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Posts Tagged ‘privilege’

You made me cry a bit there – in a good way. My sis-in-law wrote to say that even she got a little teary from the comments and she is a total badass. (I am concerned about B’s privacy but not my in-laws, apparently!).

I am still a thinking — about Blitzen, self-preservation, a creative outlet, the support hat I really do get from the wonderful vibes anonymous people send my way and the ability to process this incredibly complex way of life that writing has created for me.

I am still a thinking — about what has shifted for me in the last few months that has made things so difficult in a new way.

I am going to take a little break for a week or two and try to figure out if there is a good way to move forward, perhaps with fewer public posts about Blitzen (although as several people have said — there are so many of the wonderful things about this kid that I have captured here, I hope to keep writing all that down for both me and for her whether or not I make those items public). Maybe it is time turn my attention more to some of the social justice issues that being a foster parent has brought into focus for me in a new  and very very real way.

I also just have to say that this past week, the entire world feels wrong which is likely contributing to this feeling that I am having. Everything that is happening in Missouri and the often disheartening discussions that I’ve had with other white people about it, the ridiculous and skewed press coverage, have just weighed me down.  I am deeply saddened, really struggling with how to contribute to this discussion in a meaningful way, how to help Blitzen cope with this tremendous injustice but also prepare for a world that doesn’t see her or respect her.  Even the air feels heavy and full of darkness.

Time to breathe and try to find some brightness.  I’ll likely be back, one way or another, soon.

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Hair

Blitzen woke up sobbing and screaming at 1:00 this morning. “I hate my hair.  Why won’t it stay straight?  Why does it have to be ugly?  I want straight, beautiful hair. Andrew, you don’t know anything about girls or hair.  You don’t know how to take care of me.  Fix it, Andrew!”

Blitzen wants straight hair.  White hair.  Disney princess hair.  The first week we met her, she called us to the tv: “Look at these girls — they have pretty hair just like me!” One was blond, one was red-headed, both had long straight flowing hair.

Fast forward to yesterday.  Blitzen’s hair had been in braids for a few weeks.  She went to the salon to get de-braided, and got her hair blown out.  Yesterday afternoon her hair was straight as Barbie’s.  We worked to cover her hair before she went to sleep, but I didn’t tie the scarf around her head right and she woke up 1:00 am with her hair back to normal: curly, gorgeous and alive.  She was furious that she didn’t look like Taylor Swift or Beyonce, and furious at me for causing the problem.

Our struggles with hair don’t make the blog much, in part because they’re obvious to the point of cliche.  Of course a black girl growing up in a patriarchal, white-dominant society that objectifies and blames her is going to have internalized racial inferiority and a complex, oversized relationship with her body and hair.  Of course that relationship will be intensified by the identity issues that come with loving both your black family and your white foster family, plus the rage and pain that come from witnessing abuse.  Frankly it’s a wonder that Blitzen giggles as often as she does.

Sadly, I play my role in this cliche: the oblivious, naive, not-so-bright well-meaning white man with an intellectual interest in racism and sexism and a bookshelf full of literature.  Today, in my sleep-deprived state, prodded by two hours of tears from a loved one who’s educating me, I feel the pain caused by white supremacy.  Tomorrow, I’ll have the privilege to intellectualize it again.

In this rare moment of being human, here’s some of what I feel.  I’m pissed that women are defined first and inevitably by the way they look. I’m pissed that Blitzen will spend her life comparing herself to a standard of beauty built and perpetuated by northern European white men.  I’m pissed that Blitzen will be exoticized, sexualized and othered before she can be listened to.  I’m pissed that Blitzen, who notices everything, get messages every day that tell her black people are thugs, criminals, bad students, bad parents, poor, dependent, superstitious, helpless and undeserving.

I’m pissed about the recordings in Blitzen’s head: “You’re not pretty.  You’re not smart.  You’re not lovable.  You’re not able to make it.”   Those are the voices of institutional racism, and they’re not from 1850, they’re in Blitzen’s head right now as she stands at the mirror with a hair dryer and a brush hoping that her hair turns straight.

What I’m really pissed off and embarrassed about is my role amplifying and reinforcing the voices in Blitzen’s head.  Blitzen moved into a home where every single photograph on the wall was of a white person; it’s pretty clear what I value.  I’ve worked exclusively for culturally white institutions, even when, damagingly enough, I’ve been “serving” primarily kids of color.

Blitzen sees me wield my white privilege like a blunt instrument every time I  sidestep the line, every time I casually break a rule knowing it doesn’t apply to me, every time I tell our agency or our school exactly what I need.  My white privilege has gotten me jobs, credit, housing, access to power, and the opportunity to raise another parent’s brilliant child.  I don’t have to use words to tell Blitzen it’s better to be white.  She notices everything, and my internalized white superiority isn’t that well-hidden anyway.

You fall in love with a kid and it means you have to get better and make the world better.  We white people, in accountability to kids and people of  color, have work ahead of us.

Even if I had tied her scarf around Blitzen’s head correctly, her hair wasn’t going to be straight this morning.  But she’s right to be furious at me.  Me and my white friends built and sustain the world that makes her hair wrong.  If we want to sleep through the night, it’s our job to fix it.

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I love Carrie’s last post, where she described Blitzen’s school as a “controlled not controlling environment.”  A couple of commenters (we love commenters) asked about the school, which is probably my cue.  I feel Carrie nudging me from 8,000 miles away.

Blitzen attends a progressive independent school that believes that education begins with the individual kid: her experiences, interests, questions, hopes and fears.

Her school values community — Blitzen works in close partnership with her nine delicious, diverse classmates and with a team of brilliant, diverse teachers.

Her school thinks that learning should be filled with exploration, discovery, collaboration, creativity, passion and joy.

Her teachers have the autonomy to follow their own talents and passions, and that of their students.  There is no pre-packaged, one-size-fits-all curriculum.  There is no standardized testing.

Her school tries to connect learning to the real world, believing that kids can make a positive impact on society right now.  It operates from a place of great privilege, and tries to acknowledge privilege and power while striving for equity and justice.

One commenter asked how Blitzen’s school compares to KIPP, a network of charter schools targeted to families in underserved neighborhoods.   My least snarky answer is that Carrie and I, like most higher SES families with an array of educational options, don’t send our kids to schools that organize around constant testing, rewards/punishment, behavioral control and classroom call-and-response. Instead, we typically choose schools where kids can create, invent, make choices, build independence and develop higher level thinking skills.  I believe that underserviced kids deserve the same thing Blitzen deserves — schools where the environment is controlled but not controlling.

Carrie and I are happy to talk about education or NYC schools with anyone interested.  Not to get all bibliography on you, but a couple organizations I appreciate are IDEA and Rethinking Schools.

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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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