Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Attempts at building a diverse community

One of the key points I’ve taken from my adoption related reading is that “love isn’t enough” when it comes to being a tri-racial family. Turo is black; we are not. And this raises a whole host of issues/challenges/considerations as we navigate our lives together.

One of the reasons we moved back to our Midwestern college town was that we felt it would be a positive place to be an Ethiopian/white/Puerto Rican family. When we’re out and about, we usually see people of various races/ethnicities. Turo has a Black doctor and a Black dentist. Our neighborhood is fairly diverse. According to 2010 Census data, our zipcode is 65% white, 17% Black. There are two African American families on block and I often see Indian, Asian, Muslim and other Black families when we’re out and about. This is a plus. The downside? We don’t really know any of these people. Granted, the Black families on our street don’t have young kids, which would likely help the situation. The closest relationship we have is with the African American man three houses from us who goes for a daily walk when the weather is nice. If we’re in the front yard, Turo will engage this man in a conversation. However, after an outing downtown where we spent some time talking with Gary (an African American guitar player who sings on various corners), Turo asked our neighbor if he played the guitar. I panicked. Does Turo not have enough exposure to Black men that they “all look alike” to him? Or would he have asked this question to anyone we encountered this particular afternoon? This neighbor and his wife have raised three kids in this community. I would love to pick their brains about raising a Black boy in our town. How does one bring this up?

Last weekend our city had an African American heritage festival. Turo and I headed downtown to check it out. The highlights for Turo were playing the various percussion instruments for sale and buying a bubble gun (or as I am calling it “bubble machine”). I don’t think it even registered to him that there were more people who looked like him than looked like me. But I noticed how the men with whom we spoke, talked with Turo. And when we have these types of conversations, it makes me realize how important it is for Turo to have African American men in his life. I want him to have mentors he can talk with. Who can help him develop his racial identity. Who can help him address/think about issues that come with being Black in our country.

There have not been a lot of black families in the classes/kid events we’ve attended (unless it’s an African American themed event). I even tried to do storytime at the library in the neighboring town (which has a larger African American population), but we were the only people who attended the two times we went. One place I’ve been pleased with the diversity is at the child care at our gym. The staff make-up is about half African American and half White. And Turo usually is not the only kid of color there.

Even our circle of friends is pretty homogenous. Totally awesome and open (love you all), but still pretty White. I did try to befriend the African American mom and her bi-racial daughter at our music class, but we last saw them at Halloween. I also went to an African American authors’ book club at the library at the above mentioned neighboring town in an attempt to expand my social network. I really enjoyed the conversation that these mainly older Black women had about the book we read, but I also wondered if I was invading a special space they had created. I’ve gone back and forth on this. It’s an African American authors book club not book club for African Americans. It’s in a public library. If they wanted to keep it intimate, they’d hold it at someone’s home, right? I read the book for May. Yet when the night came for the meeting, I stayed home.

Diversity was a huge factor in the preschool search. I visited several schools in which Turo would’ve been the only African American student. They were quickly ruled out. It came down to the Montessori school with a handful of black students and the religiously affiliated school with the African American teacher and a more diverse student body. I loved the idea of Turo having a Black teacher, but I also was drawn to the curriculum and methods of Montessori. The second school’s structure was fine, but it didn’t have the spark of the Montessori. In the end, I pushed for the Montessori. I just feel like Turo will thrive in an environment that really pushes discovery and creativity (plus they have yoga and Spanish, how great is that?) Yet, I think back to things I’ve read arguing that diversity should trump academics and wonder if Turo should be going to the school where he’d be in the majority?

I did attend the African American Parents group for our school district in April. I was the only White parent there (there were a couple of white teachers in attendance too). The discussion mainly centered on upcoming budget cuts and how this would impact African American students. After the meeting, several dads introduced themselves. They told me how they had grown up in this district and how many of the same issues they faced continue to impact black students, especially black boys. I’ve been passionate about educational equality long before Turo was in the picture, but now it is personal. I left feeling positive about future involvement with this group, especially once Turo is actually in school. The co-chair of the group (not the one I first e-mailed) seemed nice and approachable. I’m trying to get up the nerve to e-mail him to ask him for some support/advice about finding resources for Turo (like sports teams, classes, etc. that may have a larger African American enrollment than the groups I’ve been finding).

This is one of the major parenting things I really don’t want to f- up. Yet, I will. Hopefully, screw ups and all, Turo will always know I’m in his corner, advocating for him every step of the way.


  1. You're working hard, girl! No doubt in my mind that your Turo will always know you're there for him....

  2. You are so is a lot. I am right there with you looking for diversity and exposure to other families, and in our community it is hard. Making the effort and hoping for the best.

  3. Oh, I could have written this post. In fact I planned to, and then I didn't. Right now the people who live behind us are AA. When we moved in the Dad was super friendly. But they were in the middle of a divorce. He moved out. The mother goes to EXTREMES not to even say hello - like, crazy, uncomfortable extremes. In our new house, all the neighbors seem to be white.
    The pre-school search was horrendous. How can such a diverse town have such segregated pre-schools? I just want them to have Teacher Suzi and go to school with Sid the Science Kid.
    I think you need to keep going to the book-club - if you are interested. Even if some of the women find it strange in the beginning. Reverse segregation (that is not a thing, but hopefully you know what I mean) is not acceptable either.
    Let's all build a commune. Right now I would vote for Il Pan's house or The Lost Planet - they seem to have the coolest places! Watch out ladies, we are moving in.

  4. The reason you moved is the biggest reason we are moving. We also have a Tri family; White, Hispanic, Black.

    I'd love to talk to you about Dallas though. I spent a big part of my youth there - in Irving - in schools that were incredibly diverse/majority non-White - I have my own perceptions about it that I'd love to compare to yours.

    I'm not sure about the book club. I think it's acceptable to have an all AA attendee book club, even or especially if its just formed by virtue of those interested all being from one demographic. That said if the nature of the club is public/educational, you obviously have the right to attend and in so doing alter the demographic.

    If they were purposely trying to oust you from the public book club or exhibiting overtly prejudicial behavior, that's a different story. Why don't you ask one or more of those women how they feel about it? Is that possible given the circumstances? Would you feel comfortable? Do they know your son is Black?

    What strikes me is this situation is exactly what the author of Harlow's Monkey spoke eloquently and cogently about in one of her long-ago posts; [paraphrasing] that as trans-racial adoptive parents we have to learn to straddle worlds. We have to learn that opposing racism in its various forms may earn us enemies or disdain from the majority, and yet opposing racism and trying to advocate for the specific race/ethnic group of our child will not necessarily, and probably won't, earn us acceptance in that race/ethnic group. That we have to learn to keep advocating even if we are rejected by the very group we advocate for.

    Although that book club sounds very interesting, I deeply admire your interest/effort/attendance, and it's something I think I'd love the opportunity to attend too, I'd still feel the same way as you.

    Just like I have this same issue with whether I would actively attend an AA church. I feel to some extent like we'd (my family) be crashing someone's party and, although not the only reason why we don't go to church, that is something that alone keeps me from pushing my family to go to an AA church even if to expose Oakley to an AA church. I feel like if increasingly several families that looked like mine frequently showed up at any AA church, that church to some extent ceases to be an AA churches. And it's not my job, purposed or inadvertent, in the grand scheme of trying to be an ally that opposes racism - overt and/or systemic - to convert AA churches, traditional venues of spirituality for a group historically subjugated/segregated, to a more diverse crowd. AA churches aren't the anti-diversity, they aren't equality's foe and I don't think that all-AA-attendee book clubs are either. They certainly aren't the same thing - the book club and AA churches - but there is a nature of similarity. All I'm saying is I consider these things in my thoughts as to whether I'd attend something that is all AA. Everything is situation dependant and we of course want Oakley to have more than ample opportunity to spend time with peers and role models who look like him (which is why we're moving, although moving isn't going "fix" all these situations in terms of making our family's path a cakewalk).

    I'd love to read other people's opinions on this.

  5. S.F.M. - A compound would be great since then we could discuss these issues in a lovely setting while enjoying cookies and wine.

    L.C. - Dallas was a very diverse city (although pretty segregated), but there was something about the overall vibe of the place that didn't really fit us. My circle of friends there, however, was a bit more diverse than it is here (which was a bummer to leave). When I went to the library book club, I didn't share about being an adoptive mama. I did, however, tell the parent group I had adopted from Ethiopia. It felt like necessary info in the second situation, but not as much for the first. I wasn't the only new person at the book club either, so that made it feel a little less exclusive.

    Turo's future elementary school has a sizable African American population, so I'm hoping that this will help us expand our circle of friends. It seems easier to meet people when you have some common ground - like a school. But that is still two years away, so I feel like I need to make some progress before then.

    I've thought about the church thing too. I'm not a religious gal, so I feel like I would totally be a "cultural tourist" (read that once - wish I could remember where) if showed up at church with Turo. I feel like if I were super Christian then it might be more appropriate to find an African American church because we'd at least have the faith part in common.

    I assumed it would be easier in our liberal college town to create a diverse social circle for our family. Over the last two years I've come to realize that I'm going to work a bit harder to make that happen and am feeling a bit lost as to how to do that.