Race, ethnicity and place: A conversation considering all things
I’m excited to launch something a little different here at Mama C that will hopefully invite my lurkers, and my steadfast contributors alike to join. For months, well more like years now, I have been thinking about how living in 86% White/ 6.4% Black or African American/ 3.0 Asian/2.4% Biracial identified/.5 American Indian/Alaska Native/ .5 Native Hawaiin/Other Pacific Islander and / 1.0 Other race/ Portland, Maine can and will impact my children.* Bottom line: as a TRA and biological parent is it in my children’s best interest all things considered to stay here? I’ve read John Riable’s writing on the subject, memoirs by TRA adult adoptees, like Black Baby, White Hands: A View from the crib and recently crumpled in a heap a few times over, when this post by a very dear friend who left Portland, Maine with her transracial family made me wonder it all all over again. She is at peace with her decision, another friend said after reading the post. That was it. Peace. That’s what I want too. Peace with my own decision, as the head of the household to raise my family, here.
Of course your here and my here are not the same. My hope is that the way this series of vignettes unfolds, adult adoptees, first parents/families, adoptive parents or parents in the process, and those who love all of us, will have their own “here” to speak from. Maybe you live in/grew up in a predominantly White neighborhood, in a larger urban setting that has much greater racial and ethnic make up a few miles away. Maybe those few miles felt like you needed a passport to get there as a young person growing up… Maybe you are about to adopt and wonder just how radically you are willing and able to change your life to make certain your kid will know what it means to be Black, Indian, Chinese, Korean, or Biracial?
DISCLAIMER and PROCLAIMER: I do not hold a PHD in racial identity formation, adoptee identity formation, ethnicity studies, or parenting. I am a rigorously intentional parent who is open and wiling to shift my thinking. When I can see things from a different perspective, I feel that I am doing this soul in this old body justice. I can also be defensive as hell if I think I am being judged, and judgmental as all get out, if I think I am more right. These conversations are to give me more ways to look at things, from other perspectives.
The vision (which might change): a series of short vignette posts over the summer, that capture a moment ripe and worthy of reflection and questions on race/ethnicity and place from our transracial family experience.These little vignettes may include back story, pictures, interviews, informational text, surveys and the like. All of these moments will have the following connective tissue: race, ethnicity, place, and the transracial family. Ultimately it is my hope that these vignettes will help all of us learn from each other, ask big questions, evaluate where we live (emotionally and physically) in terms of what is best for our families, and at the very least deepen our commitment to our collective work of parenting transracially.
Before we get started:
Layman’s language: These are the understandings/definitions of terms that I am going to use as I set up the conversation starters:
- Race: A category like Black/ African American or White/ Caucasian that people in general assign to other people in general based on skin color, hair, and other features. I capitalize Black, and White and Biracial as a preference. This is a practice I began during my writing at Mom’s of Hue (Now we of Hue).
- Ethnicity: Identity with or membership in a particular racial, national, or cultural group and observance of that group’s customs, beliefs, and language. In the case of my here, Portland, which has a robustly thriving and growing ethnically diverse population (11% of the population over the age of five as of 2009 was foreign born) ethnicity and race are sisters in the discussion. Example: There are eight Black children who live next door to us. These children share a racial category with Sam and Marcel (Black) but not an ethnic category (Somalian, Congolese). These eight children do not share an ethnic category with each other (Muslim and Christian, Somalian and Congolese). These children are sharing the childhood experience of being in the 6.4% of Portland residents, (which is actually much higher for kids, because the data gathered is not for children 5 and under) who love to play freeze tag, and ride bikes, and whack a baseball into oncoming traffic on our street together. I will be asking myself, my children, and my readers how they view this “sisterhood” of race and ethnicity in their exploration of race and place where they live too.
- Socio-economics: Uh huh. And probably more to be inferred in these pieces then taken on. Over 60% of the students in the elementary and middle school where the boys will attend are eligible for free and reduced school lunches-offered as a snap shot only.
This morning we are having breakfast with our friend Hassan, an African American male, in his early twenties, who graduated from Bowdoin College in Maine, is a nationally known jazz musician and composer, and wearer of many hats. We were introduced by a mutual friend, who thought we’d all benefit from knowing one another, over a year ago. He loves being part of a single parent led family dynamic, with two boys that all remind him of his family. I love his gentle energy and limitless adoration for the kids. Perhaps an interview with him for this undertaking? Or maybe there will be no time for that in the eating of chocolate chip pancakes (Sam’s favorite) and good diner coffee drinking!
So, here we go. Before I post vignette #1 in a few days, I invite folks to leave a comment and/or introduction if they are interested in participating (not necessary–but I’m all for introductions). What specific part of this topic would you be interested in looking at? I hope what gets going here, branches out all over the ether, encouraging like focused conversations, and sharing of resources too.
* All statistical information for this page came form this data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey 2005-2009. As 2009 marked an increase in number of Black/African American and foreign born populations in Portland from 2005-2009, it is my hunch that those number will continue to grow: http://www.factfinder.census.gov/servlet/ADPTable?_bm=y&-geo_id=16000US2360545&-qr_name=ACS_2009_5YR_G00_DP5YR2&-gc_url=&-ds_name=ACS_2009_5YR_G00_&-_lang=en&-redoLog=false