Dr. Raible’s words still echo at different points in my days and weeks. One very powerful set of statements keeps playing.
“We are the success stories. But how many of the other stories were silenced by suicide?”
Here’s an account of such a story that was almost silenced.
He was twelve. Another school year was beginning. A new year, a new grade, and an abundance of promises … new books, new teachers, new subjects.
The regulars were present, too … friends, last year’s acquaintances and the same old halls. But this year, everyone was changing … physically, socially, emotionally. Some he considered friends became distant. Some began telling him that his race would exclude him from the relationships they all wanted. The “going together” moniker would be coveted but never his.
He was approached by strangers in the park who would taunt him with words that cut. The seemingly innocuous word, “Chinese” would be said with malice. There would be the pulling of eyes to assimilate his physical racial feature. He felt surrounded by a hate that he did not understand.
The words of others ridiculing him rang through his head. He wanted to hide. He felt alone. He felt he couldn’t tell his parents because they would never understand what it was like to live in his skin.
One night, he waited. He waited to hear the soft quiet of his sister’s sleeping sounds. He waited as his parents ascended the stairs to their bedroom. He could hear them brushing teeth and chatting as they readied themselves for sleep. Then, there was silence.
Quietly, he got out of bed. He took a cord and draped it in his closet. Sobbing softly, he wrapped the cord around his neck. He hoped this would numb the pain of the last few months. He hoped it would silence the voices and darken the images of kids slanting their eyes. He hoped it would give him peace.
As the cord tightened, he sensed a darkness. Unconsciousness washed over him. Then, he opened his eyes. It was dawn. The cord lay on the floor, broken. His tears had dried. Something in him gave him resolve. He rose, got dressed and began another day.
In the days to come, he would talk with his mother about these racial comments. She would console him and try to work through the pain of the words.
His mother would never know the events that lead up to these discussions. She gave her love and advice, but he would keep this secret with him until many months later when his strength had returned.
His is a success story unlike those of us, the adoptee panelists, to whom Dr. Raible referred. The adoption community is awakening; discussions on race are finally becoming relevant, without suspicions or feelings of resentment.
The Korean American Adoptive Family Network recently blogged on the reluctance of our children to talk about issues of race with those they love the most … their families. You can find this blog post here.
Let’s keep the conversation going and add to the number of success stories.
Yesterday, my vitals were up. Tense muscles, fast pulse, furrowed brow, and a hurting heart.
This blog post by Teaching Underground popped up on my feed. I felt he wrote sensitively about this incident.
My mistake was to go on to the YouTube video.
What struck me first was the title that BTW21News used, “City Councilwoman Hodge stands behind comments that made local student cry … .” So far, viewing the clip, I did not see a student cry. While this may have happened afterward, it weights the posting and prompts an immediate emotional response.
No one wants to be responsible for making a child cry, but I could sense her frustration and hurt in the first part of the clip as she questioned the use of a “small black person” as the “before knowledge” symbol. The subsequent interview did not serve her well, and unfortunately, the station did not interview others in the community.
That said, the community responded with comments filled with hatred, insensitivity, harsh words and more. As Teaching Underground pointed out, there were few people in support of this councilwoman’s viewpoint. No one seemed willing to put themselves in this person’s shoes.
The comments pulled me quickly back to the community where I grew up. I remember the use of the words in my neighborhood as a child. When someone was mad at you, you were immediately called, “nigger.” When others wanted to put me down, I was called “Chinese” or when they became more informed of the news, “Cambodian swamp rat.”
This became the subject of conversation last night at the dinner table. The kids and I talked about “bad words” people use to disparage one’s race. I mentioned the words used in my childhood. As soon as I said the word, “Chinese,” my son began to tear up. Now, I had made him cry.
The mere mention of a seemingly innocuous word had brought back words used to describe him as a kindergartner in Virginia. While this word is an ethnicity and seems harmless, an inflection can change the meaning.
While the children in the video did not mean to offend, the history of race in the South, and this Councilwoman’s personal history in Martinsville, Virginia, should not be discounted.
A friend of mine has a great philosophy which I shared with my children last night. These are teaching moments. Unfortunately for this Councilwoman, she is trying to teach in a community where her subject is not accepted. But that shouldn’t stop us from the work at hand.
When presented with the word “Chinese” used in a hateful context, my children will know to say, hopefully without tears, “Actually, I am Korean. South Korean. It is a country in Asia, and a peninsula near China, but not China.”
The sun was shining today as I walked my daughter to school. She asked out of the blue, “Who do I look like? Some say I look more like Daddy, but I want to look more like you.”
I had to think about this a moment, then I said, “Why do you want to look more like me?”
Her reply? “I want to be more Asian, like brother.”
I reassured her that she and her brother were a beautiful mix of her father and me, and that she was Hapa, a very special mix. She skipped into school, seemingly happy.
After school, the kids and I ran errands and then chatted as we always do at dinner. I also noticed writing on my son’s arm. “What’s that, dude?” I asked.
“What do you think it is?” he replied. “Think texting language.”
I looked at him puzzled.
“Okay,” he began, “AZN, and say the ‘A’ as the letter.”
“Geez Mom! Don’t you get it? WAZN. AZN is Asian. I’m WAsian, because I am white and Asian. Asian Pride!”
I was quite impressed by his pride in his race. Now, I was happy, just not skipping.
At bedtime, my daughter has been reading me a book she had chosen, The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine. She had chosen this book because she wanted to know more about segregation in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Tonight, the story entered the dark world of the KKK. One wife, who has been beaten by her husband, finds his white cloak in the closet. Threats are made on the women of the integrationist WEC (Women’s Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools). One letter says, “You and all the others who think like you should be tied to a car and dragged down Ninth Street, as did happen once before.”
From here, the 1927 story of John Carter, the last lynching in Little Rock, is told in some detail. I am sitting quietly as she reads this, not sure how she is taking it.
We finish the chapter, and I tuck her in bed. “Mom,” she begins, “The KKK hated lots of people who were different. Are they still around?”
I tell her yes but that they are the ones who now meet in secret and that they only protest. I try to assure her that the law protects us from them.
As I get prepared for tomorrow, a small shadow emerges. “Mom, I’m scared of the KKK. What if there are cloaks in the closet?” she asks.
I can only tell her that I will protect her and that I doubt there are KKK near us. It may be a restless night.
Three of the Korean adoptees on the panel this week volunteer at a Korean American camp called “Camp Choson.” Matt suggested that my son and I come to the camp.
This morning, I explained the camp to my son, and said I was seeing if our family of four could go.
My son was silent at first.
Then, he said gingerly, “That would be great, but how would Dad feel being the only white person?”
The conversation in our family car went like this:
My son, “Are there any racial slurs for white people?
My husband, “Yes, ‘Whitey’ and ‘White trash.’”
Me, “‘Honkey, ‘Redneck.’ Why?”
My son, “Just asking. Does anyone use them?”
My husband, “Yes, and they are offensive.”
My son, silence.
At the conference this week, this conversation that had happened the week before kept playing over and over in my head.
I have jokingly used “Whitey” to describe my husband when I am with my Asian women friends who are also married to Caucasian men. This reminded me that I am just as guilty, and though I haven’t said it with my children around, I will stop.
But it also got me thinking. My son was asking this question as a means of exploring his racial identity. He knows he is not identified by these white racial slurs, despite the fact that he is a mix of Caucasian and Asian. The rub? Like I mentioned before, I have passed on to him the genetic and visual racial identity of Korean. Our outward appearances invite these Asian racial slurs. People we do not know, will use them on us. I asked my husband if he had ever had anyone who didn’t know him walk up and use a white racial slur on him. He said that he had not.
A new adoptee friend, Dan, had given me a recent study, “The development of racial identity in transracially adopted people: An ecological approach,” by Tien Ung, Susan Harris O’Connor and Raymond Pillidge. They discuss an interesting idea that our racial identity is five part: genetic, imposed, cognitive, visual and feeling.
Genetic is simply the biological traits we inherit from birth parents. The Imposed is more complex for the adoptee since it involves the adoptive family and is often harder for the mixed race child; it is an inaccurate “construction of race” given by those around the child. My son is questioning and struggling with this part of his racial identity.
This brings me to the Cognitive racial identity. This is “what a person thinks and/or knows her or himself to be.” The Visual racial identity is the “color one sees one’s skin.” This one lies closely with the Genetic.
The last and final one is the Feeling racial identity. This gives those of us with mixed racial backgrounds our “sense of self.” This sense of self is “heavily influenced by the race(s) of the social community that surrounds” us. Feeling is the root of my confusion. I truly have believed myself to be white and Puerto Rican.
For my son, I believe he is struggling most with the Cognitive and the Feeling, I asked my son a few questions:
Me: “Are you Korean?”
My son: “Yes.”
Me: “Are you Puerto Rican?”
My son: “No.”
Me: “Are you American?”
My son: “No.”
My son: “It is a nationality.”
Me: “Are you British?”
My son: “Yes.”
As I mentioned in the last post, I have ferociously defended my right to be an American. I have referred to America as “The Melting Pot.” But in hindsight, I believe I was fighting for the right to feel white. The nuances of this have been interpreted by my son. While he says being American is a nationality, so is being British. He is both, but he is identifying his race in a nationality. I wonder if he, like I have done, equates the word “American” with being white.
I now realize how important our Asian friends have been. In part, what my son and I have been missing in our Virginia friends is the anchor for our Asian identity. My daughter has that now with her friend. Her friend’s mother is Korean and speaks mostly Korean. My daughter relishes time at her friend’s house and loves her friend’s mother’s cooking. She has found that anchor in Wisconsin.
My son and I will need to work on getting that for ourselves. My fellow three, Korean panelists will hopefully be able to touch our lives with this sense of belonging. They are well beyond their years, and I am still in my identity infancy. I have a lot to learn.
Yesterday, I served on an adoptee panel.
The keynote speaker, Dr. John Raible, began this cathartic day with his history. He spoke candidly and with much respect for the mostly Caucasian audience of social workers. He said things in the opening that I have said in only roundabout ways in my blog, but he peeled away another layer.
It was refreshing for me, but it set me up for an emotional panel discussion. (It has always been easier to talk with the internet as my shield.) Having lived most of my life wanting to be Caucasian (said as “American” throughout this blog), a pride in who I am started to emerge. I have been changing for my children, but now, I feel it is time to talk more candidly to create a better racial climate for my children and all the other ethnic children raised by Caucasian families.
At the end of the day, Dr. Raible began his closing remarks saying that “the gloves are off.” He asked social workers to listen to my fellow panelist, Matt, when he encouraged the social workers and parents to spend time in the cultural camps or as panelist Carmen suggested spend a week somewhere where social workers and/or parents would be the minority. He gave good suggestions but strong words, and some weighted words got in the way.
After pouring my heart out in person along will all my fellow panelists, an older Caucasian man became aggravated with the weighed word “unfair.” What ensued were more negative words directed at Dr. Raible. As the older Caucasian man spoke, claps began growing around the room. I felt small and again, insignificant.
I realize that perhaps this man was trying to say that his case load was large, that there was no time or way in which to implement any of the things Dr. Raible was suggesting, but this complacency just made me feel as though our time had been wasted.
Luckily, as others spoke, it became clear that we had reached a number of people in the room. One man, Mr. Davis, finally said it well. He said that Dr. Raible wasn’t asking for immediate change, but for everyone to take the talk home and see what small steps could be made to make the next adoptee generation feel better supported in their ethnic identity development.
The next few posts will be hard for me and for you, the reader. Words again will fail me and the emotional, gut-wrenching weight of words will be on display.
Topics will include class, race, sexual orientation, medical histories and relevant role models.