In New England, land of endless Winter, it’s a few days after February vacation. For me, that meant 4 days of skiing in Maine with my husband and son.
Maine is not a diverse state and on our vacation, my Korean-American child was often the only person of color in the room. While he concentrated on mastering moguls, I spent time mentally counting “folks like us” when I saw them. There was an adopted Asian girl with her white family, and over there, a group of Japanese tourists. I spotted an African-American child also with her white mom, and a Latino man who was killin’ it on his snowboard.
On that small mountain in Maine, we were all the outliers, the ones in the picture labeled “one of these things is not like the others…” (What? No Sesame Street fans here?) It’s a feeling I’ve learned to be familiar with over the 12 years of parenting my son.
Today, it was back to our daily routine of school and work, part of which is catching up on the things that ground us as a family. For me, one way is looking through the seemingly endless series of things to see in my Google reader, the blogs I need to catch up on after all the days away.
Scrolling through the postings, it was immediately apparent that the blogs I follow have an important theme.
Angry Asian Man. 18 Million Rising. Hyphen Magazine. Racialicious. KoreAm. Beyond Kimchee. 8 Asians. Discovering Korea. Land of a Gazillion Adoptees. Harlow’s Monkey. Racebending.com and many, many more, bookmarked in various categories on my computer. Adoption. Travel. Korea. Vietnam. Kids.
More than my daily reading of our local newspaper, these are my news sources. They are the places I go to read and learn.
There is much for me to take in. I read and get excited when I read about progressive activism in the various communities that make up the all-too-broad category of Asian-American. I do my best to keep up with what is happening in adoptee literature and writings, and am invested in the politics of race and ethnicity in a way that feels deeply personal. Like so many others on the blogs I follow, I got furious when I read about the Make-Me-Asian App and felt gleeful when it was removed.
Sometimes, I confess that in my reading, I feel awkward, as if this is not my place, my role, my world to peripherally inhabit. It’s those times when the questioning begins. Where I do fit in reference to the issues and subjects that some might perceive as being fully outside of me and my life?
At those times, I wonder what it means for this white mom to be so focused on things that now, my son could give a damn about. For him, as a 12-year-old, they are subjects he finds inconsequential and boring. To talk or think about them takes away from the time he’d rather spend on Legos or Minecraft.
But to me, it means I’m doing the real work of being a mom to a transracially adopted child. It’s my job to care, a part of my unspoken contract of motherhood. To read these news sites, blogs, and forums, and to be educated by them, is one means of engagement with the larger community of families like mine, the adoptees I have so much to learn from, and the people of color whose passage through the world I must seek to understand.
This is my world now, because my child is my world. Not the totality of it, because as a parent, it’s equally important to give your child the example of how to remain a person with your own interests, aspirations, and desires. But it is a major component of my life as a white lady on the outskirts looking in and trying to listen and learn.
As a white woman, becoming the mother of an Asian-American child, or any child who does not share your racial background, means you are forever changed. You become something else. Yes, you are still that same white person, but you exist in an in-between world. It’s world where you do things like count how many folks of color are in a room because you never want your child to feel isolated, alone, or the object of scrutiny because of their difference. Because of my relationship with my child, and the love I feel for him, I exist in a different space than I did before.
It’s a world where you guard against ignorant comments, notice when people stare, and thank goodness for the wonder of the internet because someone, somewhere, has probably written about whatever you are experiencing.
At the same time, as a white mom, you remain unchanged on the outside and because of that, there are a million unknowns. I am fully and completely aware that I will never know what it is to walk in the world as my son does, an Asian-American child who will become an Asian-American man. As a white woman, I am forever able to “pass” in a way that now feels uncomfortable to me.
In my neurotic way, I sometimes question if this makes me a strange kind of voyeur. I try not to comment on blogs where I fear I don’t fit or belong because it feels like I’m invading a personal space that may not be mine to engage with. On some adoptee blogs, there are very clear messages to adoptive parents that the forum is not ours to evaluate or criticize, that we are welcome to read and learn but that it is unacceptable to speak up in a way that could be perceived as attempting to silence another or diminish their experience. And I get that. Still, I read on because I want to learn.
When I feel angry reading accounts of racism encountered or documented, I wonder how others would feel about my white-woman outrage. I guard against saying too much because I also don’t want to come across as one of those white folks who thinks they know things and therefore, have full license to speak to all issues from a place of authority. Because I don’t know much. At least, I don’t know enough to ever make me think I can stop learning and listening.
I had always been keenly attentive to issues of social justice, race politics, and equality. Even before my son, there were things that just made sense to me in terms of how we treat one another, what is fair and right, and what needs to change. But as many marches as I went on, letters I wrote, and protests I took part in, I cannot claim to have had the depth of interest or rather, ACTIVE and personal interest that I have now. Now, it’s a fundamental component of who I am, and who I want to be as my husband and I raise our son.
My hope is that my own grappling with the in-betweenness of the place I now reside helps me to better understand what his path is and will be. It is okay for me to have to contend with my own discomfort. It’s a valid and integral component of my learning experience.
I’m not unrealistic about what I am. I’m still a white lady who is not a person-of-color simply because I have a Korean-American child. I am fully aware of that, and the undeniable and unfair privilege that comes with the color of my skin.
At the same time, I am now, and increasingly, more than that simple description, just as my son is more than any of the boxes people will try to put him in over the years. Thank goodness there’s plenty to read about that.