Tag Archives: Social Privilege

ABM & DAI – The Sequel

ETA: Apparently the link to this piece on the DAI site is no more. I’ve decided to post the original here! Enjoy!

Hope and I are alike but we are also very different.

We are both black. We both have families from the Southeast of the U.S. We both love music but completely different genres. We both are talented but in very different ways. We both wear our hair naturally —  in its kinky, coily state. And that’s about it.

Most folks who come into contact with us assume that I birthed her; after all, we are a same-race adoptive family. Folks assume that because I’m educated, then Hope must love school and do well in school. She hates it. Folks assume that Hope is a young, social justice militant like her mom. She’s not. Folks assume that Hope is and always has been comfortable with being in a middle-class home. She’s not but she’s trying to be.

It’s these differences that spark a bit of conflict in our lives. To sort of quote the late author Bebe Moore Campbell, Hope’s black ain’t like mine. When Hope was placed with me at the age of 12 (she’s now 15), we struggled with many things in the early months. After the difficult adjustment episodes passed, we began to realize that our concept of what it meant to be “black” was vastly different.

I grew up in a stable home with both parents who valued education. My mom stayed home with my siblings and I until we were all in school. We took road trip vacations. My father worked overtime to make it all work. Things were tight but never unstable.

Hope never knew that kind of stability, and she didn’t know many if any, black folks who did. For her, blackness was associated with class — poverty, some homelessness and just getting back economically. She did take a few trips to visit grandparents and extended family in her early years but that was about it. She attached those experiences with being black rather than being poor so her concept of blackness was much narrower than mine. She was happy to be parented by someone who shared her skin color but our experiences were so vastly different that shared color was undermined by class difference. During our first year, she told me it was like I wasn’t even black.

Yeah, she snatched my black card.

Shortly after our adoption was finalized, Hope’s extended birth family found us. We embarked on a relationship with them. Hope began to tell me stories of her early childhood visiting her family and the things they used to do. It was something real and tangible, and it wasn’t just a familiar family lens that Hope viewed these memories through. These were her people and they were a version of black she could relate to.

Only it was different now. Hope had traveled a little. She had a passport. She was seeing a bigger broader world. Hope was solidly middle class and she was learning to lean into her economic privilege.

By the time we went to visit Hope’s family, awkwardness settled in. The rush of emotions was overwhelming — grief, joy, happy memories, sad memories, and anger.  It was a lot to process so the conflict between race and class wasn’t initially clear.

But on the long drive home, it certainly became a point of discussion. Hope shared her observations. Our families were very different but also very similar — supportive, loving and encouraging with mutual core values. But we lived differently. Hope was proud of the things we’re able to do but she questioned if her birth family could do those things too. She questioned her grandmother’s living situation. She wondered what life would have been like if she had experienced a kinship adoption.

She tried to reconcile this race/class thing. It was hard for her; it still is several years later. I kept saying that black folks come from all walks of life; there are still some shared experiences, but yeah, this class thing can make race look and maybe feel different.

Our relationship with Hope’s birth family is awkward. Some of our early “grown folks” conversations about Hope explored fighting the finalized adoption and who would have access. I was sympathetic but I was also clear. I welcomed a relationship, but given Hope’s history with her family of origin, I would bury them in court. I’m somewhat shamed by that threat now. Privilege allowed me to make it. Looking back, I now feel like a snobby jerk.

Transracial families aren’t the only ones who may have to struggle with issues of race. Because class issues can overlap race and racial identity so much, those of us in same-race adoptions may also struggle with healthy racial identity development when our children move from one social class to another.

Hope is at an age where she’s trying to create her own identity. She also chooses to align herself and her friendships with all non-black peers. Certainly, there may be a lot of reasons for that, but the class conflict and how that shapes the way Hope sees herself plays a big role in her relationships, including and especially those with her birth family.

Class and privilege shape as much of Hope and my relationship with her birth family as any of the biological connections. We are all a work in progress. As an adoptive parent, I realize how important it is for Hope to have a relationship with her birth family. It’s important for me too. It’s my goal to make it all accessible for this big family of mine. This means teaching my daughter to learn to be aware of her privilege, how to prevent it from negatively affecting her relationships, and finally, how to use her economic privilege for good. It’s another set of lessons and values on a mess of healing, course corrections and personal and family growth, but important, so like with all the other stuff, we’ll do it.


I am so excited to share the second part of my series with The Donaldson Adoption Institute! In this post I discuss how same race adoptive families of color can also struggle with racial identity issues.  Sometimes class and race issues are socially tightly knit together.

For our children coming from hard places, becoming a part of a new family is a paradigm shift.  They may be struggling with big emotions like grief and fear; they are learning to be a part of a family that is likely a lot more functional that what they understand…there are new people, new schools, new everything. Often times there are also more resources.

My daughter Hope had a very different understanding of what it meant to be black before meeting me. It’s been a challenge for her to reconcile that black folk are not a monolith. Whether she or I want to admit it or not, the truth is that Hope is a solidly middle-class kid now. Most of the time she seems comfortable with that, but in this Dondalson post I talk about when it’s not quick so easy for her.

Again, I’m delighted that the organization thought my voice was important and valuable. I’m totally jazzed that the good folks there have decided to feature my story as in honor of Black History Month.

Here is the link to the second of my two-part series over on the Donaldson Adoption Institute blog.  Be sure to stop by their Facebook page and hit them up on Twitter too!




The Privilege of Attachment

I never once thought about my attachment to my family. It never occurred to me that there was a word for the inherent trust I felt that they would take care of me. It never occurred to me that there was a word for our mutual affection. It never once occurred to me that the unspoken elements of our relationship even needed a descriptive word.

I know now how privileged I was, and am, to have that experience.

Wikipedia defines privilege as “the sociological concept that some groups of people have advantages relative to other groups. The term is commonly used in the context of social inequality, particularly with regards to social class, race, age, sexual orientation, gender, and disability.”

I’ve written about social privilege before, as well as other social diversity dimensions I’ve tripped over on my adoption journey. Chalk attachment up as another privilege of intact biological families that are, at least, reasonably functional.

I now know what it is like to not have the privilege of attachment with my daughter. I mean, we’re working on it and I would say we are more attached than not. But oy, it is tough.

I can’t and wouldn’t speak for Hope, but the range of emotions I feel as I try to form a healthy attachment with my daughter are powerful, overwhelming and, honestly, often unpleasant. When it gets rough, which it has been lately, I spend a lot of time willing myself not to miss my pre-Hope life, willing myself not to be resentful, willing myself not to just practice avoidance. I often have to force myself to spend even more time with my daughter because I know that’s what she needs even though none of my emotional needs will be met…not one.  I have to swallow my feelings when my feelings are hurt because our attachments are weak and because, as a teen, Hope’s narcissism game is real. A lot of the time, I feel emotionally starved.

Dang. Yappy and I have a stronger attachment, I think. Well, I know he does…#separationanxiety.

I cry. A lot. I go for walks. A lot. I cuddle with Yappy. I go to therapy…more frequently than we go to family therapy.

I try to check my emotions. I try to curb my anger. I try to hold back my tears, because well, when my emotions betray me and Hope sees the outburst, it only serves to push her further away. I actually find that honest emotion from me that is not anything but sparkles and rainbows is detrimental to our relationship. That is an enormous burden to shoulder; it’s heavy and it’s painful.

At nearly 43, I can still sit on the couch with my mom or dad and curl up and put my head on their shoulders or lap and feel loved and safe. Hope doesn’t and won’t do that. It is like she can’t, not just that she won’t. It is so painfully rare for her to just run up and hug me, a long, lingering hug. Those moments are so incredibly precious. I don’t want them to end because at least for that moment, I’m really mom and I can save her world. I feel like my mothering is making a difference. Those moments are rare.

Don’t get me wrong, we have come so very far on our journey. The reality though is that we struggle with attachment. We don’t enjoy that privilege. It is something we are fighting for; something I know we both want even if we can’t always articulate it. But it really is something that we don’t have in large supply.

I am hopeful that we’ll get there. In the grand scheme we haven’t been at this mom-daughter thing very long. We’re not even 2 years old yet. We’re barely toddlers. It is a journey. Wishing for a speedier process is like being 7 and wishing I could get a driver’s license. Not going to happen.

I am thankful for how far we have come, but I can’t help wishing that we were able to move things along and that both of us, me and Hope, could make and sustain the emotional connection that we both desperately long for. I think that is probably my greatest wish as I begin considering my wishes for 2016.

Privilege, Adoption and Melissa Harris-Perry

So, I’ve been chewing on the recent joke debacle involving Melissa Harris-Perry, her round table guests, Mitt Romney’s recently adopted Black child and the tear filled apology MHP delivered this weekend.

Don’t know what the drama’s about?  Peep the view below.


So, let me disclose a few things upfront.

First, politically, I’m pretty liberal.  I used to lean so far left that I might tip over, but I’ve found myself flirting with being more moderate in recent years.   That said: I’m not a fan of Mitt Romney.

Second, professionally I work on diversity issues.  I met Melissa years ago before she blew up on MSNBC.  We share colleagues, and we share a mentor in common.  I appreciate her social critiques.  She’s a smart cookie.  It’s awesome to see another young woman of color doing big things and wrestling with big issues—and doing that ish on national TV!  You. Go. Girl.

Third, I LOVE that song, “One of these things is not like the others…” I’ve been known to use it in my teaching.

Fourth, I’m unabashedly irreverent when it comes to issues of diversity.  I have good/bad days on issues of race, sexuality, religion and the list goes on and on.  It find it absurd that as a diversity professional I have so much job security because people can’t seem to just get over their ish about issues of difference.  I find it appalling that since Obama became president my work has actually become harder than it was 10 years ago because people want to wax philosophical about “wanting their America back.”  I find it disturbing that we could play that game “…in bed” with some of the stupid things people say, just instead of saying “in bed” we might substitute “from the Black guy” or “because of the lesbian” or “from the Muslim” or “because of the poor people.” Yeah, I said that.

So, now that the disclosures have been made, what do I really think about the clip shown above?

Truth be told, not much.

I think it was used to make a lot of political hay on both sides. I have a lot of thoughts about what wasn’t said in the clip but what seems to be a part of the narrative about transracial adoption and privilege.

We live in a world that spins on privilege.  Don’t know what privilege is?  Peggy McIntosh’s Unpacking the Knapsack of White Privilege is a good place for you to do some foundational reading on racial privilege.  Having privilege is having social capital that grants you ease in a navigating through our social and institutional structures.  Privilege can be based on race, gender, class, religion, sexuality, all sorts of characteristics.  You can be privileged in some areas of your life and not privileged in others.  Some might say that being both Black and a woman, I lack some social privilege.  I know that I have felt not privileged or even equal at times because I am both Black and female.  But I’m educated; I am middle class; I live in a prominent city; I am straight; I am Christian; English is my first language and I am a native born US citizen.

I’ve got privilege for days because my degrees give me social credibility; I can afford a nice lifestyle and have choices about where to live and how to educate Hope, I live in a city that affords me more choices than some other places; I am not personally affected by laws that prohibit LGBT folks from marrying; I practice a faith that some folks think is the only one that matters; no one asks me to repeat things because of an accent that is something other than the traditionally Southern dialect that I sometimes slip into, and I have a US passport easily acquired by producing my “Virginia is For Lovers” birth certificate.

Except for the times when the Black thing and the woman thing are problems for people, life is pretty good, right?  Pretty much.  (I’m still wondering if I’m in a Mitt Romney “binder full of women” somewhere!)

The Romneys are privileged in many ways that also matter in our society (I know some of us Christians can give the Mormons some shade, but hey, they’re still Christian).  Some no doubt twisty road brought some members of their family to the decision to adopt, and they adopted a Black child.  I think it’s awesome.  Yeah, I caught some feelings and threw some side eye when I heard the lovely little baby’s name meant “dark one” or black in Gaellic (um, yeah…), but it’s really none of my damn business.  I wish them well.  I thought the picture was charming, and yeah, I’m curious what Mittens thought when he first got the news that his kids were adopting a Black child.  <shrug>

Do I think the family will have to navigate some issues in terms of racial identity? Probably.  Do I think Mitt is a racist?  No, but I don’t think he gets the concept of privilege at all—this adoption might give him a taste.  Do I think he and the rest of the Romney brood are trying to figure out how this thing is going to work out?  Probably.  Do I think they are all stretching like the rest of us adoptive parents?  Yep.  There’s just some stuff on this adoption journey that I think privilege can’t buffer.  Make that a lot of stuff.

I think that the narrative of White families of privilege adopting Black children is glamorized.  I commented on another blog recently about how few People of Color (POC) I see in adoption promotional media.  We’re out here, but I think that the privilege of race frequently marginalizes us out of the adoption narrative.  Do I think that the class privilege is real for a lot of these White adoptive families?  Not as much as I used to.  Admittedly, I certainly see privilege among my fellow POCs who have chosen to adopt, myself included.  Do I think that POCs often sit back and question why White families adopt Black children?  Yep, and I’ve been curious as well.  Do I think that we all wonder about the social implications with respect to racial identity and personal development?  Yep.  It all seems and feels so complicated.   A lot of times it is complicated.

Socially, we typically don’t like things that are different. We simply don’t–it requires us to stretch and stretching can be uncomfortable. Seeing families that are not what we expect makes us uncomfortable. Reading narratives that are different from what we think it should be make us uncomfortable. What do we typically do with unavoidable discomfort? Often we joke, make light of it and fall into a ridiculous denial of the issues at hand. That is when our humanity is vulnerable and visible, and we are most likely to fail in living up to our potential.

The MHP story was just a tiny pebble on a beach of rocks related to perceptions about adoption, race, class, with a dash of politics on the side.

I did stumble across something else here.  I realized as this all played out that same race and biological families have some social privilege that adoptive families don’t.  Certainly same race adoptions can fly under the radar and acquire assumed bio-privilege (They can “pass”).  But transracial adoptions?  Nope, it’s too obvious and too different.  Had little baby Romney been White, none of this would ever have happened because he wouldn’t have stood out in the big family picture with Grandpa Mitt.  I should also note that had Grandpa Mitt been a left-leaning Democrat this probably never would’ve happened either; Democrat social privilege might’ve led to a celebration of sorts that played into the “See, the Democrats really like us!  They really, really like us” narrative.  Sigh.

Does this make MHP or her guest jokesters racist?  I think they were uncomfortable figuring out how to reconcile a family led by someone who struggled with garnering Black folks to vote for him with said politico now having a Black grandkid. Hell, I think it’s a bit ironic too <shrug>.   But I don’t think that’s racist (a term that gets thrown around wayyyyy too much if you ask me). The episode showed discomfort with the perceived irony about the mishmash of all kinds of social privilege being turned upside down.

So peep the apology:

And Melissa trips over this particular issue of biological privilege in her apology.  I think she realized it when she looked at her own multiracial family and saw the hypocrisy of giggling about a Black child bouncing on the knee of White guy who appears to be excited about his family.  I’m sure some of those kinds of pictures are in Melissa’s house somewhere, but the privilege of biological family wasn’t something she was consciously aware of.  I’m not sure she still has a name for it, but make no mistake—this was still about privilege.

So there’s my dime store commentary of the Harris-Perry/Romney Joke episode.   Privilege is real, and it’s everywhere, even in adoption.  I wish my colleague well and I wish the Romneys well.


Incidentally, I thought joke about the family picture looking like the GOP convention was funny.  Yeah, I did; sue me.  Did you watch the convention?  I did.  I even sat through the foolishness of old Clint Eastwood talking to a chair for an hour.  I swear I felt like the networks showed Condi Rice like 50-11 times in hopes that no one noticed that there weren’t that many people of color in attendance.   Where is the outrage about that?  Why we didn’t we, in critical mass, attend a convention with a platform that didn’t resonate or seem terribly inclusive?  Hmmm, there’s a quandary for you…<pursed lips, shaking head, low hum>

Yeah, that last bit was some shade.

Oh, if I could bang out 1500 words at a time on my dissertation…smh.

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