Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Cost of Speaking Out

Several happenings today had me thinking about the cost of speaking up, speaking out against touchy subjects such as race and adoption. Society likes to see things in binaries--right/wrong, black/white.

Take adoption, for example, especially transracial. The rhetoric of adoption in the media is often one of praise for and celebration with adoptive parents. We don't like to consider, for example, the sadness behind Sandra Bullock's adoption of a Black American child. We want to celebrate with her, call her a hero. I get that. Smiles are easier and more fun than sad faces. And I'm not knocking Bullock for her decision to adopt--there are many things about this situation that make it "better than" other situations (in some ways it might be less disruptive as taking a child from a foreign country, and it's true that a forever family is a better choice than forever foster care). But it doesn't take away from the fact that her adoption reflects a lot of things that are wrong with our society. Why there are so many minority children in foster care in the first place, how our society values Black motherhood. Racism. It's there, folks. We're still working on it. And a child that is torn from its natural parents is sad, okay? That sadness doesn't have to take away from the joy of an adoptive family, but it needs to be there. We need to make space for it.

Whitney Teal, in her article Sandra Bullock, Transracial Adoption, and the Worship of White Motherhood, dared to be critical of media and society's viewpoint of adoption, mentioning Sandra Bullock's adoption as an example of wider issues. Oh the backlash! People got defensive, said Teal was borrowing trouble, making a mountain out of a molehill. One commenter said:

"This as just another issue to pull the race card out for yet another unnecessary debate. Racism would more than likely not be such an issue IF Racism wasn't made Into an Issue at any and every scenario."

In other words, shut up/quit bitching about racism because you are the one making it exist in the first place.

Another: "[this article] pissed me off. It comes off like a speech subtly AGAINST interracial adoptions, which just sounds racist in itself. It also comes off like the author is demonizing Bullock for having the audacity to adopt an African-American baby."

Teal responded to commenters, trying to explain that she was NOT being personal but was angry at the circumstances that bring black children into the child welfare system and about how whiteness is valued above other races in our society.

It sucks to talk about this stuff. It sucks to realize your own privilege, or to feel like you're being attacked because you are part of the dominant group. I know how it feels to be viewed negatively because of your race--I've had it on both sides. That's why it's so important to have compassion when talking about these things. But we still need to talk about them.

Almost every time I post about adoption, pushing against the mainstream viewpoint, I get at least one angry comment from a reader accusing me of being harsh or ungrateful or ignorant. Most of the time I view these as, to use Obama's rhetoric, "teachable moments." And opportunities to articulate my stances even better. But sometimes constantly defending your viewpoints is just exhausting...It's exhausting to try to prove to someone who says racism doesn't exist is wrong. It's exhausting to explain why seeing a White family adopt a Black child is complicated (not bad necessarily, but complicated.) It's exhausting to constantly explain why there should be full access to birth certificates for adoptees.

Especially when it happens with someone close to you, as happened to me today. Someone whom I'm close to, who is smart and whom I respect tremendously (and who is a person of color). It made me tired. And sad. To think that I don't explain my views well enough, day-to-day. To recognize how much of an outlier I really am sometimes.

I start to wonder, am a really just making mountains out of molehills?

Today I interviewed a professor at Pitt, who has organized artists and is curating an exhibit on Cuban racism at the Mattress Factory Museum called Queloides (keloids, which refer to scars--literal and metaphorical).

Apparently racism has increased tenfold since the collapse of socialist economy in the 90s, and artists have been using visual art as a means of speaking out. The exhibit first ran in Cuba earlier this year. Almost immediately after the exhibit opened, the professor was banned from his native Cuba. He's gotten plenty of other criticism too, for speaking out. People have said these issues don't exist. They tell him to shut up.

But he won't.

I suppose that means I shouldn't, either.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Hair Straightener--The Mall Kiosk Man Attacks!

Here I am walking through the mall when a little man approaches me and says,

"Honey, I love your hair. Do you ever straighten it?"

Not much, I say, thinking he has the most unoriginal pick-up line ever.

"Because it takes too long?" he asks. Now I see what he's up to.

Well, yes, and because straightening too much is unhealthy. And (gasp) I like my curls.

Then he grabs my arm and hustles me off to his little kiosk, where he shows me his "revolutionary" flat-iron-curling-iron-blow-dryer, made by the Italian company Amika. He says it actually makes the hair healthier. He asks if he can straighten a hunk of my hair. I tell him I don't have that much time. He says he can do my whole head in ten minutes. Yeah, right. He said that once I see the amazing work of the flat iron, I will fork over $200 for the thing and will want to straighten my "crazy" hair every day. There it is: the stereotype that curls = bad/crazy/unruly and straight = pretty/tame/professional.

I have to admit that straightening my hair can be fun. And unfortunately, at times I play to the straight = professional thing when I wear straight hair to an interview or first day of work or the first day of a class I'm teaching. But by Day 2 I'm back to curls. I definitely won't do it every day.

I turn to the little man, who is holding his little iron and looking hopefully at my hair.

No, thank you.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Peoria, IL, Police Given a "Pass" on Racial Profiling?

I'm a little confused by this Peoria Journal Star article, which describes how the NAACP is giving South Peoria police a "pass" on racial profiling. What does that even mean?

The NAACP president acknowledges that crime has gotten out of hand in certain areas and that it's important the organization "work with the police to help resolve the problems." Um, isn't that what they're supposed to be doing anyway? What's between the lines here is the history of racial tension in this Central Illinois area, the issues that have brought the area to NAACP attention in the first place. Obviously the police feel as though their ability to do their job has been hindered by the organization's policing. But I still find it odd that they would describe their "working together" that way, especially using loaded words like "pass." And, at least it appears to me, without clearly defining what exactly they mean by "giving a pass." 

Hopefully the police will get it right. It's probably crucial for the NAACP to give recognition to them when they do.

Here's my favorite reader comment, a reminder that there's still work to be done:
"I have one thing to say to the NAACP. If you don't like the Profiling. Don't Fit the Profile. If you're innocent, you won't have trouble." 
Really what s/he means is that if you're innocent-looking, you won't have trouble.  Good luck, Peoria. 

Monday, August 23, 2010

Facing Race Conference in Chicago in September

Check out the Applied Research Center's conference on racial justice and other issues: "Facing Race serves as a focal point for organizations and individuals committed to crafting innovative strategies and successful models for changing policy and shaping culture to advance racial justice." (arc.org)

The conference is in Chicago this year, which is home(ish) for me. Van Jones will be there, among other big names. Wish I could go!

You can win a free trip to the conference by writing the best headline. Enter the contest here.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Jordan Miles Case Continues

As we await justice for Jordan Miles (the kid who was brutally beaten by police when walking to his grandmother's house seven months ago), the Pittsburgh police officers under investigation are earning some good money from the city.

As reported by the City Paper, the police officers, who have been placed on leave from the force, have been receiving inordinately large paychecks. Larger paychecks than they get when actually working. Paychecks that include overtime, costing the city nearly $100,000 of taxpayer money.

I don't understand why these cops haven't been dismissed. Some people are even insisting they do jail time for their crime. They beat up an unarmed teenager. They lied about saying the kid had a Mountain Dew bottle that they mistook for a weapon.

It's tough to look at the kid's face post-beating, but here it is.

The city needs to crack down on these police officers and send a message that this kind of senseless brutality from the people who are supposed to protect us won't be tolerated.

You can get involved with the Justice for Jordan Miles campaign and the newly formed Alliance for Police Brutality here.

Color Blind: A Memoir by Precious Williams

It's a new memoir about an African girl growing up the fostercare system in Britian.

My friend and fellow adoption advocate Kate interviews the author on her blog, where she dispels the notion that Britian is "racism-free." (I hate when people from other countries say to me "America has such issues with race--we don't have that" Please!) She articulates the connection between colonialism and transracial adoption:
"In Britain we tend to pride ourselves on being happily multicultural – I think my books asks some questions about whether that is really true. Trans-racial fostering and colonialism are closely intertwined. Many of the African parents who felt giving their children to white strangers would ensure the child had an advantage absorbed this idea while growing up under colonial rule themselves, back in Africa."
Check out the full interview here

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Racial Profiling Legislation

Check out this Colorlines Video showing interviews with Black men in Brooklyn:

Nothing new, right?

So what can we do about it? In clicking around the Colorlines site, I found a link to this Rights Working Group organization, which spearheads campaigns against profiling.

Also, there is an End to Racial Profiling Act in the House, though I'm having a hard time figuring out whether the issue has been tabled or not. The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on 6/17/10 regarding racial profiling in law enforcement. (The link to documentation is dead, however.) If it's been pushed aside, then what we need to do now is contact our representatives and tell them to revisit the issue. Writing to representatives really does make a difference--I'm often surprised by the number representatives in PA, IL, and NY who respond when I write to them about adoption legislation. (Good news to come on the PA adoption bill, by the way.) So find your rep here, and write away!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Muslim Woman Denied Foster Parent License Because of Pork-Free Home

A Muslim woman in Baltimore was denied her fostercare license because she does not allow pork in her home. She is Black, a mother of five, married, and a former foster kid herself. She passed screenings and 50 hours of training. The agency is, of course, denying that anti-Muslim bias had anything to do with their decision to deny her, stating that she just seemed "inflexible" during interviews.

I first heard this story on The Daily Show, and I kept hoping it was a joke. In their parody "Pork or Parents" below, they ask 4 foster kids whether they'd prefer A.) their group-home situation with lots of pork, or B.) a stable foster parent home. (Notice they are all Black. Notice they are not laughing.) You can guess their response.  

This is outrageous. The woman lives in a decent neighborhood, she can relate to foster kids in a way many foster parents cannot, she wants to open her home to kids who don't have one. We need more foster parents everywhere in this country. There's a trend I've noticed even with the small agency I work with--the good foster homes that are willing to take any child for any length of time eventually end up with 12+ kids in their home. The need is that bad. 

Let's get our priorities straight.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Black Hair Blog

Check out this awesome and beauty-licious blog called "Black Girl with Long Hair: Celebrating the Dopeness of Natural Hair," which features haircare tips and styles from naturals around the world.

It's based out of Chicago, where the writers have started sponsoring meet-ups where folks can congregate and celebrate...HAIR. I love it. Celebrating natural/ethnic hair always feels like a type of protest for me, as for many of us it's tangled up in issues of race, femininity, beauty, self-esteem, and identity. Celebration of this hair is celebration of being a Black woman, of not conforming to the straight-hair beauty norm of yore. It is freedom.

Just because...Here is my hair, free and natural, at a writing workshop that celebrates/nurtures minority writers (I always have my hands in my hair when I'm writing for some reason):

Next time I'm in Chicago I am calling Tara, my birth cousin--whose hair is just like mine--and we are gonna check out one of those meet-ups. I'll be calling you too, Ronni!

Now, if I could figure out how to get Pitt to sponsor bringing this author to campus...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Tough Economy = More Poverty = More Adoptions?

This NYTimes article from late last year examines the number of adoptions in our current tough economy. NY Agencies had expected an influx of children placed for adoption, thinking that higher poverty rates are often correlated with higher birth rates (I find this logic problematic--more on that later) and more relinquishments due to financial strain. But it didn't happen. Rates actually decreased.

Some speculate that birth mothers are going through private, non-agency channels with individual couples, because often they'll receive more $ for medical expenses, etc. (But then again, I'm thinking, maybe there are fewer adoptive families able to pay high prices for private adoption.)

One expert's guess: Maybe moms are just trying to keep their babies...single motherhood is becoming much more accepted anyway.

It's anybody's guess. It goes to show that you can't predict these things, and that there is never just one single factor involved in complex human decisions and transactions in regard to family, unexpected pregnancies, and adoption. Maybe it's sad news for hopeful adoptive parents, that there may be fewer children on the market. But, I'd say it's a good thing that there aren't more kids being put up for adoption. Hopefully struggling mothers are getting more help, and children can stay in their families. This is, after all, the best outcome.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Community Action Against Violence

Yesterday I attended a gathering/protest in Garfield sponsored by a faith-and-social-justice organization called Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network. Garfield is a mostly minority neighborhood that has been plagued by violence for I don't know how long--too long. At the protest, people from the community--young and old--shared testimonies of what it used to be like growing up in the neighborhood, what it's like now, and what they hope it can be one day. Several mothers talked about losing sons to street violence. (Leaving how many wives without husbands and children without fathers?)

Then came a call to action directed toward the police force (2 officers were in the audience), asking for more police presence in the neighborhood.

At first I was skeptical. More cops does not always equal more safety. We all know stories of police misusing their power in minority communities--consider Jordan Miles, a Pittsburgh honor student brutally beaten by police while walking home, or Oscar Grant, an unarmed Black man shot by BART police in Oakland last year. Reminders why Connie Rice's work against police violence is so important. She once told Sun Magazine, "to create a movement, you have to have alliances." And at this meeting I began to see a community building an alliance with police.

Neighbors stood up and requested specifics--"two security cameras installed at key points in the neighborhood," "at least 3 K-9s patrolling with officers," "more officers walking the streets" and therefore engaging with, and being part of, the community instead of simply marshaling from afar. I realized these tangible, specific, and not unreasonable requests, given in a compassionate manner, are what really had the potential to affect change. And the hope behind each voice. The officer responded to each request, saying that they had secured security cameras and they're working on getting more K-9s. Speakers acknowledged that it's not the police force's fault, but more the city's fault for not providing enough funding to hire more cops.

At the end, the police officer said he had heard, he had listened, and the police will not ignore or forget them. He asked that the community give them time to work toward these goals. Perhaps the police won't forget them, but will the city continue to do so? I hope not.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Help Stop an Ineffective Adoption Bill in PA Today

Here's a letter from the Pennsylvania Adoptee Rights regarding two bills going through PA legislation right now:

Dear Advocates,

As you may have known, there were two bills in the Health and Human
Services Committee that seek to change the portion of adoption law
that governs an Adult Adoptee's access to identifying information.

HB 1968 is the BAD bill (not full Original Birth Certificate access). HB 1978 is the GOOD, equal rights, bill (full access).

Unfortunately, despite all of our outpouring of support for HB 1978,
it is still sitting in the HHS Committee.  HB 1968, on the other hand,
has made its way out of committee and is now before the PA House of
Representatives for consideration.

It is of utmost importance that HB 1968 be defeated.  HB 1968 not only
does not change the current law much at all; it actually makes it
worse.  Worse even yet, should HB 1968 pass, we worry that legislators
(1) will believe that the law is improved when it isn't and (2) won't
want to re-address this issue and portion of law, and will leave HB
1978 to die in committee.

Basically, this other bill, which may appear to legislators to be a compromise that pleases people on both sides of the argument, may make things worse for adoptees. If you can spare a minute, please contact the primary sponsor of the bill,  Representative Sonney at csonney@pahousegop.com. Your support really does make a difference--look at what we were able to do in Illinois with HB 5428! I get my birth certificate November 2011!

You can join the PA Adoptee Rights group or keep up with legislation info at