Both Americans AND Chinese people said such rude, thoughtless things to us.
I heard a comment that made me wince while driving my daughter (who is adopted from China) and her friend to an afterschool activity the other day: "Chinese people are always smart and good at math."
This is a compliment, right?
The words usually come out before the person thinks about them and I realize the person means no harm. Yet labels like this one, however well-meaning, continue to separate the cultures of America, and the world.
Most of us notice blatant, mean, rude, even violent, racism, like the kind involved in recent incidents of racial profiling and police brutality, but we may not notice racism of the much more subtle, casual kind, which happens a lot more.
Because we have a blended family, with one biological son and one adopted daughter it's made me curious why this labeling and categorization, these friendly yet unthinking comments, this system that divides instead of unites, persists. So I did some informal research. Here's what discovered:
Discrimination began a long time ago. Racism is not a uniquely American phenomenon. In fact, it began long before the U.S. colonies were first established. Religious prejudice began in the Middle Ages, and racism began in the Renaissance when the East and West began interacting more.
Slavery is almost as old as civilization. And, sadly, we carry on that archaic legacy every time we make assumptions or see others' differences as threatening. It's time we rose above all of this.
What's interesting is that we insult the people we're most comfortable with.
The embarrassing art of the social faux pas is part of the human experience. I'm definitely not the most politically correct person in the world; I champion all the different words in the dictionary for their very diversity, their ability to say exactly what we mean.
We don't have to walk on eggshells around each other. Yet I do challenge speaking on a whim, not searching for the right words for a given situation.
This happens most when we're with friends, when we can let our hair down. We feel our friends are "just like us," so we can say anything we want. It's when we get comfortable that we show our innermost thoughts and feelings.
I've actually heard a few of my daughter's friends say, "Oh, I forgot you were Asian."
If we're unaware that differences exist, we realize that we may have hurt someone too late. We need to feel included ourselves, so we like to think we're more like our friends than different. These days, you'd be wrong in that assumption most of the time.
We are individuals — like snowflakes, or fish in the ocean, making up a beautiful whole. As races merge, we may eventually judge people on their individuality and not their country of origin or skin color.
But we're not there yet. We're not able to see the true beauty of our friends until we stop seeing them, wanting them, to appear just as we do. Prejudice is a universal equalizer.
We haven't moved far enough from our national viewpoint on skin color ... yet neither has any other nation.
It's a struggle to evolve. Most people cringe at racism. Yet, we're still thinking of ourselves first.
Wanting to express ourselves before letting others express themselves, before we take time to check in with our empathy, creates a certain hypocrisy: of our right to personal freedom while denying others that right. We adoptive families and other blended families are in the perfect place to lead by example, to educate, to move this transformation forward.
Here are some ideas of how to start at home, whether you're part of a family of one race, two races, or more. Adapting these guidelines to your own family can foster a healthy identity and self-esteem in every child, while teaching them to teach others about how even though we're all human, we're all different.
We have much to be proud of. Racism has improved more in my lifetime than any other previous century; I was born when the American civil rights movement was in its infancy. The better news? I've seen it improve more in the last decade than ever.
When we adopted our daughter in 2000, we got blatant, unthinking questions like, "How much did she cost?" from unthinking Americans. And she also heard that she wasn't "really Chinese" from people from mainland China, who saw her as not Han, but Hui — an ethnic minority in China.
This blind sort of hurtful rudeness has abated.
I have to truly believe it's because more people are getting educated about race in all its facets. We're gradually getting rid of the categories, often based on opinion, rumor, and anecdote, which separate us, and the world.
My research complete, I had to smile. It's a process. Change takes time. Yet, I'm almost certain our desire to love and be loved will win out over bigotry (even in its most subtle form) in the end.
Ending discrimination is about finding the boundaries around who we're allowed to exist as and tearing them down, and then tearing down the walls dividing us from who we're allowed to love.
As the world gets smaller, we're becoming more united. Union is about love, after all, not separation.
And that's what a mother/daughter relationship is all about: Unconditional Love.
So all this research aside, my greatest research treasure has been raising my beautiful daughter. She's helped me see, in spite of her blind spot for higher math, that love will win us all over — because I watch her topple stereotypes every day.
If you're part of a family with differences, combating prejudice that blocks your success, or struggling with casual racism in everyday life yourself, Kathy can help you cope. Contact Kathy through her website groundonecoaching.com for a free informational session.