A Call For Trained Parents

While discussing yesterday’s blog post with my wife, she pointed out my naievity. She considers USAian society – at best – in the second stage of the struggle to rid itself of the structures of oppression. She’s probably right; my viewpoint is inherently colored by my whiteness and maleness. I am simply treated differently, whether I wish it or not.

Still, I think there’s some rationality to my hope. Public displays of open racism and sexism are rarer and usually socially unacceptable (though I’m horribly aware of all the conditionals in this sentence). The distance index (how close of a relationship you’d be okay with having someone of a differeent race) has been showing signs of improving attitudes for decades. These all seem to indicate that while the first two stages of struggle are not over, they’re mopping up operations instead of the massive efforts of prior decades.

Which brings me to adoption. I’m explicitly avoiding the high-publicity foreign adoptions, and instead addressing interracial adoptions here in the US. Resist Racism points out (and correctly, IMHO) that the supposed “stigma” of tests and specter of “political correctness” have been used to avoid the appropriate examination of prospective adoptive parents. They also point out that barriers to Blacks (and, FWIW, I’d extend that to any/all minorities) adopting should be removed. I think I’m correct in thinking this is sarcasm:

So basically, we have this “adoption expert” suggesting that barriers for white families to adopt black kids should be removed. However, no attempts should be made to remove barriers for black families. That would make those black parents compete with the white parents, and that wouldn’t be fair.

Which makes sense, right? There’s no reason that Blacks (or any minority) should face additional barriers based on race. It’s also bolstered by this quote (not sarcastic):

If you use race as a consideration in judging two prospective sets of adoptive parents, one white, one black, the black family is going to win. And that is an “overwhelming factor”–better that race not be considered “at all.” Because taking race out of the equation advantages the white family.

I don’t think that’s an absolute, or that it has to be that way. At least, that’s presuming we talking about being able to provide and care for a child. We’re talking about good, trained parents, right? I agree with them that training absolutely should be used as a consideration of their readiness to adopt a child. So we’re good, right? Or are we talking about something else? There is a subtext that’s hinted at above, and is really explicitly made clear at the very end:

But [whites] resent being told that they can’t [adopt black babies], or implications that they might be lesser parents when compared to black people.

[emphasis mine]

I have a problem with that kind of blanket assertion. I cannot – no matter how hard I try – really comprehend the experience of living as a minority in the US. I cannot truly, fully apprehend the privilege, advantages, and power I have merely due to an accident of genetics. This is true.

But if we take this logic to at face value, this implies that all parents must be just like (and experience the same things) as their children in order to care for (and about) them.

Which is so much crap.

That implies that every mother *cannot* truly empathize with their son and that every father *cannot* empathize with their daughter. While it might make some things easier, that doesn’t make one gender or race automatically (or always) better than another.

It might be easier to empathize with those most like you. I may not – for example – have very many practical common experiences with my son’s competitive Irish dance experience. (By very many, I mean “none”. I can barely do the junior-high slow dance shuffle.) But I can still understand his disappointment when he has a bad performance. I can understand his frustration with other dancers when they behave rudely. I can feel his pride and accomplishment when he does well despite the disadvantages he has. But it is difficult, and we’ve had to work at it along the way. We’ve even gotten professional training (i.e. a therapist) to help us relate more effectively.

Which is why it’s awesome that a commenter linked to John Ridley’s NPR commentary.

He quite clearly points out the above:

White folks, no matter how well-meaning or open-minded, have no true idea what it’s like to be black in America.

But unlike Resist Racism, he both acknowledges the difficulties… while not assuming the worst about potential transracial adopters:

Parents who engage in transracial adoptions are clearly committed, brave and, above all, loving. They should be fully prepared as well.

Adopting inter-racially would require the adoptive parents to be able to empathize with children that are not like them, with children who will inherently have different experiences than them. But in many ways, that’s what all parents – adoptive or not – must do.

Personally, I think both commentators are right, and stop short of what is needed: Mandatory parenting classes for all prospective parents, biological, adoptive, or foster. Because parenting doesn’t come naturally – to men or women – regardless of race. It’s a learned skill. Some people are better at it than others, but all of us could use some additional training.

Please feel free, by the by, to tell me how wrong I am in the comments. 😉