As I've mentioned before, Torsten and I plan to adopt one child at some point a few years down the road. The thing about the adopting is that even though any child we adopted would of course be as precious and loved and part of the family as any child we conceived, I wouldn't want to cut it away from the culture of wherever it was born. We would absolutely treat it as our own, and raise it speaking English and German and learning about our cultures and our backgrounds and all of that, just as we would a child that we conceived.
But I would also want the child to have full information about its history. Adopted kids have questions, not just about who their biological parents are but also about where they come from and why they aren't there anymore. I want to answer those questions, satisfy that curiosity, let the child know that yes, it came from somewhere else, its parents couldn't keep it/aren't alive anymore/whatever those circumstances may be, and that's why we were lucky enough to have the child for ourselves, but that yes, it has ancestors and roots in a place other than here.
More than likely, we will adopt a child from another country. For me, it makes sense to adopt a child from Africa, possibly from Senegal, since there are many parentless children there, and since it's a country where I've lived and that I know something about. I don't claim to be an expert on Senegalese culture at all, and I know I only got an outsider's perspective of a sliver of it all, but for us it would still be better than adopting a child from eastern Europe or South America or Asia or somewhere where we have no real concept of the culture at all.
The point is that most likely, the child that we adopt will be black. As anyone who has looked at the photos that I've posted has probably noticed, Torsten and I are not black. I know that many people who see our future little family unit will wonder about this, and many of them will probably ask interfering, nosy questions, and I think that we can deal with that.
But what I'm wondering about is the racial subcultures that most definitely exist within the United States. I've noticed it throughout my life. I've almost always been in places where racial diversity was highly valued and yet the vast majority of the people where white. From age 5 to age 17, I went to a Quaker school in North Carolina that was founded in 1963 with the primary goal of providing a racially integrated school environment in an area that was resisting mandated desegregation. I went to a college known as a bastion of liberalism that had student groups focused on recognizing and eliminating white privilege. I worked at a non-profit organization with a truly diverse staff from all over the world that worked together on international health issues. I currently work at another organization like that.
And yet, in all of those places, the people of colour stuck together--specifically black people. In high school, the black kids hung out together, ate lunch together, did everything together. There was always the one white kid who hung out with the black kids and vice versa--but everyone talked about those kids, and made fun of them. In my last job, all the black staff members were friends with each other, had lunch together, talked together--really, it was just like high school. In college, it was the same thing. The black people tended to seek each other out, to bond, to establish friendships.
And there isn't anything wrong with that. It might not be helping school administrators around the country achieve their goals of true and utter integration, but it's fine. I don't believe that the world should be "colour blind"--it's impossible not to acknowledge that people of different cultures, ethnicities, races have been through different experiences, have been separated out historically and thus have developed separate subcultures, that it's often easier for a black person to relate to another black person than for them to relate to someone of another race (and likewise for people of all different races). Racism exists and has existed for a long time, and that has led to the development of racial subcultures, and that's fine, it happened and we know about it and to aim for a world in which that no longer exists is unrealistic and, worse, unfair, because it ignores these histories and downplays the reasons behind the existence of current racial subcultures.
So that's the problem--I have spent only six months out of my life living in a place where my race was the minority, and while I stood out and often felt uncomfortable because of it, it wasn't an experience that made me suddenly understand "what it's like to be black in America," or anything else. I still don't have that racial history of oppression, and I'll never have that, and I know that I'm lucky for that reason. But it means that I don't have any real way of tapping into black subculture. Yes, I have black friends, and no, I don't consider myself racist except insofar as everyone is a little bit racist (and I believe that to be true).
But if I have a black child, I won't be able to raise them in any sort of black culture. And Torsten won't, either. And that's okay too, I think, but it also raises issues. Some of them are small issues--like, I don't have any experience with the kind of hair that most black people have. I would have to learn how to style my daughter's hair--it's not a skill that I could teach her as much as it would be one that we would learn together. And bigger issues, much bigger, like the fact that racism still exists in the US and that our child would encounter that racism. And that while I would do what I could to help our child deal with that, and get past that, I wouldn't have the personal experience to share the way black parents would.
And then, like I said, there's the middle issues, the stuff that isn't as big a deal as getting turned down for a job because of your race, or having a college classmate imply that the only reason you were accepted into college was because of race-based affirmative action. But stuff that still feels like a big deal, especially to the person who is living through it. Stuff like the fact that at school, the black kids will probably be hanging out together, and our child would quite possibly be hanging out with them as well, but it's fairly unlikely that any of the other kids in that group will have been raised in a white, German- and English-speaking bilingual household with a Jewish mother and parents who have never worn clothes by Fubu and South Pole and Timberland and other brands especially popular among black teenagers.
I don't mean to be drawing stereotypes about black people and how they stand out from white people, and I also don't mean to be cutting other races out of this discussion. I recognize that not all black people are a certain way or wear certain clothes or hang out only with other black people. I know that no people of any race fit into the generalizations that American society as a whole makes about them.
But I also know that these subcultures exist, that people in different races are considered to be part of wholly different demographics by advertising agencies who target their ads to very specific groups of people, and the reason is because as a group, they do have distinct cultures and styles. And I wonder what it will mean for our child to feel stuck between two different racial cultures, to look one way and yet not necessarily be able to relate to people who look the same way. Every child goes through identity crises, and I wonder if these factors will make our child's struggle to find its identity that much harder. And how much we, as its parents, will be able to help our child navigate through all the questions. And whether we ourselves will ever feel like we have answers.
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