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Archive for the ‘Equity’ Category

Andrew and I have both experienced, in the last 36 hours, that look.  That look from ‘professionals’ associated with Blitzen’s case.

That look that says ‘you are troublesome foster parents, you are making my life difficult by demanding that we do all that we should which is way more than we feel that we can.’

That look that says, ‘Oh, we’ve written your child off (not that we in anyway consider her to be your child) and you should too.’

 

That ‘When this was all headed for adoption, you were committed, passionate, model foster parents that we begged to speak on panels, rally new recruits, participate in city-wide ad campaigns. But now, you are a pain in the ass and we’re tempted to just accept false allegations against you so we can make you go away quicker’ look.

We’ve both experienced that moment when it has become crystal clear that this child is going back into a social system of grinding poverty, family dysfunction, racial and domestic violence, a broken and battered educational system that is really just a pipeline to prison/welfare dependency/homelessness/teen pregnancy/addiction, where she will be lost. And sadly, the look in their eyes says ‘we simply don’t care.’

I am sure you all are familiar with that look.

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“Can you like people of another color?” Blitzen asked.

I turned to my go-to response for the many instances when I’m not quite sure what we’re talking about: “What do you think?”

“I think people of other colors can like each other.  They just can’t marry each other.”

I start to get it.  We just spent a week meeting lots of loved ones, all of whom were white.  Those who are married married other white folks.  “Hmmm.  Interesting.  We know some people who are different colors who married each other, right?  Like D & V?”

I was eager for conversation.  Blitzen was unconvinced but willing to concede the point and change subjects, probably hoping to sidestep listening to me say absurd things about issues around race.

I can’t blame the girl for tuning out the things I say about race.  Her favorite way to access information is through visual observation.  Here are a few of the things I suspect she notices.

1)  Whenever we go somewhere fun or special — Sea World, holiday parties, airplane trips — nearly everyone is white.

2)  When we introduce her to family, the people we love, they are all white.  Other than Blitzen and her sisters, every single person in a framed photo in our home is white.  None of the people we see sleeping in Marcus Garvey Park each day are white.

3)  Blitzen’s school is 100% kids of color.  It’s in a building with a school that is predominately white.  The white kids have the first two floors; Blitzen and her friends walk to the fifth floor.  The white kids have colorful walls, hands-on projects and lots of field trips.  Blitzen and her friends have behavior sheets and kids being physically restrained in the halls.

The list could go on for a long time, and every point deserves a full post, if not a dissertation and protests in the streets.  For now, I’m simply noticing Blitzen noticing that I’m not a reliable narrator when I merrily suggest that anyone can like and marry anyone they want to and that the race we’ve been assigned is not destiny.

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If an anthropologist from the future were to study the United States in 2011, she’d likely conclude that our child welfare system was designed to remove children from families of color.

The numbers are stark.  In New York, 82% of kids in foster care are children of color.  Studies show that black families are 10 times more likely than white families to be reported to Child Protective Services, and 15 times more likely to have a child removed from their home.  (This isn’t a footnote/bibliography kind of blog, but US stats can be found here.)

Dorothy Roberts, who wrote  Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare (terrific executive summary here — okay, no more footnotes) says:

If you came with no preconceptions about the purpose of the child welfare system, you would have to conclude that it is an institution designed to monitor, regulate, and punish poor families of color.

The child welfare system is designed to privilege white people like Carrie and me.  Doors have flown open; we were  certified in record time.  We can be confident that everyone we meet will assume we aren’t drug users, won’t neglect our foster children and aren’t in it for the money.

What’s more, because we’re not poor, it’s unlikely that our child will be perceived as suffering from “neglect,” the cause of 75% of all child welfare cases.  Neglect — poor health care, poor nutrition, lack of shelter — looks looks an awful lot like poverty.

Carrie and I can’t wait to love, nurture, support and celebrate a child in our home.  But our job  just begins there.  The real work in front of all of us is to organize for institutional change that will address the disproportionalities of our system.

Luckily, we’re not alone.  A bunch of groups are organizing the community around these disparities, including the Child Welfare Organizing Project and the Anti-Racist Alliance.  We invite our friends to join us not just in caring for Blitzen, but in creating a just, equitable world for her to live in.

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