Author Topic: A white parent of a black child has his view on race changed  (Read 1423 times)

Offline Reginald Hudlin

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A white parent of a black child has his view on race changed
« on: April 18, 2014, 06:22:47 am »
The Day That I Started To Understand Racism

It was a hot June day in 2011. My wife and I had been parents for just four days.

I suppose by this time I had become pretty settled with the idea that America as a whole had shifted away from the ďrealĒ experience of racism of a previous generation. Blacks were serving as CEOís, excelling in higher education, and had even been elected POTUS. Sure. Racism reared its head from time to time in ugly episodes, but I thought that most perceived racism was just leftover from the tensions of another era.

We chose an unusual path to parenthood, in part because we took seriously the call of the Scripture to care for orphans. We became foster parents with the intent of eventually adopting. We had marked on a form that we were open to children of any race, but I donít think we understood how significant that would be for our lives. So when they called us to receive our first child into our home, our concerns about becoming parents were much greater than our concerns about becoming a bi-racial family. (Rightfully so, parenting still seems more difficult to me than having a bi-racial family.)

Our first weekend together we were on our way to a birthday party and had to stop to get a last minute addition to our gift. We had to stop at a store that was in a town that had a long and well-known history of racism. So as we got out of the car to walk into the store, I began to run scenarios through my head. What might I do if someone in this store makes a racist remark to this boy that has been given to my care? Should I just ignore it as if the comments donít matter? Surely I cannot let that be OK for my new son. Should I confront the racist jerk and tell them how ludicrous their comments are? I couldnít imagine what I might say. Would I just respond with violence and stand up against injustice? That didnít seem like a Christian response and no one likes to go to jail.

It took a couple days before I realized the significance of that shopping run. For the first time in my life, I had a sense for what it was like everyday for my black friends. They regularly have to make decisions about whether they will defend their honor and stand up to racism or shrink back again from the threat of violence and its consequences.

The instances of violent responses are the only ones that we hear about in the news. But every trip to the store in ďthat part of townĒ results in our black friends wondering if today will be the day that they will face a decision about their response. Itís no surprise to me that some people respond with violence when faced with the choice of having their dignity stripped or acting out on their own behalf. That doesnít excuse violence but it does explain it.

Itís true that racism in our country does not mean that people of color wonít be hired for any job. We no longer need bus boycotts and lunch counter sit-ins.

For those of us for whom thinking about race is an optional matter, we have to be very careful about touting the advances in racial matters. Things are better than they were even a generation ago. But the realities are still there. I donít think we can continue to pretend that racism is only ďreallyĒ racism when someone is starving, being killed, or being enslaved. My friend, Pastor Jon Robinson, said it like this:

Privilege not only causes white people to miss instances of racism but it causes them to think they get to set the terms or parameters for what constitutes racism as well. For example; situations that can universally be understood as racist like a blatant hate crime, are ďin bounds.Ē But anything thatís not as obvious is dismissed and those who attempt to shed light on less obvious forms of racism get accused of race baiting or, my personal favorite, playing the race card. Which essentially means that if itís not obviously racist to a white person then itís not racist.

Race is a complicated matter. The most important thing that I can tell my white friends is that racism is different when you experience it than when you think about it. As long as your reflections upon race and its consequences come from textbooks and muted conversations over coffee, you will not know the realities of racism. Can you imagine walking in fear or anxiety every day of your life? How would it change you? How has it already changed so many young men and women?

Pastor Robinson said that these anxieties arenít even the worst part of subtle racism. He says, ďThe frustration and pain of not having my perspective taken seriously or feeling like I have to defend my position all the time, is even more of a problem than living in fear and making the kinds of choices you describe. I spend almost every day feeling like I have to fight to the death to be heard, seen and respected.Ē Iím not surprised that these are almost the exact same words that I hear from women in the church time and again. We cannot continue to silence these voices.

If these questions cannot be resolved in a heady conversation, then it seems that there is at least one other path: the way of experience. We began to understand racism because we had a chance to experience its possibility along with our son. You too can ďexperienceĒ racism. If you already have friends of color that will trust you to tell you some of their stories and experiences of racism, then ask them to share. If you donít, then these Lenten Disciplines are a great way to start decentering your own experience for the sake of another. In the end, nothing will replace an emotional connection with the real suffering of our neighbors of color. You only get that through relationship.

This isnít the only thing that we learned from raising our son (that we gladly adopted last year). We also have learned that parents that want the most for their children are often faced with a dilemma (even when they have the means to make educational choice) about whether they will give their kids a school environment that is supportive of their identity. Or shall we choose a school where lots of children look like him and he can learn about being black in America? Usually the schools with large African-American populations are struggling and under-resourced. Do I use the means that are within my reach to send him to a school with opportunity that will ensure that he has very few friends that look like him? Is that somehow better? The thing that Iím learning here is that racial minorities have to ask questions that majority populations get the privilege of ignoring. I still donít know all the questions that I need to be asking.

I think that I can also straightforwardly say that African-Americans treat me differently when they see me with my son. I donít know how to explain the boundary that exists between many (BUT NOT ALL) black and white persons. But somehow seeing me with my son helps me get past that boundary many times. This makes me think that there may be other ways to overcome this distance. And that may be what is required if white persons in America are to begin to understand racism.

I recommend Willie Jenningís recent book The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race for an account of how Christians are implicated in racial prejudice and how Christian thought provides a way forward.

Offline truelyandrews

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Re: A white parent of a black child has his view on race changed
« Reply #1 on: May 23, 2014, 12:05:50 pm »
I am the adoptive parent of biracial identical twin girls who were 11 months old when I brought them home. My life was forever changed in the most beautiful and positive way. You see, I'm a tiny 92 pound little white lady and its pretty obvious these girls didn't come out of my body.

I have met more people, made more friends, and actually changed adoption guidelines all through adopting my daughters. We lived in a small ranching  community 32 miles southeast of Dallas, Texas in a segregated town. Jaimie Fox grew up next to us in Terrell, TX! He could tell you it was literally the stereotype of living across the railroad tracks. Black on one side, white on the other.

My girls were the only children of color in the school in first grade - some children were told by their parents they could not be friends with my daughters because it was not safe.  I ended up writing letters to these parents questioning why they were denying their children the enjoyment of having such beautiful friendships and to my amazement every parent replied with an apology! We did a front page news story in our small town and the Dallas morning News picked up on it - next thing you know we are on the news and all over the papers. People came from all over the state to offer support!

This led to me traveling to the capital to address the transracial adoption issues that were of concern in the early 1990's. I was able to get a bill going and eventually the transracial adoption LAW that alllows a child of any race to be adopted by a parent of any race without prejudice! I am very proud of my daughters....I am very proud of the community that rallied around us and made my daughters lives easier....racism was just not something they ever encountered until college!

I actually had an experience that made me so ashamed of my self ---- I was in the grocery store in Terrell, Texas and I turned down an isle... seeing an old man in overalls headed toward me...I just knew he was going to say something to me about my babies who were sweetly playing together in their stroller. I saw him looking at me and then looking at them and back at me again.  I thought to myself - "here we go, he's gonna have some smart remark" I was dreading the encounter and rehearsing in my head how i was going to react to this obviously "racist" man. As he approached me he reached over and stroked the cheek of one of the twins and said "well, I'll be, aren't those two of the most beautiful babies I have ever seen!" I almost fell over!!!  You see...I judged him by his looks! He was old...he was a farmers in the south... he was white...looked like a redneck - SHAME on me. He was so sincere and loving... I thanked him and walked on thanking GOD again for another blessing.

We are all in this together my friends!