Thursday, October 20, 2011

Today is spirit day--support LGBT youth

Yesterday I got an email letter from Brian Pines of the "It Gets Better" Project. I know there has been some controversy around the project--some saying that it has devolved away from its original mission to support queer youth and the bullying that they endure in school. Some saying that it's message is too feel-good and doesn't do enough in terms of activism. But I suppose I'm a moderate in the sense that I think any message that attempts to reassure and tell a teenager that they aren't alone--that there are others who have been through similar experiences--who were bullied--who thought about suicide--who didn't know who to turn to--that things get better--that they aren't alone--that there are people and organizations who can help...I think that's not a bad message to send out.

So today, October 20, is Spirit Day--a day that the "It Gets Better" Project has marked for support of LGBT youth.

I, unfortunately, do not own anything purple, but I DO support queer youth and queer people and their right for society to recognize their humanity. And I support our society growing and progressing so that we are inclusive of all people -- so that we will stand up to bullying and support queer youth especially who may feel alienated in their homes, schools, communities.

And I found this image--and if we replace "purple" with "LGBT/Queer" youth, then I think it's quite appropriate:

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Mixed race in America -- New York Times edition

Over the year, the New York Times seems to be doing more pieces on multiracial Americans. I'm not sure why this focus--or perhaps it's not a focus and it's just that as someone who is interested in multiracial issues, I'm more attuned to it.

[Aside: Actually, the ARE doing a series called "Race Remixed" -- I've posted links to some of the pieces in the past, but if you click here you can see other essays in this series]

Anyway, this morning I woke up and saw this video on their home page:

with this accompanying article (click link).

One of the things I was struck by in the above video are comments from the white parents who adopted bi-racial (black-white) children. The mother says that she does not think of their family as mixed--that they are "just a family." The father acknowledges the stares and comments that they received in the 1970s and says that they experienced racism on behalf of their children.

While there is a part of me that has a problem with the color blind rhetoric of "we're just a family"--there's another part of me--the part that looks ahead to my own future family that will be formed out of adoption, and wonders if I, too, will want to claim that we are "just a family"--one that challenges the nuclear norm of biological, same race, families but still a family none-the-less. As for experiencing racism on behalf of your child, I'm not sure that parents experience racism for their children so much as they may (esp. if they are white parents who perhaps had not been conscious of their white privilege or racism before) be experiencing racism with their children. Because I guarantee that the targets of the racist comments are not just the parents but the children as well.

[Aside: If you read the article, you will realize that the Dragans (the parents) are not clueless to racism and are not people who acted in the past or the present in a color-blind manner--which makes me wonder if their comments were edited out of a larger context (which often happens when you are filming/interviewing someone). The article is much more nuanced and complex in how they handled racist incidents in their family, although I still think the question of how or if one should "normalize" one's multiracial family experience is interesting to think about]

However, as someone who is not yet a parent and not multiracial herself, I'm curious what other folks think about this piece and the idea of whether a multiracial adoptee family can ever be (or should ever be) "just a family" and whether one can experience racism on behalf of one's children. Thoughts?

Friday, October 7, 2011

R.I.P. to the world's most famous mixed-race adoptee -- Steve Jobs

As most everyone around the world knows by now, Steve Jobs passed away at the age of 56, succumbing to his long-time battle with pancreatic cancer. Quite frankly it’s amazing that he lasted as long as he did. I know his form of pancreatic cancer was an extraordinarily rare form that actually responds to cancer treatment, which is why after his diagnosis in 2004 he has done as well as he had. But I also know that typically a pancreatic cancer diagnosis means that most people die within a year (this was true of a maternal aunt of mine, my cousin’s mother-in-law, and a friend’s mother).

There have been tributes galore to Jobs, heralding him as a technology and taste pioneer—a revolutionary of design—someone who literally changed the way the world interacts with one another. Like many people, I learned about Jobs’ death by reading about it on a Mac device (one of 5 that we own—yes, my household has drunk the Apple kool-aid). And in reading about the many details of Jobs’ life, one that has emerged (or two I suppose) is that he was adopted by two working-class white parents and raised in the Bay Area of California and that his birth parents were graduate students who met in Michigan—his birth mother was a white American woman and his birth father was a Syrian international student.

Which makes Jobs one of the most famous mixed-race American adoptees.

Although I suppose it also begs the question about whether we would consider the child of a Syrian father and white-American mother “mixed-race” – because people from the Middle East, depending on their particular ethnic and national background, identify as “Caucasian” or “Asian” or “African.” None-the-less, the fact that Syrians are claiming Jobs as their own (declaring him the most famous Syrian to have passed in recent memory) means that he is at least seen as Syrian by his ancestral homeland.

But is he Syrian? He was raised in a white household by white parents and by and large seemed to have navigated in a predominantly white world (the nascent diversity of California in the 1970s not-withstanding). By all accounts he did not have a close relationship with his birth parents—he wasn’t really in touch with either one. And I can’t really find anything that suggests that Jobs was curious about his Syrian heritage, at least not curious enough that it would come up on a google search or appear in one of the many obits about his life that have been appearing in every magazine, newspaper, and blog.

I guess what I’m asking is, if race is a social construction—is ethnicity constructed as well? Can you really be Syrian if you were not raised Syrian? And particularly since Jobs, for all intents and purposes, appeared to navigate the world as a white man, is this, indeed what he was?

Of course, like everyone else, Jobs was so much more than just the sum of his race, ethnicity and gender. This is the man who wasn’t afraid to drop out of school and to take courses that appealed to him and to be a perfectionist. Most of all, it’s the words of his commencement address to Stanford University that I think is a great summation of what his life represented: Stay hungry, stay foolish. Great words for all of us to live by.