Friday, October 7, 2011

Need some advice...

I'm at a loss for words about what happened to me today, and I am hoping that some of you veteran adoptive parents can offer some advice.

I received a text today from a family member who is related by marriage. Someone married to one of my siblings. I have received less than 5 texts from this person in my entire life. The last I spoke with them, was months ago. The text was a picture of some young African children with the words "It's Friday 'N-word'!" To say that I was shocked was an understatement. A million things ran through my mind. Surely this was not intended to be sent to me... Is this a mistake, a virus... what the hell is this? My heart rate elevated, I instantly dialed my sibling... who at the same time just received the same text. My sibling apologized on their spouses behalf and they said they would talk to them.

My response text to my in-law was simply "Offensive and Racist".

After speaking with their spouse, my sibling texted me saying this person was just trying to get under my skin, and once again apologized. I texted my sibling back explaining that there is no humour in racism and this was extremely offensive and I was appalled. (Plus about 300 more words).

My in-law later returned my text with "Haha, I knew that would boil your blood for at least a little while".

My thoughts: I believe this person did not intend to hurt and offend me the way it did. (I was seriously almost in tears at one point!) However, there had to have been some knowledge that this would offend me and somehow that was viewed to be humorous. This person is educated and intelligent. This person uses humour to justify their actions or statements. This person benefits from white privilege and lives in rural Alberta where racism seems to be more accepted than anywhere else I have lived. I think that any person who uses racial terms in humour, is just lacking the knowledge of history and how these words can carry so much baggage and are associated with so much blood shed. There also seems to be a disconnect between this racist behaviour and the fact that I will one day have a daughter whom just happens to be black, and of African descent.

We all know as white adoptive parents (or soon to be) of black children... that this is a sensitive issue, and we have all had to address this somewhere along the line. I feel super defensive about this and haven't quite sorted out exactly how or where I will draw the lines when the time comes. I have already forewarned my family and friends that any racial jokes, humour etc. will not be tolerated what so ever. Does this mean that we do not attend family events when an offender is present? etc... these are details that I am hoping I do not have to deal with. I believe that everyone in my family is genuinely caring... a couple just lacking knowledge or understanding. So how do I make this person understand the impact of their message and why this is so unacceptable? Is there a book, website or video that I can share with this person and others? What would you have done? What should I do in the future?


Anonymous said...

Hey Jolene-

This is going to be a challenge, but hopefully it will lead to growth and learning and not hurt and alienation.

I believe that by being raised in our society, everyone is racist. What I mean by this is not that everyone is intentionally racist, but rather we are raised in a society that has racism built into it's very structure. Because of this, racist thoughts and beliefs are ingrained within us all. So as anti-racists we have to fight to be both conscious of it and address it.

It won't just be the overtly racist slurs and comments. It will be explaining to your child why band aids don't come in a colour that matches her skin. It will be having few role models of her background. However, as her parent, ally and advocate there's a lot you can do to address it. I wouldn't recommend avoidance- but I do understand having to avoid certain people/situations at times to preserve your own sanity.

I've asked a few friends who work in anti racist activism to get some resources that are easy and accessible. Also- I was wondering how you're beginning to approach the subject with Muffin and Mister? As someone who had a sibling who was "different" (for her ability, not race) it was hard seeing how other people treated her. I don't know if there are books about the subject or if there is an African heritage/cultural centre you could take them to, but it might be useful. Just a thought.

It's hard when these issues begin affecting you personally. I find the more I engage myself with these subjects the more amazing people I meet that are affected by it- and then I get mad because every hurtful comment is then associated with someone I love and care about.

But what's the point of living if you don't stand up for what's right?

Best of Luck.


Jo said...

Thanks for your comment Alex.

I absolutely agree with you! I have read some amazing books on transracial adoption and have had to come to terms with my own racism. Something I did not even know existed within me!

As you know, rural Alberta seems to have an accepted level of racism. I grew up in it and face it almost every time I go back. I need to somehow make these people aware of the hurt these words can cause and understand that it is imperative that I squash their behaviours and ingrained views so my adoptive child (and Muffin and Mister) will not have to be exposed to it by her own family members. Avoidance is certainly not me. I have no problem addressing this head on - the challenge will be how to address it in the future... when we will have to respond and react for her eyes - to help nurture her self worth and esteem and teach her how to tackle these issues on her own.

Your right, there are several challenges that we will face as transracial adoptive parents. Luckily, with a lot of preparation, education and guidance from fellow adopters and professionals, we are confident that we can overcome these obstacles one day at a time.

Muffin and Mister will likely be their siblings biggest advocate and defender. They just had their first lesson in racism tonight actually. In age appropriate terms (Did not define "Racism") I explained to them what happened (as they inquired after they heard us speaking about it). Muffin's response was appropriately "That's sad." and Mister said "That's not nice." Little by little, we will have to verse them more on this topic and seek out some books and videos. I don't want to delve into too deep until necessary however - as their current beliefs of everyone is equal and of value is all they need to know right now.

We will have to provide them with the tools to deal with indifference directed at their sibling later down the road... something I may have to consult you on. Hopefully it will be easier for them, having each other for support.

Fortunately, they do have adopted friends of different races... so the interracial/adoption education has already begun! I think living in Kenya will of course help them in numerous ways as well. Not only about the culture etc, but also what it feels like to be a minority...

We all have learned so much on this journey and have a great deal more to learn for sure!

Thanks for your help! ;)

Jacquie said...

I think that it is interesting that your in-law thinks that he 'won' when he said "Haha, I knew that would boil your blood for at least a little while". When I think that it showed your strength that this affected you so, and that you're not afraid to defend your self and your future child.