Young woman holding anti-racist sign

On Being an Anti-Racist White Mom

The Atlanta shootings

It’s been a few weeks since the news broke about the shootings at 3 spas in the Atlanta area. Watching this unfold on my TV, sitting in my Atlanta suburban home, I was confounded. Now…so many days later…I still am.

Was the shooter racist? Was this a hate crime? The news media endlessly blares these questions while social media pundits seek the soundbite that proves their point. For me, this all goes much deeper. For my family, it is personal. Our family was formed through transracial adoption and our adult daughter has special developmental needs due to her early trauma and neglect. We live at the intersectionality of race, gender, trauma, and special needs.

Here is what I know

I know, that as a white woman, I have more power to change minds and even systems than people of color have, especially women of color. When white people talk about racism, the following things are often true:

  • We have thought less about race because we’re not confronted with it every day. Our features do not mark us as “different.” No one comments on how our white skin makes us “stand out” in a crowd.
  • We don’t think about our power and privilege because for us, this is simply how it is. If we only see the world through our white lens, we don’t recognize the persistent messages society sends that races other than our own are somehow unworthy, less deserving, “less than.” We need to step outside our perspective and look at the world through a new-to-us lens.
  • We possess the power to change things. If I’ve learned anything during quarantine, it’s that white people MUST do more than declare ourselves “not racist.” We must be anti-racist. Equality happens when people in power give power to those without it. We need to acknowledge the power differential and work toward equality and equity.

Listen to adoptees

Sadly, I’ve read blogs and news articles from Asian Americans, and of special interest to me, Asian-born adoptees, about how invisible Asians feel in this country. Stereotypically seen as the “good minority,” Asians are often triangulated between whites and Blacks. Yikes! More than one adoptee has written about how even their parents–usually white–fail to acknowledge their race, much less have meaningful conversations about it or work to become anti-racist themselves. Some adoptees did not hear from family after the shootings, when reaching out would have meant the world. These young adults know all too well the many ways, both large and small, that our culture shows being white is not just “the norm,” it is “the best.”

Back to Atlanta

The shooter in Atlanta claims that race did not motivate his crimes. He claims that he wanted to rid himself of the urges caused by his sexual addiction. (Admittedly I’m skeptical of this claim–most people with addictions do not become mass killers.) I think there’s something very telling here, however, something I admit to wrestling with myself. I don’t believe the shooter (or perhaps his family, community, or many white Americans) even SEE the racism that lies at the heart of this tragedy. He truly DOES NOT SEE that race had anything to do with it. His very act of targeting massage/spa workers at these specific businesses HAS a racial bias, but he, like most white Americans, has probably never thought about this.

Take a second to think about the terms “massage parlors” and “sex trafficking.” Do images of Asian women come to mind? If so, why? That’s what’s insidious about racism–it’s not just a person, or a speech act. It is a culture, a system, a way of life. The majority of us are “not racists,” in any of the overt, typically understood ways. Yet we gloss over the racial bias in our thoughts and systems. What are actually biases, we see as facts. We don’t question why we’d envision Asian women in these scenarios or what actions this envisioning should prompt us to take. Yet becoming anti-racist requires us to do just that.

Becoming an anti-racist mom

Where does that leave me, the white mom of an Asian daughter? It leaves me deep in contemplation and conversations. I am afraid for my daughter and for all the Asian Americans who feel targeted as violence against them spreads. I cannot be silent about this, even if I make mistakes in what I do and say. I truly believe that we can do better as a country, as a community, and especially as parents. With the help of people like TSS keynote speaker Ingrid Cockhren, we need to keep learning, to search out our own biases (yes, you have them too!) and then work through them, one by one, however long it takes. We also need to call them out in others, and we need to stop passing them on.

Those who don’t have voice or power need us to give them ours. That is my anti-racist commitment. May it be yours as well.



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