Archive for the 'discrimination' Category

Photograph

June 7, 2014

I spent a lot of time with another family while I was growing up, and after we adopted children, that relationship fell apart.

Years later, one of family members got in touch with me on the occasion of their marriage.  It seemed as if nothing had really changed, so I wished them well, declined the invitation (which I don’t think included our children), and sent a gift.

I included a family photo with the personal note I sent.

I got a note back sometime after the wedding that mentioned how they had used the photo in a presentation they had made during the festivities.

My kids are adopted, one through a closed domestic adoption, they were young when this use of the photo occurred, and I was accustomed to schools and extracurricular organizations asking permission to use photos of children.

I was taken aback by the use of the photo at the wedding.

I felt that my privacy had been invaded and I felt that the prevailing cultural norms had not been followed.  I felt that while our relationship had changed for the worse over our children (at the outset, when the children were newly adopted infants and toddlers), the wedding person was happy to use a photo of them, even against the children’s best interests, if it helped the wedding person with what they wanted to do.

On the other hand, I could see that the person probably had no clue about how it would feel to me, and that that was part and parcel of why there is no longer a close relationship.

For me, a big challenge in life is letting go of my apparently airbrushed versions of people, and to see them as they are.  It’s not that I condemn them for how they turn out to be, but on the other hand, I don’t owe people a relationship if I find it doesn’t work for me, especially if it causes me harm.

In this case, the issue falls under the heading, “I don’t know how to accept you in my life if you don’t accept my relationship with my children, if not the children themselves.”  In many cases it has felt as if I were being asked to collude with the relative or person I was friends with or teacher or neighbor against my child, to gang up with someone else against my child.  The answer is no.

I found myself discussing this issue with my internist at my annual check-up this spring, and he said he couldn’t do it either.  He’s a brisk and upbeat person, and had never experienced this himself, but he allowed himself to enter into what I was saying my world can be, and he could see why I handle things as I do.  That kind of acknowledgment I find helpful, not only because then the person isn’t asking me to do something I feel is harmful (and would require me to try to twist myself into some kind of emotional pretzel), but also because it allows me to move on more easily.  It’s not that I haven’t shared this experience before, and learned from others that it has happened to them, over adoption, interracial issues, etc., but somehow getting a little understanding from someone on the outside felt noteworthy.

Of course, it doesn’t provide a road map for going forward, but I try not to expect that from other human beings at this point in my life.

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Displaying pictures

May 3, 2014

With all the public discussion of Don Sterling’s dislike of his girlfriend’s display of pictures with black people, I found myself wondering how, in the aftermath, people who have engaged in similar attitudes (and the behaviors implementing them) felt about what they had done.

I am sorry my husband isn’t still alive to have seen this public discussion, I know how much this issue meant to him.

I see progress for the group, even if there is not amelioration for all individuals in private.

Helping

December 5, 2012

I wrote a comment just a little while ago about how many people seem disposed to help only those to whom they already feel some connection, and how factors other than need seem to be involved in the decision about whether or not (or how much) to help.

I thought I’d give an example here that sticks in my head about such issues.

I knew a woman who had moved to Arlington (the town where I live), with her husband and son, in the early 1960s.  They had a hard time arranging to buy a house in the town, they may even have ended up using a broker of some sort in order to complete a deal, after many deals had fallen through.  They were African American, and it was clear that sellers and real estate agents were impeding their purchasing on that, discriminatory, basis.  They were educated, well-spoken, soft-spoken, charming and friendly, funny, gainfully and professionally employed, etc.

She was a school teacher, her husband might have been one, too, I don’t remember.  They were also very wise and insightful people.  I knew them when they were elderly, and they were the sort of elderly people who inspire respect and admiration.  I remember Costella sat with Willy, not long before he died, so I could go run some errands.

Anyway, Costella told the story of how, not so long after they had managed to buy their home in town, there was a meeting in the church nearby about civil rights issues in the South.  One by one, local townspeople got up and made impassioned speeches on behalf of civil rights, and many wondered out loud in their speeches about what they could do to help.  Costella told of how she finally got up and told the group of how difficult it had been for her family to buy their home in town and how there was work to be done locally on civil rights issues.  She said, as she recounted what had happened, that her words were followed by complete silence.  She said, “You could have heard a pin drop.”

And she learned, people didn’t want to do what they actually could do, that there were other issues involved, including their wanting to feel good, look down on other people, etc.

Why people help others and under what circumstances is more complicated than the stories we tell ourselves.

Kids and parents

September 25, 2011

As I wrote in my comment to Tom Friedman’s column about wanting leadership in today’s Times, Jonas told me on Friday, in passing, how this kid and that kid and the other kid had told him while they were playmates in elementary school that their parents had told them they couldn’t be friends with him.  The full sentence was, “He told me his parents said he couldn’t be friends with me because I’m black.”  Jonas then went on to say how he didn’t think the kid himself came into this world thinking that way, how he thought it was taught to them by their parents, and on this subject Jonas displays no bitterness or anger (on other subjects I can detect some).  Maybe I need to note that there wasn’t anything in Jonas’s behavior that would have made him an unsuitable playmate at the time, and in fact other parents often volunteered to me how polite and well-behaved he was.

My surprise wasn’t that there was this bias, because that became apparent to me when Jonas got to middle school (for example, when his friends refused to walk with him to school the first day they attended middle school; by high school he reported that only the “druggies” were accepting of him), but that it started so early, that it came from “good” families who purported to have other values, and that it occurred in a town that displays banners about its inclusiveness; and that the parents would agree to play dates but tell their kid he couldn’t be friends with him.

And it’s not that I think my naivete is particularly instructive to anyone, but I put this experience out there to make the point that our society accepts a lot of pretext, pretending, hypocrisy, denial, two-tiered thinking, whatever we want to call it: we don’t do what we say and say what we do, and in fact, I have heard this praised as a form of sophistication.

I raise the issue now in part because it happened to come across my radar the other day and in part because maybe that’s the elephant in the room in Washington that is driving the destruction of our country, and we are all going to sit by and be too polite to even discuss the possibility.   Maybe it’s not about politics and re-elections and differences in philosophy but about racial bias.  How will we ever know?

Mood pyramid

August 5, 2011

My current theme in my interpretation of current events, or at least of how they come across in the reports of them, is that we are fascinated by the top of the pyramid and tend to disregard the base.

We talk about polarized politics in Washington and jobless ex-convicts in NYC, to take two examples, and act as if we can address that last, dramatic part of the situation by itself, the part that arrests our attention.  I suspect it’s more like putting brakes on a train, and that applying the intervention much earlier in the process is much more effective.  The anger and fear out of which the Tea Party seems to have emerged, our country’s continued dance with racial and ethnic discrimination — these I think lie somewhere in the background behind the drama of politicians making sharpened sound bites and behind the alarming statistics about unemployment among minority members with fewer credentials and the liability of a criminal record.

Our individual relationship, including contribution, to these larger social forces makes them seem to me a more obvious place to start in an effort to improve conditions, instead of merely wringing our hands on the sidelines as if there is nothing we can do to change things.  I am not altogether sure whence the anger and fear of the Tea Party and the folks who elected them, but with regard to jobless black and Latino ex-convicts, it seems to me that at least part of what is going on is that we in our society treat blacks and Latinos worse than we are willing to admit and then express surprise at these the  results.  If people can’t find acceptance in the mainstream culture and have their own contributions folded into it as equally valid components, why wouldn’t these people foster an alternative culture for themselves?  That’s at least the dynamic I’ve seen, blacks and other members of minority groups looking for their place in mainstream opportunities during their adolescence and being steered elsewhere, sometimes overtly and sometimes more subtly — and yes, some individuals have the resources to overcome that initial response to them, but some don’t and do what the mainstream (including as conveyed in our media and entertainment industries) tacitly, or worse, expects of them, like a self-fulfilling prophecy by proxy.
So, with regard to Mayor Bloomberg’s initiative, I’m thrilled with it and the positive attention it brings, but I hope it also inspires the public more generally to revise their attitudes towards blacks and Latinos, and whether or not they’ve been incarcerated.  And I am hoping that we can similarly identify why so many Americans are fearful, angry, and alienated enough to give rise to something like the behavior of the Tea Party congressional members, and then for us to address those issues at their source, as well.