While I was out visiting my aging grandparents this past weekend, both of them mentioned something that we’ve talked about a lot in the years since my husband and I adopted our two children. We each believe that what really changes the racial dialogue is loving someone of another race. My grandparents, who are both in their 80s, beam with a certain amount of pride that they now have two great-grandchildren of color–even my grandfather who is very sick and at times barely mentally present mentioned it to me.
This isn’t a new idea. Sharon Rush’s book Loving Across the Color Lines is more than a decade old, and in it she details how the adoption of her black daughter changed her views on how race works in America. As a white woman, she questioned the validity of certain racial minorities to claim race was at play in any given situation. Once she loved, truly loved, a black child, she realized that her perspective had been flawed for many years.
I’ve found this to be true myself. My late development of racial identity as an Asian man coincided directly with the birth of my daughter. I’d read Peggy McIntosh’s article on white privilege in graduate school and used similar concepts to drive my teaching of certain issues of social justice in the classroom, but it never really became as imperative a concept as it is for me now until my husband and I brought home this tiny defenseless African American child. When I became a parent, I discovered what most parents do: I wanted to make sure this little being was protected and sheltered until she could stand up on her own two feet and face the world head on. And in thinking about how we could do that for this little girl, I came to fully embrace the ways in which her experiences will be different from my own as a biracial Asian man, and vastly different from my white husband’s.
As evidence of this line of thought, I’ve always used equality for the gay community as an example. Yoruba Richen has a great TED Talk where she outlines the rapidity of the gay rights movement in relation to the Civil Rights movement. The former has began less than fifty years ago and true legal equality is just around the corner. The latter needed approximately three hundred years to achieve legislated equality. There’s certainly something to be said about the ways in which the diaspora of the gay community is spread across socio-economic groups equally, and that provides the group with a certain amount of power and clout to speed things along. However, I think loving a gay family member is what has truly quickened the pace.
Contrary to what some people believe, people are born gay. No one can dictate whether a baby will be gay or not, so when a parent spends 10-12 years loving a child so immensely, and then that child comes out of the closet post-puberty, odds are good that that parent is going to continue loving that child. Of course there are lots of families where this isn’t the case, and I don’t mean to minimize the crazy numbers of LGBT youth who are thrown out on the streets. However, the ones that are accepted by their families are the ones that are changing minds for the better. They are the ones who are getting heterosexual allies to take a stand, write their congress people, call out their friends, attend rallies.
Of course no one can dictate whether a baby will be born black or Asian or Latino either. It’s just highly unlikely that a parent wouldn’t know ahead of time that those options are possibilities before the baby is born. Adoption agencies, even ones that work through the foster care system, typically allow parents to specify what racial background parents are willing to accept. The odds of a parent having a baby of a racial background different from his/her own is far fewer than a heterosexual parent having a gay child. And thus, the racial dialogue in this country is stymied and slowed by the inability of one group to truly empathize with another.
We’re seeing progress, and I’m happy about that. At times it feels like with every step forward in relieving the racial tensions in America we take two steps back. My husband and I though will continue to act as vocal allies for the black and brown kids out there like our own, supporting them as best we can even after they have the strength and independence to do it on their own.