Like many people here in America, currently in racial turmoil over grand jury decisions not to indict police officers who have killed unarmed black men, I shared this image on facebook. A few days later, articles appeared berating the photo’s manipulation and message. Clearly, other people think harder than I do before sharing. The first thing that came to my mind after the criticism was, E.J. Graff’s article, “The Lie We Love.” It’s a similar indictment – that we all know the system is rotten, but we choose to ignore that in favor of the love-knows-no-color image like above.
Quote from The Guardian article:
Liking this picture as a definitive image of America’s race crisis is the equivalent of locking yourself in and turning up the volume to weep at Frozen while the streets are burning outside. Which is exactly what white Americans apparently want to do.
While I wouldn’t call it a definitive image, I might be guilty of seeking self-soothing while the streets burn. Yet here I found myself promoting this picture, this soothing lie of a picture that says “there there, everything is actually okay.”
The back story behind this image is that the boy in tears, Devonte Hart, is a little black boy adopted by a white family. Like most black parents, Devonte’s parents can accompany him to a protest but they can’t accompany or protect him all the time. Unlike most black parents, Devonte’s parents, I would venture to guess, haven’t a clue what it feels like to be a daily target of suspicion, disrespect, insults, and violence. I think I can sympathize because, like most white parents, my parents didn’t know what it felt like to be taunted, subjugated, patronized, and continually solicited to for exotic sex acts – like their yellow daughter did.
I was told/programmed during my formative years to believe that racism was dying and we were living proof of the end of it. I was told that racism is just ignorance and that racism would end in my lifetime. I just had to believe. Easy directives from those who are not stake-holders. But as a child I didn’t really have a choice and so I lived a life in service to color-blindness. But despite what your adoptive parents tell you and despite the environment they try to craft for you, white society tells you race matters because you experience racism while they don’t, when nobody else white does. We were also frequently reminded we were “chosen,” the implication being that we’d made it – we were privileged from others of our race or those orphans left behind. Being severed from our race was the key component to saving us. Thus severed, we are isolated from communities of color in any meaningful way. You realize this when you try to bridge the gap. You realize this when you try to help and your efforts are as misplaced as your adoptive parents were. And one day, as in the NPR Story Corps recording below, you realize that racial matters can’t be willed away and ignorance of them could kill you. Your adoption status doesn’t mean jack to those judging you on race.
Alex Landau, above, knew his rights and asserted them – like any white person would have. He forgot that he was black. That’s what happens to transracial adoptees – we think we mirror what we see – we forget that we aren’t white too. Here’s what he looked like after the police got done with him:
So, robot-like I find myself staying safe at home posting hopeful lies of self-soothing on social media. It feels like a default action, a well-trained action, a very white upbringing action. Am I my brother’s keeper? I would like to be, but they recognize my privilege and generally don’t accept me.
The recent events have me very depressed, weeping without tears. I cry because so often I recognize my white upbringing in my own actions. I cry because my mother’s voice admonishes me to lock the doors whenever I drive through a black neighborhood. I cry because at this moment the last thing I want is to feel white and privileged, because I have always identified with anyone who has been forced to live a life not of their own free will. I cry not only for the huge list of people of color killed by white police officers and the erosion of civil rights, but I cry for all the people of color I never get to know because my world is so segregated.
I just really question whether taking children of color and raising them in white privilege really builds multi-cultural anything. It just seems to me to be another lie we love.
So to me, being adopted to a so-called post racial world means forever battling the white privileged perspective I carry but didn’t ask for, a perspective that increasingly disgusts and horrifies me – probably the only part of myself that I loathe.
What does it mean for you?
Please answer and comment liberally. Thank you.