monster within me.
I don’t want to limit myself to only other adoptees who can relate. I also don’t want to continue participating in white privilege or living in a segregated world. But even the attempt to break out of a white world and into a world of color is unnatural. On top of the schitzophrenia of being a transracial adoptee, being “chosen” to live a white privileged perspective as a person of color is a prison sentence of profound isolation from anything resembling authentic.
I’m really pissed. This isn’t even about a search for identity. This predates that. It is about everything being all wrong.
I was raised in a black and white world, one I did not fit into. What I find fascinating about the term “post racial” is that it happens to best forward the interests of the dominant (by way of power, not necessarily by way of the numbers) “racial” group. Reverend King’s dream of a “color blind” world was co-opted and declared a reality without substantive social change.
I’m a Colombian was brought to the U.S. through transracial adoption. I can experienced racism to the fullest degree because most “Colombians” are Indigenous mixed. So the features typically are tan skin black hair brown yes. The place where my white adopted parents took me was a rural all white community in the Midwest. I’ve lived racism and experienced a great deal as a child and teenager at my school. God awful years of my life! I experienced the abuse physical, emotional as well as sexual from family members. This was my introduction to white culture. To be truth and frank my therapist said my experience mirrors what whites did 500 years ago that continues to this day, to people le of color. We do not live in a post racial world. Racism is so deeply embedded into the fabric of this society. It is a continent built off of the rape, blood, sweat, tears and murder of people of color. Real talk.
I find it so relevant for you to note that what happened to you individually mirrors and continues what happened 500 years ago. That really pulls the carpet out from under “modern” pretences.
I remember I was Stateside for the election that put President Obama in office. The day after, I was walking with a friend on the Upper West Side. A white woman approached us, with a big smile on her face, and she exclaimed: “It’s a great day!” When I asked her what she meant, she said: “I voted for Obama! It’s a great day!”
Later that evening, in my friend’s town in NJ, I went into the local hip-hop clothing store. Featured in the window was a T-shirt that read: “My President Is Black”. I was struck by the difference in tenor between the two expressions. The first was, to me, an expression of agency that was, oh, about 500 years too late to be valid. The second was, to me, a kind of reminder to the president himself, that there were great expectations of him.
Given the racist tenor of the presidential race itself—equally from the Dems as the Reps—both expressions struck me as indicative of a particular brand of wishful thinking, a belief in the “marketing” that is an American trademark at this point, that stating something aloud and often enough makes it true.
I heard myself saying, “give it time”, especially as regards bombs falling in my corner of the planet. I heard myself saying: “When Barack Obama can claim ‘I am white‘ without raising an eyebrow, then we’ll have arrived at some post-racial America”.
We are so far from that. I don’t think culturally it is even possible within Anglo-Saxon capitalist society. So I don’t expect it, or look for it, barring some major upheaval, societally speaking.
When I first saw this picture above, and heard the basic story behind it, I felt sick. And heartsick. Here was that marketing again. I was also angry. That this young man is expected to embrace his oppressor sums up for me the state of so many in the world today who, like us, are similarly displaced and dispossessed. That his back story is about transracial adoption now explains much. This picture is not an event marker, it is a threat: Assimilate, or be destroyed.
It took me leaving the Belly of the Beast as it were to really see my acculturation for what it was/is, and for my role in its dominance. It has taken me 10 years to shake a lot of that off, at no small cost to myself on a variety of levels. Before I left for Lebanon, I would likely have not even gone into that store in Bloomfield. So something has changed for me.
In a theater performance given here in Beirut a few weeks ago, I said: “The longer I stay here, the harder it is to go back there.” This for a variety of reasons, which also make it difficult for me to “be” in certain parts of this city and country.
I would echo the points made here that a lot of what we refer to as “white” culture can also be seen as a kind of bourgeois/dominant class acculturation. And it is not unique to white people.
I think I may come back to this later.
Aside: In the current issue of Harper’s magazine is a review of the book by Allyson Hobbs, entitled A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life. It contains this passage:
This strikes me as particularly relevant.
Not being aware of my non-white heritage, I got to pass even from myself.
Reblogged this on The Life Of Von and commented:
Like what you said above, being adopted in a post-racial world, meant finding myself as a race when I didn’t know I was. Awakening is a gradual process that in my case goes slow. It does not happen in a straight line.
I think I may have written on this site about being in my forties looking out at a group of people I was speaking to and realizing that everyone was white (except me.) I knew it all along on one level but it suddenly hit home one day “we are different” in that way. I am still living in a mostly white world – where I work and everyone I socialize with is white. The closest I get to the racial underpinnings of my community is at the Asian Market – I smile and slide my credit card.
For me and my situation – both my opportunities and limitations – I come at the subject of race like an outsider. I am always surprised in some way by it. It easily slips from my consciousness. I am always talking to people who know even less about race and racism than me. Someone told me once that liberals want to define away race in order to establish true anti-racism.
I am pleased to have a president who is a person of color. It meant something to me when he was elected and it still matters to me…that fact alone. I love his history and his family. He was raised by white people in Hawaii and married a black woman. I was impressed by that and by the woman he married who seems strong and beautiful.
The moments when I step out of the all white world – like when I visit Miami or Hawaii – I feel just the same as I do anywhere. My feelings are not close by, my heart was hurt and I keep sleeping. I love my wife – who is white. She is beautiful and strong but I have never imagined marrying someone who looks like me because I have never felt close enough to bridge skin deep similarities.
I am a mixed race woman, dark olive skin, brown eyes and kinky curly dark hair, that was adopted by a blond hair, blue eyed mother and a dark haired Italian father. My mothers side of the family were especially bigoted toward people of color, blacks in particular. When I look in the mirror, it is pretty clear that I am not white and until two years ago, I had no idea of my racial heritage. Today I *think* I know most of it. I remember coming home from school one day after filling out the questionnaire on the standardized tests. One of the questions was about my racial background. I asked my mom what I was supposed to put there. She told me, “You’re white. You mark down that you’re white!” So I confusingly looked at my dark, olive colored skin and filled in that circle next to ‘White’. I grew up white.
I never thought of my family as privileged. After all, my childhood had all kinds of abuse, poverty, homelessness and the lot. But no one ever called them the “N” word.
I am mixed race, but culturally I am white, the majority of people in my life are white, both socially and professionally. Like Alex’s story above, I often forget that I am not white. But sometimes I remember in the strangest of ways. Sometimes it happens when a stranger shouts out the “N” word to me, which thankfully doesn’t happen often. My race was a big question over my head when I took a road trip from Seattle through the Southern States. Sometimes I will have someone follow me in a store- full of suspicion. Sometimes it happens when I consider things like my desire to live in Ireland or Scotland- and I will find myself wondering if I would be accepted and what are race relations like in those countries? These thoughts come up out of the blue. It’s like I walk around white and then suddenly a thought comes up and I remember that I am not and I wonder where exactly in this world do I fit in?
I am blessed to be surrounded by people that see me- ALL of me- but it is something that haunts me and for good or bad, is part of my life.
The feeling of the sudden pop-up reminder still happens to me sometimes, when I realise, “Oh, shit. Yeah, I’m gay.”
Now that I identify explicitly as “furry” the “I’m gay” part recurs less often.
This quote struck me:
“to be white…is to be able to have the luxury of oblivion – to be oblivious to the injustices, to be oblivious to the privileges, to be oblivious, frankly, to one’s own identity – so it is in a sense to be oblivious to one’s own self.”
Perhaps the person of color – too young to have yet formed their own strong sense of identity – adopted to a white family must psychically protect themselves from the utter, profound loss of everything familiar. So I am thinking that, being in an environment of white privilege and living as a white person, oblivion to one’s own self works in tandem with the erasure of one’s ethnic identity. And perhaps becomes a novicaine for our severed child psyches.
To amplify Daniel’s echo: “that a lot of what we refer to as ‘white’ culture can also be seen as a kind of bourgeois/dominant class acculturation” …
Having officially uncovered my genetic heritage, I find the idea of embracing my Swiss and Irish ethnicity attractive. And I do mean “ethnicity”; that which is culturally, perhaps hegemonically Swiss or Irish. (I embrace my African roots as well, but these are as yet still social, not ethnic; I don’t know my black ethnic origins.) But the point is, it is the idea of ethnicity that remains specifically missing from “white”.
I’ve described white as a club you can get into (though how many degrees of Masonic initiation you’re allowed will vary, of course). This sense of club points to the “bourgeois/dominant class acculturation” noted above. The correlate of this, then, must be that “black” also comprises a club.
Colour-blindness (obviously) appeals to those in the white club (the lovable lie; Brent, what was that Greek phrase for the “useful fiction”?) because it obliviously dwells in the pretense of post-raciality, but it appeals to those in the black club too, because it means there may yet still be hope. I’ve noticed at times when I try to discuss systemic racism with people of colour that I get a really strong push-back, and I eventually understood: what I was saying was, “There’s no hope. In EVERY interaction there is nothing but racism; you can find nowhere it doesn’t prevail.”
[ASIDE: I have to always remember that, in the two United States, anything said speaks with a forked tongue and has two meanings: one for white, the other for black: the wildly different policy consequences and meaning of gun control, for instance, in a white or black context; or in the striking fact that the widely presumed diabetes risk of obesity (and policy decisions that stem from efforts to reduce obesity to control diabetes) accomplishes nothing for black males, whose risk for diabetes occurs at “normal” weight.]
So colour-blindness functions in two ways as well, as Hobb’s notes above: “If whiteness, in Hobbs’s reading, initially meant liberation from oppression, it later meant a severance from community and folkways.” In this case, whiteness (for the black club) promises liberation from oppression AND severance from community and folkways. I would add that money (or the monetization of social relationships) has been principally responsible for this severance, hence the link to the bourgeois/class acculturation all over again.
As an alternative to colour-blindness, I would in fact propose “ethnicity” as a way to retain distinctive markers of place, time, culture, language, and so forth as a check against the “universal human” quality of “spirit” which (as whiteness studies makes clear) tacitly means “white” (the club).
This won’t stop cultural chauvinism (the white-on-white bickering of the English and the French is the stuff of legend) or committed racism, but rejecting (not just resisting) the blandishments of “colour-blindness” seem essential these days if we would have any hope of reversing the intense racial ratcheting going on in many places around the world, not just here.
Charles Eastman, after having lead a privileged white life due to unofficial adoption, has a crisis of conscience while assisting his benefactor “help” his people.
Watch this scene where the true racism behind his adoption reveals itself, and the epiphany of all he lost sinks in when the talk gets real.
I am so grateful to have stumbled upon this post and reply’s. I am facing all of what you describe in a deeply profound way. I feel as though I was erased. My culture, my language, my ancestors. I see racism and prejudice that exist on myself due to the white washed color blind way I was raised and it makes nauseous. I’m angry and sad and so many more things. I see this post was from many years ago. I would love to chat further…I’ll take any advice from those of you who have made sense of any of it..