I went to the Nebraska state capital for the “Families Belong Together” rally. In this time of heightened fear-mongering that may well lead to a surge in state crimes against humanity, I felt it was important to be counted, and to stand with my neighbors.
The crowd, I have to tell you, was overwhelmingly white. Even so, it was heartening to witness people of all ages, from children to grandparents, apparently united in our opposition to Trump’s family separation and detention policies. It was empowering to feel so unified against Trump’s increasingly brash white nationalist agenda.
But let’s ask ourselves–were we really united? Unfortunately, I didn’t get the impression that most of my good white neighbors at the rally see the Trump agenda in such racially charged terms. It sounded like many of my fellow protesters mainly felt morally outraged and dismayed. And justifiably so. But from what I heard and witnessed, many of them lack the political clarity that would have been evident had the crowd consisted of a majority of people of color. For example, the rallies I saw on the news in cities such as Oakland, Chicago, New York City, and Atlanta sounded quite a bit rowdier and angrier than the largely white rally I attended.
It’s tempting to believe that those of us who didn’t vote for him are all on the same team, just because we “oppose” Trump. But we don’t even analyze the problems posed by his administration in the same way. That’s part of the problem of organizing an effective resistance.
Because I live in the Heartland, I mingle with many kindhearted white people of conscience, every day. Yet few of them have a highly developed analysis of oppression, even though many of them no doubt see themselves as allies. I daresay they represent the majority of white Americans across this vast country. I mean, I don’t think most white Americans are overtly racist. But I do think, unless they are intimately involved with aware people of color on a regular basis, they have no clue what’s really going on in communities of resistance (or what some people call “minority” communities).
I think we all could benefit from having more politically aware friends of color with whom to discuss what’s going on. The more politically-conscious individuals from oppressed groups in our social networks, the more likely we will be able to understand the anger and anxiety growing among communities of resistance. If aware people of color are absent from our daily interactions, I doubt if we will ever develop political clarity about the ways white supremacy governs daily life.
Let me try to be even clearer: Most good people of conscience and of privilege just don’t–or can’t–see Trump as a straight up white nationalist. But most of the people of color I talk to do. That’s the divide. For a long time, even I didn’t want to see him that way. Many individuals (like my working class, adopted African American sons, and my vulnerable immigrant friends), know that he’s a racist. Especially those who aren’t buffered from the more blatant effects of racism, as I am. In discussions of the current immigration debate, I have to own the privilege I receive, for instance, being a light-skinned, English-speaking, non-Muslim, middle class professional, U.S. citizenship-bearing male.
People who live immersed in communities of resistance understand implicitly that Trump’s policies reinforce a white nationalist agenda. I mean, there’s a reason he is the champion of nationalists who feel victimized by the growing brown menace. Why is that so hard for us as adoptive parents (and for some of us as highly educated, professional transracial adoptees, for that matter) to understand? Because our comfort numbs us. Our privilege blocks us from breaking through to a heightened level of awareness, not to mention, a real sense of urgency.
If we are going to step up as allies, we all must learn to see Trump’s actions as a direct assault on parents who are simply trying to save their kids from dangerous situations in their home countries. They are under assault because they are poor, brown, and non-English-speaking. That’s classic American racism. Resisting oppression means refusing to go along with white supremacy, plain and simple. Resistance means refusing to take part in the roundup of “undesirables.” Resistance calls us to unite our voices to proclaim, “No!” to family separation.
But after the rallies are over, resistance calls us to take up the ideological work of controlling the narrative. We don’t have to let the authorities of the white nation-state tell the story the way they want to. We can reject their dominant discourse. We can redirect it deliberately, and tell the story in our own words, and more importantly, in ways that reflect the concerns of the communities in resistance of our loved ones.
To allow the authorities, such as attorney general Jeff Sessions, to talk about the so-called “border” only in terms of law and order supports the dominant paradigm. To let them get away with talking about immigration mainly as a legal issue gives too much power to the white nation-state.
We can teach ourselves and our neighbors to take the side of the oppressed. We can learn to think of what’s going on as a humanitarian crisis. It’s not merely a question of politely standing in line to wait one’s turn to enter the United States “legally.” As the author, Mary Pipher, pointed out at the Nebraska rally, I’m pretty sure each of us would break the law –especially an unjust one–if it meant we could save the life of our child.
To empathize only with the suffering children, and not include their parents, is not resistance. Of course we want to take them into our arms and comfort them. It shouldn’t be surprising that many of us want to take them away from those awful cages and bring them into our homes. As North Americans, we tend to see ourselves as the great saviors of the downtrodden. The poem on the Statue of Liberty bolsters this identity: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore…” Our national identity as Americans remains wrapped up in sentimental notions of rescue and refuge. Focusing on the heart-wrenching images of suffering children feeds into our national savior complex.
I bought into it, and adopted needy children from foster care. So, I’m not pointing a finger at anyone, nor am I sitting in judgment of parents who open their homes to vulnerable kids. I’m trying to expose the way our good intentions, as parents–our well-meaning desires to do the right thing–are continually manipulated by what many of us have come to recognize as the racist child removal / foster care / adoption industry.
Resistance calls us to support family reunification. But reuniting the children of detained parents will be a messy process. Foster parents and adoptive parents who humbly received one of the children from the current crisis may find themselves in court, down the road. As more and more of these cases surface in the news, it will be a difficult moral dilemma to know whose side to take.
Will we stand with comparatively privileged foster parents and adoptive parents who were only trying to help? Or will we stand with the traumatized and deported migrant parents whose kids were ripped away from them, after they came to the U.S. seeking asylum?
Can foster and adoptive parents claim ignorance? Can we rely on leniency in the court of world opinion? Or will we be held liable for our part as accomplices in the historic, yet ongoing, drama of child removal and family separation at the hands of the white nation-state?
Resistance asks us to understand how the good intentions of well-meaning Americans have been used, time and again, by the self-appointed social engineers. It gives me no pleasure to point out any of this history of child removal as a tool of social engineering. I’m simply trying to make amends for the role I have played in this shameful national tragedy.
I’m trying to hold myself accountable for any damage I may have caused, as an unwitting dupe of the system I once enthusiastically supported, and which I now view as fundamentally oppressive, and therefore, immoral.
I ask myself: How do I want to be remembered, as a participant in the historic legacy of ongoing child removal efforts that helped make America what it is today? It is easy to get caught up in the feel-good validation I receive, especially from other people of privilege, for being a noble rescuer. But now that I’ve started to see our nation’s history through the lens of child removal, it’s hard to close my eyes to the horror and the exploitation of vulnerable families that is suddenly obvious.
Paulo Freire warned us that conscientization was painful. The process of consciousness raising takes a heavy toll. Accepting responsibility for our actions, and securing liberation for ourselves and our loved ones, is not going to be easy.
But resistance calls us to shake off the shackles of ignorance and denial. Resistance requires us to be brave, and to stop making this about ourselves as foster parents and adoptive parents. Real resistance asks us to actually sacrifice for what we believe in, and live out the social justice we say we hold dear.