Having a Voice

Having a voice (whether spoken, written or signed) is an important aspect in a society.  We as individuals and as members of a specific group or gender have always had a need to express our voice.

I was watching the TCM channel over the weekend.  One movie was going off and another was getting ready to come on.  The movie ending was a movie about the old west, a Cowboys and Indians kind of movie.  The movie coming on, ‘Murder Ahoy’, a black and white film, released in 1964 was based off of novels and characters written by Agatha Christie.

The movie began with Miss Marple, an elderly female fictional character who appears in numerous novels and short stories by Agatha Christie.  Miss Marple, dressed in a white collar shirt, jacket, and tie, is sitting at a table among all men discussing matters when one of the men suddenly drops over dead.  This sparks her amateur detective instincts to investigate.  As she is following a trail, she slowly walks backwardly down a fire escape.  Two men, who meet her at the bottom, startling her a bit, question her about her motives.  She becomes stern with them and tells them they do not know what has just happened.  They reassure her that they are well aware of what has just happened and then attempt to scoff her off.  She asks them what they are implying.  (We as viewers know what they are implying.)  They deny they are implying anything.  Then they tell her that maybe she is “not herself.”  Miss Marple quickly and sharply responds, “I have always been myself.”

This is a classic example of a woman being presented as equally important as her male counterparts.

Agatha Christie, being a female herself, creates strong women with dialogue that expresses our own ideas and self-worth.  Agatha Christie does not shy away from showing how women may be perceived and the stereotypes or the subtle oppression that exists, but she is able to use her platform to demonstrate how women are resilient, intelligent, have an important voice and are an equal contributor in any society.

Shonda Rhimes is a modern day example of this.

However, the old western movie that was going off, who had imitation Natives, got me to thinking about all the times we have allowed someone else to speak or portray an image for another race or group.

There are so many that I am afraid I will inadvertently leave off some so I will focus on these key groups.

Slave, Black African American, and old western movies, depicting Cowboys and Indians (Native American Indians), were more often written and directed by white men.  It was their vision, their voice, their interpretation, and their dialogue that was written for the world to see, whether it was accurate or not.

I don’t doubt that “some” had good intentions of trying to capture that reality of a time in history but if we are writing from one side of history, we are not truly portraying a true sense of reality.  If one has never been a slave, then one cannot truly understand or comprehend the intensity of what it means to live as a slave or being a direct descendant of a slave.  Can you imagine a white director or writer telling a black man or woman, this is how slaves acted?  Especially during early American film history, when the Black American voice was silenced and oppressed.

Alex Haley, who won a Pulitzer Prize special award in 1977, put names and faces to the American Slaves when he told his true story in Roots which also won a Golden Globe Award for Best TV series – drama that same year.

Same goes for the Wild West movies but with one added element, we didn’t even allow Native Americans Indians to act or portray their own roles in our films.  And if we did, it was minute, with possibly one or two key members among hundreds of imitations.  We either used other ethnic groups with similar characteristics or worse, we used white men and painted them brown.

Our American stories, were written to honor or glorify the white Europeans and early Americans about their fight for this country.  But at what cost?  These stories, whether for politics, for the news, for historical preservation or for entertainment, were written from one side, the white mans.

Sure, we’ve always had sympathy characters to tug at our hearts and make us question our motives and morals but when we turned the last page of the book, or watched the credits roll the screen, Americans went back living life as they always have.

Recently, one of my Facebook friends shared a YouTube documentary video of the history of the African-American Cowboys.  In this video, real American black cowboys shared the history and the stories of their parents and previous generations, stating the origins of the American Cowboy is a culmination of the West African heritage and the Spaniards.  They even shared about the history of the term ‘cowboy’ and how it came from the early American slave days.  As commonly known, black males were referred to as boys, no matter if they were young boys or elderly men, during slavery and even up to the Civil Rights era.  So the term, cow-boy, actually started back during slavery and had a whole different connotation than what it later came to represent in movies and folk-lore, which was a strong, rugged white man, like John Wayne, the Lone Ranger and many other western film icons.  Could that have been early appropriation?

Have you ever watched a movie or a news story, read a book or an article that was written or directed by another race, ethnicity or gender who depicted your race or gender from their perception and felt that it was not a true depiction of you or your family, your history, or your people?  How about when the white race is the minority in the movie?  Or a movie, where instead of hiring people who represent your race or culture, the film crew hired another race, costumed them up with paint and fake hair to depict your race?  And White Chicks does not count.  Has your race ever been eliminated completely from historical facts or were the facts grossly distorted to benefit another race or culture?  Not many of us White Americans have, especially in comparison to other groups?

Can you imagine going to a movie and having to watch people with your skin color or your culture being portrayed as subhuman, primitive heathens, being represented in a subservient manner, always obedient to the white man and when that does not happen, the consequences that resulted.  That’s a systematic oppression.

There are a few other examples of this, too.   Adoption is one.

For years, the books, the blogs and personal interviews relating to adoption were mostly by adoptive parents.  They shared their one-sided view on adoption that society seemed to view as the most worthy, respected voice.

The story or stories that were handed down to the adoptee’s about their original, biological family and why they were available for adoption was communicated by adoption professionals to the adoptive parents who then passed the story to the child, if it was even shared or communicated at all.  We’ve since learned over the years, that many of those stories were not true but a false misrepresentation of the facts to appease a need for a separation and relinquishment to occur.  These false stories were needed in order to create a scorned, bad woman, someone who was lacking moral value, who was poor and negligent and was incapable of loving her own flesh and blood or turned away in cold malice.  Adoption movies also played into the roles and stereotypes.  Ironically, these stories conveniently left the males unmarred, who coexisted in the process of breeding.

Adoptees and biological/relinquishing parents are “flipping the script” and are now speaking up and speaking out in great numbers to set the record straight.

White Americans but mostly White American males have been steering the course of our society for hundreds of years and have been exhibiting their white power and privilege over many centuries.  White Americans started out as a minority in this nation and yet have managed to populate this entire country, almost wiping out the Native American Indian culture.  White Americans have dominated politics, literature, media, and entertainment for years, have exhibited many atrocities on this land, none as great as the atrocities than to that of the Black, African American men and women, and yet somehow still seem to find ways to blame others for the demise of American culture and the American dream.

There is this need in our society to create a good people versus a bad people, a hero and a villain, a sinner and a saint, a better than or worse than, a systemic hierarchy, whether it is true or not.  As in all things, there are always exceptions, there are always some truths.  But when those truths are watered down, diluted or distorted to benefit another person’s ego or personal agenda, this is when we begin to create an oppressed, disturbed and dysfunctional society.  We begin to honor the lies and deny the truths.

Here’s the thing, no matter how many lies are told, how much oppression is exhibited, how many times the legal records, history books, or the legal system tries to distort the facts, sooner or later, the truth will reveal itself.  A lie can never change who we are, from the time we enter this world from the time we bid this world adieu.

The truth is White Americans (both males and females) have also protested and fought for the rights and equal treatment of all humans.  This has been documented and we know this to be true.  There is never an all or nothing in our society.  That’s that great thing about living in a free society and country.  But, as many who have fought for the protection of our equal liberty in our free society, there have been just as many fighting against it.

As humans, having a voice and sharing our voice is as old as life itself.  From early biblical stories to folk lore to early American history, speaking up for things that matter to us, especially when we feel we have been forgotten or neglected or oppressed is a natural human instinct.  We all have the same basic needs and our voice helps us attain that need.

Colorblind

Color blindness:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Color_blindness

“I am/we are colorblind,” is a common phrase that I have seen written in a news article, on a Facebook comment, a blog post, and I’ve heard multiple persons use this phrase with my own ears.   And it’s often used in correlation with an individual justifying his or her stance on racism, as if to say, “I am colorblind so therefore I cannot be racist”.

As a mother of a multi-racial family, I find it odd that someone feels they need to be colorblind in order to not feel racist.  Especially since being colorblind is an actual condition and form of a disability.  It’s like when I hear someone say, “I’m practically deaf.”  And this person is nowhere near deaf nor do they wear hearing aids.  As a person who is hearing impaired, I take offense when someone makes a comment like that.

I’ve read blogs about adoptive parents claiming their colorblindness and on the flip side have read blogs by adoptees being very aware of their trans-racial experience from the time they were young.  How can one family have two very differing experiences, one being so blasé about skin color as if they don’t even notice and another experiencing some sort of emotional detachment because of skin color?

So let’s examine this color blindness a little deeper.  I wonder why some people claim to be colorblind as opposed to acknowledging they can see a person’s skin color effortlessly.  Seeing colors is not a bad thing, is it?

How is it that we can we see the beautiful colors of the rainbow, the wild flowers in the field, the blue skies, the tiger’s and zebra’s  stripes, our red, white and blue American Flag and be in awe, but then deny that we recognize someone’s skin tone?  It’s like saying; you don’t notice someone’s striking blonde hair or their piercing blue eyes.  Does that make sense?

One of the things that drew me to my children’s father was his rich darker skin tone.  

On the contrary, the other popular phrase is, “People of color,” while referring to every other ethnic culture or race except the white race, as if to say white is not a color.  This is a strong misconception.  White is a color in the Crayola Crayon box, just like, brown, black, tan, yellow, pink or red.  To claim that white people are not “people of color” is to claim that white people are clear or translucent.  As far as I can tell, my skin has color.  My skin color may or may not be as beautiful as others but it still has color.

Perhaps that’s part of the problem.  When we are all permitted to recognize each other’s skin colors free from preconceived notions or judgments, while acknowledging that every human being is a person of color, then maybe we can move from colorblindness and racism to acceptance.

Trans-racial, Bi-racial

Ying Yang

Ying Yang (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently, I was reading a post on a group page where an adoptive mother wrote about an issue within her transracial family that had me stunned.

“Is it possible that my 21 month old biracial son will get darker as he gets older?? Or are most little ones as dark as they will get by this age?”

The reason for her inquiry is that her and her husband had adopted an African American girl, now six years old.  She stated that her daughter was very drawn to people of African American descent so when they chose to adopt again, they wanted to adopt a child of African heritage so their daughter could have someone in the family with a similar appearance and ethnic makeup, all of which is very commendable.  But then the story takes a very different tone.  She states that their 21 month old adopted biracial son doesn’t seem to be dark enough for their daughter to connect with so now they are considering adopting again but they are not sure if they should wait for a full blooded African American child or adopt another possible biracial child that was available.  

As a birth mother of biracial children, I take personal issue with this.  Since when do people get to treat children like merchandise in a store?

Naturally, this sweet little girl in the post is attracted to people who look like her.  She was born to people who look like her.  But buying more Black babies is not the answer to fulfill their daughter’s needs.  Thoughts and comments like the one this white adopted mother has expressed are irresponsible, inconsiderate and very disrespectful to her darker skinned children and to the biological birth families. 

When my son’s adoptive parents took their new son to the doctor for his first post-birth checkup, they were confronted with some derogatory comments.  One of the staff members seemed to be concerned about our mutual son’s future skin color.  They warned the adoptive parents that he would have really dark skin and questioned if it was ethical for this all blonde-haired, blue-eyed family to adopt him.

Personally, I don’t have an issue with people adopting outside their race.  I believe the most important things a child needs is a stable home, love and protection.  However, the one thing that does really irritate me is when white families adopt children outside their race and then make their children fit in their white world.  That is an ethnic crime.  For a child to be raised in a white family is one thing.  But then to live in a predominantly white neighborhood, and attend a white church and predominantly white schools is another thing all together and is a grave disservice to the adoptee and their ethnic birthright.

When an adoptee is surrounded by another race and ethnicity, there are other ways that adoptive parents can introduce and include the adoptee’s ethnic culture.  But often times, this is not the case.  

Now I understand that some ethnic communities may be harder to locate than others, depending on where you live.  But, if your adopted child is of African descent, there is no excuse.  Even the smallest of towns have African American Communities with hard working black families.

I wonder why these white adoptive families don’t make more of an effort to be around their child’s ethnic societies.  Why some white adoptive parents of African American children refuse to go out and eat in a Black neighborhood?  Or visit an all-Black church once in a while.  Or shop in a predominantly Black district?  Why indeed?  Is it because they fear that they will be the minority and only White people there?  They might feel uncomfortable?  Will they feel as though they do not belong or fit in?  Or is it because they fear as though they might feel out of their comfort zone?  Surely, it could not be because they don’t like black people since they have adopted a black baby, child, person, right?

So why would they force this upon their child?  And…what message is this teaching their child?

As adoptive parents, if you don’t have any friends (and by friends I mean that are invited over to your house or socially hang out with you) that are non-white folks, you are not part of the solution; you are part of the problem.

We should ask why a transracial adoptive parent chooses not to have any relationships with people of different races especially of the race that mirrors their adopted child.

That doesn’t mean a “token” ethnic friend.  It means acquiring ethnically diverse friends organically.

I understand that white adoptive parents many times, have not experienced a romantic love interest or relationship with someone of their child’s ethnic heritage, unlike biological parents.  But that’s no excuse.

As a biological mother of biracial sons, I too have a responsibility to honor my child’s diverse heritage.  Most biological families don’t have to go searching for it.  We have fallen in love with someone who matches our offspring’s race.  Our families and our friends are all among our community in which we live and breathe.  Even when our children are being raised in single parent homes, many of us still understand how important it is for our children to be able to identify with his or her ethnic heritage on both sides of his or her racial makeup.  That doesn’t mean we understand what it means to be black or the spectrum of racism but it does mean that we have probably had to deal with some level of racism or bigotry due to our mixed race family.

As parents, it’s our job to lead by example, no matter if we are a one-race family, a bi-racial, trans-racial or multiracial family; we all have a responsibility to teach our children about diversity.  We can preach diversity and acceptance all we want, but if our actions don’t match our words, the point is rather mute. 

The only way to truly teach acceptance is by your example.  Many Americans of ALL races, ethnic, religions and social status have not learned that.

So, my question for adoptive parents is, if you are willing to adopt outside your race but you don’t choose folks who look like your child to be invited into your home or chosen to be among your closest friends, what does that say about you?

LIVING BI-RACIAL

Yesterday at church, I introduced myself to one of Jaren’s Sunday school friends.  He gave me this surprised look and said to Jaren, “I didn’t know you were mixed.”  Jaren said, “Yeah.”  Now this doesn’t bother Jaren or me at all. I appreciate someone’s honesty, as long as it is respectful.  And this isn’t the first time that someone looked surprise when they learned that I was Jaren’s mother. Jaren has told me on a number of occasions that he has had kids respond this way at school when his classmates find out he is bi-racial. He said they will often say, “I thought you were straight up black.”

When Jaren was an infant, he was neutral looking and could pass for Latino, Asian, and bi-racial and he seemed to spark a lot of curiosity. I had people stop me often to ask me about his ethnicity, like the time I was in the hospital recovering from giving birth for the second time. My mother and a friend brought Jaren to the hospital so he could meet his new baby brother. One of the nurses came over to me and said she was wondering about the race/ethnicity of my newborn. She informed me that once she saw my toddler, she knew he was of a mixed race. She commented how beautiful Jaren was and asked me what his ethnic background was and I told her. She said, “Makes me want to have a baby with a black man.”

I remember one time, when Jaren was about three years old.  His father hadn’t been over to see him in a long time.  I don’t remember how the conversation started but somehow the subject of race came up.  Jaren’s father asked him, “What are you?”  Jaren proudly said, “I’m black and white!”

Jaren often referred to himself as tan.  And when he saw someone else similar to his skin color, he would say, “They’re tan like me.”  As he got a little older and he noticed in his pictures that his skin tone changed as he aged, he told people, “I was born white but turned black.”  This always made me laugh.  I think others weren’t sure how to respond or react, but we would make light of it.

I let Jaren express himself anyway he wanted, as long as it wasn’t derogatory.  And yes, there were times when I needed to step in and say, “That isn’t appropriate,” just like any other parent of a one-race family/child.  I, like most of you, have heard time and again that prejudice is taught.  And people assume that it always derives from home but I can tell you from experience that my son learned more about prejudices from classmates at school then he did at home.

Recently, we sent in for DNA testing to see how diverse my son really is.  He is mostly of African, European, with some Asian and American Indian and even some Neanderthal.  How about that?  Yes, my son is rich in diversity.  But he is also rich in love.

In the end, we are of ONE race….the human race.