When you are a part of a marginalized group, you learn early on that the norm is white unless otherwise stated. You learn a language that includes sign posts that hip you that the space is not white owned or dominated.
Take for instance the American Medical Association and the National Medical Association. The AMA is race-neutral, which is a super kind way of saying white, while the NMA is a group that represents docs of African descent. The latter is going to include conversations very specifically about people like me—both professionally and medically. Those conversations will happen in the AMA, but not at the level of detail they will within the safe confines of NMA.
“National” is often a sign post for those of us who are not white, and we need those spaces. You want to know why?
Well, because sometimes being in spaces where white is the default norm is hazardous to our mental and emotional wellbeing. The micro and macro-agressions. The casual racism. The casual over-familiarity. The defensiveness. The “not all white people…” statements. The folks who take our information, repackage it and profit from it as though it was original content. The “why is it always about race with you people” or “I’m just a part of the human race” or my personal favorite, “I don’t see race at all.” #Iaintclear
And if I or people like me try to engage, the resulting triggered fragility can simply spin out of control, leaving those of us who are “other” to feel abandoned, hurt, lonely, and demonized as the mean, angry person who attacked some nice well-meaning white person. Oh, we mad, we are mad.
When I started my journey, silly and naïve, I sought support in various places, both on-ground and online. I often found that in both places I was the lonely,only or one of very few.
I am constantly self-assessing and checking my need for self-care with respect to race because I work in the diversity and inclusion space professionally. I thought I would do that and handle whatever came my way in the adoption space.
What I found was one of the least diverse spaces I have ever voluntarily joined. I felt like there were so many ways I didn’t fit—I was black, single, increasingly non-religious, adopting an older kid and living in a super urban area. I know I’m not alone, but boy there are times when I click into or walk into a space looking for support and the first thing I have to do emotionally is put my shield up.
How am I supposed to get support when I feel like I have to arm myself against the supporters? It often just doesn’t work and is an exercise in wasted time and emotional energy.
Yesterday, I wrote about being invisible in Adoptionland, but other times, my presence is seen but only as a source of information, not as an equal in receiving support. I’ve found myself just withdrawing at times because I felt I was being asked to contribute to well-meaning folks who want to be good parents, but who didn’t see me as someone struggling with similar issues in adoption.
Marginalization is so pervasive in our lives.
So, I lurk. I go to support groups and don’t say much as much as I used to. I try to hit the like button sometimes in online spaces. I get really picky about where I want to use my voice and how to use it strategically. I’m not just posting or commenting all willy-nilly. I have to tailor my response so that it’s palatable, non-threatening, and/or not too angry. I make sure I put the word “some” in front of “white folks” so that I don’t trigger someone into going into an “All Lives” rant. I have to brace myself for the comment that challenges the factual recounting of my lived experience. I have to go take a short walk before responding so that I can keep people at the keyboards and tables when I do respond. I have to keep my wits about me because one wrong comment and my view point is just discarded like this morning’s gum that was chewed for over two hours.
Speaking in white spaces is exhausting. It’s just requires physical and emotional capital that is sometimes too much, and it doesn’t always payoff.
I often read things online or hear things in person and wonder, is it worth the cost to respond? Nah, I could be teaching Hope to improve her checkers game instead. Or just picking my toenails, you know, Hey, I could get in my car and drive around hoping not to get pulled over by cops!
I could just be doing something else productive.
There are so few signposts in Adoptionland to let me know I am welcome and that my voice is valued. I watch the reactions to the comments made by other people of color, and I try to support them, but I also really, really monitor the reactions to their posts.
I wonder if things will get heated because feelings get hurt. Will someone get chastised or worse, banned?
I wonder would I have more fun and get more out of watching dumb pet videos. #probably
So, I silently lurk in the back of the room or behind my avatar, no doubt with others. I’ve already got enough on my plate as a single mom to an older adoptee struggling to live beyond her history of trauma.
I don’t need the drama of being shouted down in spaces when I’m seeking support.
So often, this space is my only safe space in Adoptionland, and I had to create it for myself. That’s saying something.
So, it’s just too much and it’s so much easier to stay silent.