Racism and Prejudice Isn’t a Thing of the Past, And it is Time to Start Asking Questions
Editor’s Note: This op-ed was originally printed in the Daily Herald.
More than a dozen years ago, our family welcomed two young boys from Ethiopia into our lives. Those boys were not our first transracially-adopted children, nor were they our last. In fact, the next year, my husband and I went to Ethiopia and adopted four more children, ages newborn to 12, making six black children in our multi-ethnic family. We have children who are Asian, African, Hispanic and Caucasian, from a total of eight countries and they are truly beautiful people.
The deeper, substantive conversations that need to take place are being avoided in favor of flame-throwing and hyperbole.
I’ve heard tales from other adoptive families about racism and prejudice directed at their adoptive children that was so intense, they were forced to move on a regular basis. I have also heard that race doesn’t matter. On the other hand, I heard that race was the only thing that mattered. We had an “obligation” to live in predominantly black neighborhoods so our kids could have the “black experience,” I was told.
Really? Is there a single predominantly black neighborhood in all of Utah County? The second problem is defining the “black experience.” I don’t believe there is a singular “black experience” anymore than I believe in a singular “white experience.” My kids aren’t descended from slaves in the deep south of the United States. They aren’t from the “inner city” of a major metropolitan area. They aren’t growing up in poverty, nor are they growing up in opulence. They’re just normal American kids who happened to start their lives in another country, under some rough circumstances.
Over almost three decades of parenting, my husband and I have tried to be “intentional parents.” We have deliberately focused on teaching our children the value of hard work, of being responsible and accountable for their actions and their life. We are trying to teach them to shun the idea of “entitlement,” whether real or imagined, that might come from their skin color, gender or socio-economic status and to stop expecting life to be fair. It’s not.
Are we willing to admit that we all have biases and sometimes that includes racial ones?
I have learned over the years that while love may be blind, the world’s eyeballs are not. My kids don’t look like me. And not-so-shockingly, people can tell.
As my boys turned into men, I started to realize that some of the things other adoptive parents were telling me were true. My boys are followed in stores. My Caucasian kids are not. My boys are pulled over in their cars (purchased by themselves after months of hard work) much more often than I or the other non-black children. The reality dawned on me slowly, but it dawned nonetheless. My black boys-turned-men are treated differently.
What we have also learned in our family is that we must have “the talk” with our black young men. Not the birds-and-the-bees talk, but one that can be even more difficult — the talk about race.
There are few topics more heated and controversial than a discussion of race in the United States. Conversations quickly devolve into biting rhetoric. A question like “Does racism still exist?” can bring strong statements on both sides — “Of course it does — are you blind?” or “No way — racism has been eradicated!”
Are there inherent biases against certain ethnic groups in education, business and the law? Do certain racial groups commit more crimes than others? Why is the accusation that one is “playing the race card” used so dismissively? Do people, in fact, “play the race card?” Can you even talk about race without an immediate firestorm?
Last week, these questions exploded in Utah County and indeed around the world when a young black man in Saratoga Springs was shot and killed by police. His white mother claimed it was racially motivated. The claims are denied by the Saratoga Springs police department and an investigation is under way. Sadly, it seems that the deeper, substantive conversations that need to take place are being avoided in favor of flame-throwing and hyperbole.
The lack of ability and willingness to have a conversation about tough issues is a problem. I don’t know what happened that day in front of Panda Express in Saratoga Springs but I do know I’m willing to have some deep discussions about it.
Because I have shared questions about race being a factor in Darrien Hunt’s death, I’ve been called a cop-hater. Because I voiced my experience of watching my sons be treated differently, I was told I was stupid. Because I have “the talk” with my kids about behaving in an abundance of caution because they are often treated differently and I don’t want them shot, I was told I perpetuate racism. (For the record, I don’t agree with any of those statements.)
Here are some more questions we’re not discussing:
Why was Darrien Hunt, a black man, carrying a sword (real or pretend) in a public place? Was that wise? Was it different than openly carrying a rifle into a store? Why?
Why did he start running instead of complying with officer’s requests? Were the police extra jumpy because of the ambush of Sgt. Cory Wride? Can you respect law enforcement and still have questions about some of their actions? Was race a factor in Mr. Hunt “looking suspicious?”
Are we willing to admit that we all have biases and sometimes that includes racial ones? How about acknowledging that racism can be subtle. You don’t have to belong to the KKK to have racially-based prejudices.
Why are black men treated differently than white men, right here in our own backyard? Can we break that cycle? How?
I hope that as a society, we will spend some time in introspection and self-evaluation. What are our biases and how do we minimize or eliminate them? How can we have a truly productive conversation on race? We have come a long way from the days of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. We still have a long way to go. I have faith that we can get there and together, “We shall overcome” the insidious effects of racism. But first we have to talk.
- Holly Richardson