Transracial Parenting »

Racism Never Takes A Holiday

I’ve been trying to figure out how to say this because obviously I don’t want to. After attending lovely services during Hanukkah and the Sabbath at my friends’ son’s bar mitzvah in San Francisco, I came home hoping to recreate the experience at a synagogue near you. I started in Central City at one of the oldest synagogues in New Orleans, in an area that used to be home to many Jews and is now home to many African Americans. This synagogue was one of the only ones to invite a young Martin Luther King to speak when he was in New Orleans.

I went by myself to test the waters and see what they had to offer a 4.5 year old. Everyone was more than welcoming and warm and embracing. I had asked the rabbi if there were any people of color and he said there is an African American man who comes by himself sometimes, and that the president of the Brotherhood was married to an African American woman. Okay, I said, let me see.

The experience was a good one in many ways; however, the utter lack of youth gave me pause about bringing my son there. But then on leaving, I was mentioning the lack of youth to women there and was saying I would try the other synagogues and one said to me, very sweetly, “You should try Temple Sinai, they accept anyone there.” I didn’t even know who she meant but since my mother had converted to Judaism before I was born and I have encountered people in my life who have gone out of their way to point out to me I’m only half Jewish, I thought this might be a comment about me or those like me. But no, that wasn’t what she meant. She made the comment again and added, “I met a Black young gal there. They accept anyone.”

In the last few weeks, I’ve been busy with some end of year projects for work as well as our recent trip to the West Coast, and although there are, as there seems to always be, many topics on race and parenting that have surfaced, I have been quiet. The reason is – call it white privilege – after a while my head and heart hurt from hearing how “those” people speak about “these” people.

As long as they seem so removed from me, or us, I keep thinking the future is either, as Oprah said, a situation where we have to let the dinosaurs who were raised and steeped in racism to die off or that little by little the voices of oppression, which are only getting more vociferous because their days are numbered, will be silenced.

Unfortunately, when the offender is one of your peeps, all bets are thrown off.

That is why I read with interest how so many are defending Phil Robertson from Duck Dynasty because they identify with him even though they believe what he said was racist and homophobic. He’s not bad, he’s one of us, with just some mixed up notions in his head.

In a workshop I held on race and parenting, I asked the group if they would disassociate themselves from a family member if that person was racist, heterosexist, or some other form of obnoxious especially if the relative targeted their adopted child. Most said they would just turn the other cheek because that person – grandma, uncle so and so, or any elder who held hierarchical family status – was only seen on a limited basis and so they would just say, “Oh, it’s just granny and you know how she is” and one day she’ll be dead and gone and it won’t matter except in the anecdotes we tell about her.

I found this disturbing. Am I that much more radical than most? I think if I were sitting at a dinner table and a family member made a racist remark about African Americans, my son and I would have to leave not only the conversation, but the family table, for good.

Recently, I read an article that said children’s cells live in their mothers’ brains. I thought about what that means to a transracially adopted child who is plucked from their memory life – where they learned voices and rhythm in utero to being born into hands where the skin matches their own to smells, sounds, and tastes that informed their earliest days only to be thrust into something different. I thought about how obnoxious family members are not just found across the adoptive family table. They lurk everywhere. While my son’s cells don’t live in my brain,  who he is now lives within me in a way that only an adoptive mother could speak of – he is my son.

So on days and weeks when I check out of the conversation on racism, knowing fully well that my son will not get a pass at all in his experience of racism, I feel no community among my peeps when they perpetuate separateness rather than inclusion whether that be here at my synagogue or in Israel with the Palestinians; I feel no sympathy for reality stars who are good in every other way except in acknowledging we are all one human race rather than us versus the homosexuals & Blacks; and I know that any day I give myself a vacation from addressing these issues is unearned time off.

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+ - 2 comments

December 23, 2013 - 12:20 am

Rachel - Thanks Seta – is that your name? I have a friend in San Francisco whose name is Seta, she’s Syrian. I’ve always known you by your handle – kwanzaaproject.

I appreciate your response and your story that backs it up. I have too many girl friends that are very dark who have enough to contend with in their life besides being rejected by Black men. I have sat in on conversations where one friend (coffee colored) is telling the darker skinned gal to consider all men instead of just wanting to find that perfect brown skinned man she’s been idealizing – and I’m shaking my head – here is the darker skinned not wanting anything but a brown skinned who only wants a lighter skin and it’s just ridiculous. WHO IS IN THAT SKIN?

But I digress.

I believe that your children are watching every move you make to model your behavior in the world. If they say you accept racism and turn the other cheek, then they will look the other way when it is convenient to do so. All of the sweeping under the carpet has caused the mess we are in right now where people are touting a post-racial society and such nonsense as that.

I believe if you walk the right path, you will meet people along that path that share your vision, and you will also lose people along the path as you grow. You meet people where they are at. And Seta, you will love this phrase, which I coined:

“You have to meet a person where they are at, and sometimes where they’re at, is not where it’s at.”

Enough said, right? Thanks for your comments as always. And I actually prefer you to comment here on my site because that way I get to retain your words whereas when it is on the social networks it gets lost in that jungle. And I appreciate your thoughtful responses, always. Rachel

December 22, 2013 - 11:13 pm

Seta Majkia - Well, once again you touched upon a compelling subject! I decided to answer this one here instead of google+ because I have so much to say! You asked “What happens when the offensive person is one of your peeps?”. My answer is time to exit the relationship unless they can show MAJOR CHANGE (and based upon them saying certain things that might be impossible).

Now some people might say that this is the wrong approach, that you are running away from the problem or there is room for debate. To this I say, perhaps there is room for debate, but I believe who we SURROUND OURSELVES WITH is as important as our beliefs. Your question brought back a painful memory that my wife and I endured but turned into a positive.

My marriage to my soul mate is a second marriage. My first marriage was a disaster and something that should not have been undertaken but was because of co-dependency (that is a whole other article). My second (and I believe last) marriage is to a person who is my friend, loving, compassionate to all and dedicated to educating children.

She and I were visiting my ex and her live in “friend” (they had not made the marriage vows yet) and somehow the conversation came up about what type of woman my oldest son (the one from my ex) should marry. So let’s set this up right. Let’s talk about complexion. My wife and I have different complexions. I am lighter complexion than my wife. My complexion would be akin to having coffee with a little cream (ok, I’m being funny here! lol) and my wife has more of a milk chocolate complexion. Most people who meet us talk about how much we look like each other and sometimes think we are brother and sister which keeps us laughing and knowing we are growing together everyday. Why is all this important? Well here goes.

I was married to my ex 10 years. You would think you know a person in all that time right? I did not. This person, who I spent 10 years with and had two children, gave my son the following advice: “Whatever you do, don’t marry a dark woman.” I was stunned. My wife and I (my soulmate) looked at each other with shock in our eyes and disbelief. Since I want my son to be a balanced person and he was a teenager at the time and still able to be influenced, I began to protest this statement vigorously. What I didn’t say out loud was, if my ex felt that way, then how did she view my wife? I concluded that she apparently thought my marrying a darker complexion person was a bad thing. That was unacceptable to me and not something to tolerate.

Up to this point, my wife and I were trying to make the relationship between my ex, her boyfriend and us an amicable one. We did this for the sake of our children. But this was too much. This touched on a core issue to me: Racism. After we left, my wife and I talked about the situation. My wife is very beautiful and very comfortable with her complexion. I am very comfortable with her complexion. So since we both were good, we began to talk about my son and what his response might be.

Any divorced parent who wants to keep peace learns to choose their battles wisely. I decided not to discuss this with my ex again. The conversation left a bad taste in my my mouth towards her (and she did much more to make that feeling correct in years to come) and I decided that was the end of attempting to maintain a relationship with her. I have always stressed to my children to look at the INDIVIDUAL and not the race of the person. I was deeply offended by her comments. However, I chose to speak to my son privately instead of continue this conversation with my ex. I told him that he should look for someone who loved him, respected him AND respected and loved his culture. I expressed to him that culture was very important to him and his perspective family and that he needed to chose correctly. I expressed to him that that person could be darker complexioned, lighter complexioned, White, Asian, Latino or whatever. What was most important was that they loved him and he loved them. I expressed this to him by myself and with my wife who spoke to him in the same nurturing way I have seen and loved over all the years.

Here is my point. What my ex said was irresponsible. It not only was wrong from the standpoint of being a human being, but it is bad advice to give to your child. I have found that my life has been so much better not surrounding myself with such individuals. After making our decision to keep our contact with her to a minimum, we have found life to be so much more enjoyable. Since that time, we have watched our son (my wife is a GREAT mother to him) become not only good responsible man, but someone who leads by example and has been a great example to his children.
This would not be possible if we maintained relations with my ex and people like her.

Children are influenced by what they see and hear. My son has come back to tell me about how OUR relationship has influenced his relationship with his fiancee who is a warm and loving person. There is a saying “You are what you eat.” I want to change it a bit: “You are who your friends are”. Your children will meet negative people in their life from a distance. All we can do to protect them is to surround them with positive people in their private life.

Keep doing what you’re doing!

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