One of my brothers was just here visiting. We spent a good portion of our visit talking about White privilege, which seemed to be a new concept to contemplate for this very-well-read intellectual. I also recently received this emailed commentary:
My two daughters are adopted transracially. They are given lessons in their “birth language” weekly and our home is filled with art from their birth country. However, if I thought race had the importance that you give it in your writings, I would never have adopted. You are so very wrong as to the importance that race holds in our lives. Race is only one of the many ways that my daughters are unique. They are both from the same country but they look and act very different just as my biological sister and I do. Your defining race as you do gives it the potential to be a weapon, a wedge in relationships. Acknowledge race but do not make it the definition of who you are or who your children are.
Here’s my breakdown and response:
- I am guessing the writer is White, since she did not identify her own race, which is a cornerstone of White privilege (White as default).
- If I thought race had the importance that you give it in your writings, I would never have adopted. I’m not quite sure what to make of this statement. Maybe she meant to say, “never would have adopted transracially,” but that would still concern me.
- You are so very wrong as to the importance that race holds in our lives. When she writes “our lives,” I read “our White lives,” the White mother’s life.
- Race is only one of the many ways that my daughters are unique. Again, not quite sure what she means. I am hoping she does not mean ‘unique’ as in ‘different from the other people I know’. (Unique: distinctive, rare, the only one of its kind.)
- They are both from the same country but they look and act very different just as my biological sister and I do. More so, I would imagine, because they are not biological siblings.
- Your defining race as you do gives it the potential to be a weapon, a wedge in relationships. Is she saying it is okay to acknowledge the existence of socially-constructed racial categories (aka: race) but wrong to recognize their impact on people of color in this country? That it is damaging to talk about race and racism, especially with your children? Racism, not race, is the wedge, and ignoring racism will not make it go away.
- Do not make race the definition of who you are or who your children are. It’s not. My personal ancestry and my children’s varied heritage is simply one piece of our selves, our identities.
I’ve often wondered at the posts I’ve seen on other blogs, posts that go something like this: “Just wanted to make it clear that I do not post every single thing that happens in my/my children’s/my family’s life here on this blog.” But now I find myself feeling the need to write a similar line.
This site is my writing about Multiracial Family Life. Nothing more. I stray over into antiracism, transracial adoption, and White privilege, and those are all topics that relate directly to living in my multiracial family. Every time I sit down to write a column here for My Sky, I pick a topic, issue, or experience directly related to living in a multiracial family or living as a multiracial person. The weeks I struggle to write anything cohesive are usually weeks where the bulk of what is going on in our life has nothing to do with multiracialism. (I tried to write a post about our dog dying, but it was completely off-topic.)
I have widespread interests, and I have to work hard to avoid mission-creep. I’ve made a conscious choice to keep this blog focused, because otherwise the range of subjects would be super broad (abstract art, homesteading, vegetarianism, queer rights, organic living, bipolar disorder, social welfare reform, DIY clothing and toys, unschooling, TV-free living, ASL, chosen family, . . .) I take my writing on these other subjects, about the rest of my life, and publish it elsewhere.
I write here about the aspects of our life that relate somehow to our multiracialism (collectively and individually). This is–on purpose–not a journal of the entirety of my life. Race is only a piece of our family’s life; some weeks an almost invisibly small piece.
All that said, I do believe that understanding and talking about race is important, especially in a multiracial family. Extra-especially where one or both of the parents in the family are White. White privilege is such an amazing set of blinders, and just because a White parent has a child of color (through adoption or birth) does not mean the parent’s blinders will automatically disappear.
Recognizing White privilege at work in your own life is a scary thing to do; I’ve done it. It can make you feel stupid and defensive, and an easier and more comfortable path to take is the ‘race doesn’t matter’ (or ‘matter much‘) philosophy–which ignores the daily living non-reality of that statement for people of color.
Most White individuals in the U.S. do not have to acknowledge their own racial identity (as a White person) if they do not choose to. Nevertheless, racist beliefs, behaviors, and institutionalized systems are affecting every person everyday. If you are White, these systems are improving your life, but at a huge and largely invisible cost to people of color.
I do not define myself by my racial and ethnic heritage alone, but it is an integral part of my identity. Race–however you define it–is an integrated part of everyone‘s life, every individual’s experience of the world (as are gender, sexuality, age, and ability, among others). This is true whether a person chooses to acknowledge their racial ancestry or not.
How important is an individual’s racial identity? Back to the conversations with my brother, and in response to the transracially adoptive mother: If you’re White, your racial identity is as important as you choose to make it. For people of color, race-as-a-portion-of-personal-identity is much less a choice, more a fact of life. That’s why it’s called White privilege.