I find it interesting how something as mundane as choosing a costume for your child's first Halloween can actually be controversial.
I've been following a blog. I'm choosing not to link to it here and actually it isn't under the list of blogs I follow which is a good thing because my purpose isn't to send you all flocking over to it.
I don't know the author of the blog but have enjoyed her sweet accounts of her newly adopted Ethiopian child who has been home just about a month.
Now normally I do not get wrapped up in blog or facebook controversy. I don't have much time or interest in writing detailed comments or stirring up arguments. And I rarely if ever feel offended by a mundane adoption blog.
But, well I'm not sure how to ease into this so I'll just say it.
The author/mother PUT HER SMALL ETHIOPIAN CHILD IN A MONKEY COSTUME FOR HALLOWEEN.
How do you feel about this?
Am I wrong in assuming that the vast vast majority of us know and understand that black (and I use that adjective broadly to describe both African Americans and people of color from and still living in the Caribbean and Africa) do not like to be described as monkeys, not even as a form of endearment?
I will admit that prior to becoming the mother of a black child many of the issues surrounding racial stereotyping were simply not part of my world. And I am sorry about that. Because I lived in Washington, DC and worked and socialized and went to school with a lot of black friends. Many of whom I probably offended in one way or another over time. I thought that it was ok in general to be ignorant as long as I wasn't being offensive ON PURPOSE.
Wrong. Dead wrong. Shamefully wrong. It is not ok to be ignorant. And it is doubly not ok to be ignorant when you are parenting a child of another race.
The blog author/mother was ignorant. And that happens. And I would give her a huge pass for not having done a bit more reading on race and identity and racism in the U.S. except for one fact. She was educated by a black commenter (and very sensitively and kindly I might add), re-educated by several more commenters who said they were close friends, and she still chose to post a final comment stating that she would consider the points of view shared but would not go as far as to stop calling the child a monkey or give away the child's monkey themed clothing received as presents. Because "clothes are expensive."
You know what else is expensive? Repairing damage.
It is emotionally expensive to repair the damage we do to the image of white parents parenting black children. It is emotionally expensive to explain to your adult black man of a son why childhood photos show that you dressed him like this despite being provided with the tools you needed to understand why it was not ok. Expensive folks. We are talking hard stuff here.
Because the argument that racism and stereotyping and slavery and racial divides and inequality are somehow in the past is not an argument that can hold up anywhere outside of white society. We are white. We are not.black. But our children are. And that is so very loaded and important and full of implications for how we choose to live our lives.
So I posted a comment. I gave her an out. I recommended she do some reading. I fully expected to see that she would come back a bit humbled, accept that she had made a mistake, and would be glad to have found out early in her parenting so that next year she can buy a giraffe costume.
It didn't turn out that way. And she obviously doesn't want more comments. So I am turning to my only other outlet - my own blog.
I just keep thinking this. What if a black parent were calling her white child "cracker" as a term of endearment? Because she enjoys eating crackers of course. What if she went on to dress said adopted white child as a big white Saltine for Halloween? Um. Wouldn't we all have a bit of a problem with this? Maybe not if it were a white mother and white child. But there is something about transracial adoption that changes things doesn't it? The historic power differential and racial tension between black and white in the United States. It may be old news to some but it is very real and still very close to the surface when we are talking about labels and words.
Hello people? Let's just accept that we don't know it all and humbly thank our readers when they point us on the right track. I think paying attention to black friends and commenters is especially important. Run a little litumus test. Before you dress your child of another race in a costume for Halloween just first consider what your best girlfriend of that same race might say.
Oh, what? You don't have a girlfriend of another race?
Maybe that is the problem.
And I don't say that to be snarky. I think a lot of us have a long way to go before we could consider ourselves beyond just "racially sensitive" (nice term for I know it's wrong to call a black person the n word but not much else) and get to "fully functioning white mother who knows exactly how to raise a black child so that he/she can function as a member of black society without confusion, shame, self-doubt or embarrassment."
Feel free to leave comments but if you say to me that "all that matters is what is on the inside. Or, as long as your intentions are good" you know I will laugh you right off my blog. My fifth grade teacher said it best when he told us "close is only good in horse shoes."
We have to get it right, not close, when it is our child at stake.
- Me. Us. She.
- J and I have been married for almost 15 years. We have shared many adventures and a lot of watershed moments. In 2009 I began blogging and in 2010 we adopted our daughter from Ethiopia. In March of 2012 we began the process to adopt a little boy from Haiti. This blog follows the many twists and turns on the road to our two children and beyond.
- ▼ November (5)