One day last summer Bug and I were at the local zoo, by the elephant exhibit, minding our own business, and looking at the elephants. I heard someone loudly point Bug out to his son and say, “look– she’s from the same place as the Asian elephant.”
Dear boneheaded dude at the zoo, and lots of other clueless white people out there: my child is not your geography or diversity lesson. She doesn’t exist to educate you about race. She’s a person, and entitled to some dignity.
Here’s the thing. One of the things white people are told is that they need to be around people of color in order to understand racial issues. It’s great to just say be around black people, Asian people, Latinos, etc. But it seems that white people always want to do that on our terms and that persons of color are supposed to smile and gratefully be white people’s diversity lessons. Visit an ethnic restaurant, smile at the one Asian kid in class, then go back to your white world. That’s just not the case.
Bottom line– my child doesn’t exist just to make white people feel better about themselves.
I’m not saying this to be a scold. I used to be you. I learned this lesson awhile ago when I was involved in a lawsuit to overturn our local school district’s desegregation plan. The plan ensured that no school could have a 50% or higher black population. Unfortunately, what that meant is that black people bore all the burden– they had to make the long bus rides to the suburbs, and the black kids never got to be the majority through their entire school experience. The black kids were being placed in racial isolation so that white people could pat themselves on the back and say their kids went to school with black kids. That’s why a group of black parents sued to lift the plan– the parents of these kids wanted their children to go to the closest magnet program at the historically black high school, but couldn’t go (even though there was capacity) simply because not enough white people were there. While I was there as a lawyer to support the assignment plan , I spent a lot of time talking to the plaintiffs during the trial, and listening hard to what they had to say. It was hard for me to argue with their logic– they were sick of being the diversity lesson for everyone else. Why wouldn’t they be mad? Being bussed long hours just so that white parents could say “hey, my kids go to diverse schools”? Especially since the reality was black kids were being segregated inside the schools anyway. White people wanted to say black students went to their children’s schools, but when it came down to it, they didn’t want black students in their kids classes.
Adoptive parents of transracial adoptees have to think about these issues for our kids. My Bug wasn’t adopted to bring diversity to my white world. She’s a person, and she’s entitled to what’s best for her– not the other white kids in the neighborhood. White people need to stop expecting people of color to bear all the burdens of educating the white world on diversity. White people need to step out of their comfort zones, not the other way around.