Yes, the country you live in is racist. How nice of you to notice. I have been living here all of my life. Where have you been?
Oh, that's right. In your white bubble you don't see race. Because we don't exist there in your nice, upper-middle class suburban life.
This isn't the only time race has been a problem in this country. It won't be the last. But I'm sure next time I'll hear the same shock and dismay from well-meaning white people who will, after a decent interval, go back to living their lives, not seeing race. That's what's happened every other time, and it won't be the last time, either.
Meanwhile, I'll go on living in the same place I've been living all my life.
Background: There was an acquaintance at the annual quasi-reunion I go to after Thanksgiving. I was talking with a group of friends when the subject of race and kids growing up came up. I started to mention how I was really glad I started school in New Jersey when he butted into the group I was talking with and cracked a joke about that, to which I said, "No, really, and I'll tell you why: The school I went to in New Jersey was mixed-race, and I basically never got crap about race when I was there. When I got to the all-white school system in Connecticut I spent from 3rd to 9th grade getting crap all the time. But what that New Jersey school taught me was that all the racists in my school in Connecticut were crazy, not me."
At that, he winced, turned away, and didn't talk to me for the rest of the party.
I have no doubt he was well-meaning. He tends to be, but he also tends not to deal well with unwelcome news, particularly that which tweaks his white straight male privilege. I imagine he feels like I was unfairly hostile or something.
One of the other people in the conversation then asked me what kinds of things happened to me at school. So I told her. She went to the same school I did when I was being harassed, but apparently managed not to see any of it when it was happening.
She didn't seem very happy she'd asked, either.
All that said, I did have a good conversation with one of my other classmates who I hadn't seen in ages. She'd come out (which I'd heard about from her brother some years ago) started a partnership with her then SO over a decade ago and adopted two Chinese daughters (one from Kunming, and one from a small town in Anhui province). The relationship had broken up a few years later, leaving her a single mother with two kids and a pediatrics practice.
Making the best of things she encouraged her daughters to learn about their country of origin, and took them on a trip to China organized by other Asian adoptees. We talked about China, learning Mandarin, and identity for Asian kids raised in white families. Her daughters were really encouraged to learn Mandarin by the trip, as they were unable to speak to people who had been in their lives before their adoption unless they had an interpreter.
One point she observed is that Asian children raised in a white family have one identity when everyone knows them as part of their family; they are treated in a particular way by people who know who they are and that they're part of a white family. Once they leave that context, however, they get treated like any other Asian person, and this can require adjustment.
This is obviously not an adjustment I have ever had to make, so it was intriguing to hear about.
That conversation also reminded me just how many friends I have who are either raising children of a different race or are children who are of a different race from the rest of their families.