Family reunification & resistance

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.

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Get over your denial

None of us wants to believe the stats. It can feel too painful and demoralizing to admit the truth. But when our sons and brothers know from first-hand experience how bad it is out there, and we do not believe them or stand with them, then we become part of the problem.

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No wonder there is still a widening racial divide in the United States. People who are on intimate terms with African Americans understand the sad reality, while the majority has no clue just how hostile things can feel for black boys and men.

The appalling treatment and blatant disrespect shown to black males, particularly to the young, may not be visible to you personally. But talk to a typical African American boy or young man, and he can tell you just how often abuse, harassment, plain rudeness, fear, and hostility are directed his way.

They are not making this up. Then think about how the fear-based hostility they experience on any given day adds up over time. It gives rise to systemic racial profiling. It gives rise to an atmosphere in which the lives of black youth depend on the interpretations of adults who fear them, adults who are charged to perceive danger and then use surveillance, detention, arrest, and even lethal force to prevent danger from harming the public.

This pervasive mistrust of black boys and youth contributes to a social climate that seeks to keep black youth down, under control, and then seeks to separate them from the general population as if black boys and youth are the primary problem. No wonder the prisons are filled with our sons and brothers. I’m not saying all black males are innocent and never commit criminal acts. I’m pointing out how the criminalization of all black men in the minds of the majority authorities leads to racial inequities and disparities.

Given this climate, why should our sons trust the police? Why should they respect security guards and other officials who seem so intent on monitoring and controlling them? Given the FBI statistics on “justifiable homicide” between 2005 and 2012 that show that, on average, an African American is shot by police twice a week, why should the parents of black boys trust law enforcement to protect our sons?

On top of that, given the dismal rate of investigations, arrests, and prosecutions of officers for killing black citizens, why should the black community trust the courts, grand juries, or the police to bring justice?

And people wonder what all the fuss is about in Ferguson, Missouri. Local police left Mike Brown, who one of their officers ordered to “get the fuck on the sidewalk” right before shooting him 6 times and killing him in broad daylight, lying uncovered on the street bleeding to death FOR 5 HOURS. No ambulance was called. Video footage shows that they barely checked to see if the youth was still alive.

This kind of treatment speaks volumes about how insensitively many police departments act towards black families and communities. Think of the impact on neighbors and children who must witness these kinds of aftermath scenes, and who have their own problematic interactions with the police. The sad truth is that many officers entrusted to serve and to protect DO NOT SEE US AS HUMAN BEINGS. They see black males of all ages, from boys to men, as problems to be monitored and contained. To be feared and controlled. To be shot in cold blood when officers feel threatened. And look how often officers tell us they felt threatened as the reason they used lethal force. Oh well, what’s one more dead black male except one less problem to worry about?

And herein lies the problem. Blacks are not seen as equals, as fellow human beings worthy of respect, but as subhuman, potentially dangerous animals.

I am not condemning individual police as racists. I am telling you that this is the social conditioning that all Americans are raised with. We are raised to understand that black life does not count as much as white life.

This is our reality. And for my friends, colleagues, and family members who cannot believe it is this bad, you need to get a clue. Your privileged reality is so vastly different from mine and my sons, and that of my black friends and students and neighbors. Get a clue and stand with us. Or at least have the good sense to think carefully before trying to argue with me about my paranoid “perceptions.” Better yet, become informed and then step up and help us call for justice. And while you’re at it, tell your buddies and your leaders and media personalities to stop trying to blame the victims of oppression.

Until more of our allies wake up and do this, we will not have peace in the streets, let alone begin to heal the racial divide that is pulling our nation apart.

Young black men, some of us do love you

“Hands up don’t shoot!”

It’s time to listen to young black men and boys. The media pundits need to shut up. The politicians and community leaders, educators and youth workers need to sit down with black youth and hear their stories and then move to real action, with youth involvement and leadership.

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Regardless of my adult readers’ opinions about the tragic events in Missouri and elsewhere across this nation, we all need to hear the pain of young people and respond to their anger and frustration. Young men, I get it that you feel under attack. And you deserve to speak, to protest, to cry out, and to rage against the oppression you experience. Black youth have a constitutional right to free speech, and to peacefully assemble and demonstrate, just like every other American citizen. And I say that, just like other Americans, you deserve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

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To the young black men in my life, to my sons and my grandsons, to their peers, to my students, to my friends, to the sons of my friends and colleagues, to my neighbors, to the unknown youth standing at the bus stop, I hear you and I see you. Understand, not all of us are afraid of you.

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Not all adults see you as criminals. We all don’t discount your perceptions and your stories of daily harassment by police and security guards and neighborhood watch patrols. We believe you, especially those of us who used to be young black men, just like you. Even with your swagger, your sometimes irreverent attitudes, your sagging pants and cocked caps on sideways, even with your loud music and your sometimes jarring slang, some of us do love you. And we defend your right to protest and to be heard.

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We understand how hard it is to move about freely without being seen as a suspect. We get it that you feel that you are not given basic respect. We understand that you can barely get through your daily routine without any number of people you encounter ready to write you off without any reason other than their basic racial fears and contempt for youth. We get it that adult society needs to share more of its resources so that you have an equal shot at the American dream, to a decent job and education, to a future full of hope and possibility.

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As an act of solidarity with you, I am posting pics of some young men I have had the privilege to work with and who agreed to pose for these photographs. All of these beautiful young brothers are portrayed through the crosshairs of a gun. That is intended to show in an artistic way that young black men are targeted and under assault and constant surveillance. Many of the models posed with exposed skin to symbolize the fragility and vulnerability of young black life. I show these unsettling images because I stand with young black men, and I want to call attention to your plight. I show these images to remind us all how precious and valuable you are. Each and every one of you.

As an African American father and grandfather, as a former black youth myself, as a foster care alum, as a transracial adoptee and member of a multiracial family, as an educator, and as an ally, I declare that I am on your side. I stand with you in your struggle for survival, for dignity, and for freedom.

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I will close by saying this: You have the right to do whatever you need to do to defend yourself and protect yourself from unwanted and illegal harassment and profiling. You have the right to exist and to be free. Stay strong to survive. Live to fight another day.

End the 21st-century lynching of young black men!

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“Hands up don’t shoot!”