Adoptive parents of racialized children often state, that “they don’t see color”. This is an understandable statement when trying to convince others that your family is just as “normal” as the one next door. However, it’s crucial to understand this narrative’s toxicity to a child and the society at large.
While I’ve learned these things from my adoptive sister, the lessons can be implemented into many discussions about race and privilege. Personal experiences and stories of people in minorities reflect our society and its racist structures as a whole.
In communities of adoptive parents, you often hear the phrase “I don’t see color” repeated in some form or another. The statement might be made to ease the parents’ insecurities or anxieties regarding their “abnormal” looking family. However, no matter the intention, the narrative is harmful to their racialized child and minorities at large. This notion of color-blindness — when it comes to skin color — is common in the racism discussion and sounds like a well-intended phrase. It’s often said to avoid the topic of race altogether or to be politically correct. In reality, it carries (often unintentionally) racist and ignorant baggage.
Color-blindness is not the aim of the anti-racism movement, but more so a way to silence the oppressed and wash one’s hands of the discussion. This is a denial of the problem of racism as a whole and denial of differences in lived experience. You can’t just wish away oppression by closing your eyes to it. The idea of race not “mattering” is harmful both in the parenting dynamics of adoption and in the hierarchies of our society on a macro level. Of course race matters. We make decisions and judgments based on race and it’s crucial to own up to that to start deconstructing your racist thought patterns. Acknowledgment is a crucial first step to action.
To say you don’t see color is a misnomer. How can you possibly fix something that you don’t believe you actually see? — Janice Gassam
Race needs to be a part of the conversation
To this day, I remember the day my sister came home crying because a kid had shouted racial slurs at her across the street. Even though she didn’t know the meanings behind those hateful words, she knew they were intended to be demeaning. This was the first time I realized that my sister was viewed differently by the outside world. It came as a shock because our family never talked about race.
Adoptive families are not the only families avoiding the topic of race. This is referred to as strategic colorblindness — a way to appear unbiased by saying nothing at all. Many white people are raised with little to no discussion about race or exposure to diverse communities. It’s a privilege to have been able to ignore the discussion of race. We need to understand that privilege and do the work. By talking about race we can further understand different experiences, change the ways we speak and listen, and be a part of the change.
In the same way that it’s a part of an adoptive parent’s role to educate their children about the ugly realities of our society, it is now our job as white people to understand how we can be a part of the anti-racism movement. That requires self-reflection and conversations. These discussions feel uncomfortable, and they are supposed to. Our privileged discomfort about discussing taboo topics is nothing compared to the hundreds of years of oppression that people of color continue to face to this day. To deconstruct the racial bias and imbalanced power structures that we all have ingrained in us, we must discuss them. Set your fragile ego aside, be open to criticism, and listen empathetically and with intention.
If we want to deconstruct a system of power and privilege based on skin color, important discussions about the deep-seated racial bias that each of us holds must be addressed. — Janice Gassam
Nice ≠ not racist
While racism exists in our wide societal structures and institutions, it’s the casual everyday racism that often slips through our fingers. The odd comment at the workplace, a curious look from the cashier, or a new friend asking where you’re really from. My sister always says that those kinds of small comments are the most hurtful. They hurt because they’re so subtle, that they often go unnoticed and unaddressed by by-standers.
Often, when someone is confronted about saying something racist, they get defensive. A common response is to say “I’m not racist, I’m not a bad person!” Surely, you’re not! The statement was most likely made through ignorance instead of mal intention. But hurt is hurt — whether unintentional or conscious. A comment can be racist even if it wasn’t meant to be. Being nice doesn’t mean you’re not racist. It’s not for white people to decide what is offensive and what isn’t. We don’t have a right to get defensive. If a racialized person — be it your sister, a friend, or a stranger — feels that something that was said or done was racist, it is not your call to deny it. If you hurt someone, it’s your responsibility to listen, learn, and apologize. Not deny the hurt someone is feeling. We all need to take responsibility to check our privilege, educate ourselves, and empathize with experiences outside of our own.
You can’t imagine the way racism feels
Despite having experienced racism indirectly, through the experiences of friends, loved ones — or in my case my sister — I will never understand how it feels. I will never understand how people’s looks, assumptions, ostracization, discriminatory language, and racist jokes feel. I will never understand the effect of those things on an individual’s life trajectory. Even when I’m as close as possible to a person who experiences discrimination daily, I can’t imagine the way they feel.
The good news is that you can practice empathy and educate yourself and others around you to the best of your ability. You can be the one who speaks up and helps. You can try to change the ways you contribute to racist structures yourself. I’ll never understand the discrimination my sister feels, but I’m willing to learn and fight it alongside her.
When we truly listen to the experiences of others, we have the opportunity to engage in deep, personal reflection about their lives and our own narratives. — Ed Taylor
How you can help
It’s time to take it upon yourself to learn about the Do’s and Don’ts of allyship. Locate your racism and kindly start restructuring your mind. The Antiracism Resources Google Doc compiled by Sarah Sophie Flicker & Alyssa Klein is a great place to start.
If this is your first time learning about the broadness of racism or understanding the mistakes you’ve made in the past, don’t feel guilty. Feeling guilty is reserved for those who think that antiracist activism is unimportant. You’re here. Thank you for being here.
When we know better, we do better. It’s time for us to be better.
Previously published on “Equality Includes You”, a Medium publication.
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