“Teaching” Black Culture
A bit ago, I spoke with an AP who was very concerned about his ability to ‘teach’ black culture to his newly adopted son. He was very vocal that he would not feel comfortable taking his child to black churches or doing things that he knew nothing about. Despite my irritation that he was more concerned about his own discomfort than that of his child’s overall ability to be comfortable in life – I’ve been pondering this question deeply.
“Its not my culture, so how can i teach it? My culture will be his culture”. Ahhhh the idealistic dream of colorblindness. As Ji-in and others of us have commented, oh yeah, we know white American culture, sometimes white ethnic cultures because we were raised in isolation from any other cultural frameworks. And yeah, sometimes its fun to giggle at show tunes or listen to rock, folk or country music, have memories of barn or square dancing, shoveling manure or to enjoy scarfing down strudel or sauerkraut. (ack)
So the question is: Are you able to teach ‘culture’ even if it is not ‘yours’?
One of the things that many TRA’s vocalize is that we are clear that most AP’s do not have the tools, whether it be experience or basic knowledge about what it means to be a person of color in a white world. So if you do not have people of color in your life when you are considering adopting a black or brown child, how will you be able to navigate the sometimes extraordinary racism your child will encounter?
What about first, admitting that there may be things that you aren’t able to teach your child? The saying “its a black thing, you wouldn’t understand”, used to piss me off. But there is some truth in this flippant phrase and the truth is – unless you have some experience being a body that is interpreted as a ‘raced other’ (Asian, Chicano, Latin, Black or in global terms – ‘black’) it is going to be extraordinarily difficult for you to ever ‘understand’ what your child is going through.
Also – consider thinking about how race functions – ‘whiteness’ isn’t just a word. It has meaning. The ‘white’ in ‘whiteness’ is similar to the ‘black’ in ‘blackness’. There are particular characteristics that get applied to white folks that don’t apply to white folks globally – right? (except for the privilege part and even whiteness as a concept here trumps class)
I’m not privledging experience over education here, I may be suggesting a few things, one of them – without a multi-racial and multi-cultural immediate community – how can you call yourself concerned with the best interests of your child? Having a child growing up in isolation, no matter how much love and understanding is supposedly there, is simply wrong. Are you prepared when your child comes home devastated, or confused, or angry, or afraid because of something someone has done or said to them?
do you tell them to just ignore those ignorant people?
do you tell them to not be so sensitive and that they may have been imagining the experience?
Yes, it would have helped to have a parent schooled in racial politics, who understood how race functions to position black bodies directly against white bodies, how racalized ideas of blackness make white people afraid of my friends when I bring them to church. Yes it would have helped to have a parent who read African American Literature and who attempted to at least understand something outside their own cultural framework.
Yet, sometimes intent isn’t enough, sometimes love isn’t enough. I needed mentors, someone to explain to me why people treated me like shit because I was a black girl surrounded by all white people. Why I became the object of all ridicule. Someone to assist me in coping mechanisms when boys told me that no one liked me because they were afraid of getting black on their hands. When people said things about my hair and it was too painful for me to share these things with my mother. When someone called me ‘black’ and made it sound like the most horrible thing to be. When someone told me ‘they don’t see me as black’, when someone told me I was black and ugly.
Removing your child from ‘those people’, distancing your child from ‘that culture’ that ’I dont understand’ does not help them grow to be comfortable with themselves. Or to understand the diversity, beauty and complexity of it. If you are uncomfortable, they will sense that discomfort and internalize it. You better get comfortable, or at least be willing to struggle with that discomfort.