by Anti-Racist Parent columnist Margie Perscheid
My first reaction, upon receiving an invitation to contribute to Anti-Racist Parent, was to ask who would want to listen to a middle-aged white woman talk about race. What could I possibly add to this dialog?I grew up in the Cleveland, Ohio suburbs. The neighborhoods I lived in were white. The schools I attended were white, save high school, where the minority population included one – yes, one – biracial young man.
In my world, divisions followed European ethnic lines. Western Europeans were at the top of our white hierarchy, and we Mediterranean Slavic folks were somewhere down the line. I grew up feeling different – I was short and dark, and looked different enough to be asked on more than one occasion if I was “foreign.” I remember being asked once in high school if I was Chinese.
I was always interested in people and cultures, and this developed into a desire to study languages. When I entered Georgetown University as a foreign language major in 1967, I came to a city and student body more diverse than any I had ever experienced. I loved it, and I stayed.
In DC, with its extremes of wealth and poverty that follow racial lines, I began to recognize the depth of the inequalities experienced by people of color. But what I didn’t get was that many of these inequalities were subtle, and that in many cases I didn’t even recognize them.
By the time my husband and I adopted our children, both of whom are Korean, I saw myself as an outspoken opponent of racism, one ready and able to parent children who were racially and ethnically different from me. I proudly described my family as multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-racial. But I really only understood race in terms of ethnicity, which was my only personal frame of reference.
When our son was in junior high school, he began to talk openly about the racial divide at his school and how he was affected by it. Although it came late, it was the kick in the pants I needed to take a critical look at my perspective. I’m grateful that at around the same time someone gave me a copy of Peggy McIntosh’s White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. My son’s experiences and White Privilege were eye-openers.
So now I find myself back where I began. I realize how little I understand about the experience of people of color, also that I can never share that experience. My best contribution to this dialog won’t come from what I say, it will come from how well I listen to those who live with racism every day. Acknowledging their experiences and acting accordingly in my workplace, in the schools, and in my community are how I can help close the racial divide.
Here at Anti-Racist Parent I’ve found an open discussion of race that will bring greater understanding of this issue to all who participate. I’m honored to have been asked to contribute, and look forward to sharing my thoughts and hearing yours.
Margie Perscheid is the adoptive mother of two Korean teens. She is a co-founder of Korean Focus, an organization for families with children from Korea with chapters across the country. Margie is on the Board of Directors of the Korean American Coalition DC Chapter, a former board member of KAAN, the Korean YMCA of Greater Washington (now KAYA), and ASIA (Adoption Service Information Agency). Margie writes about her intercountry adoption experiences at Third Mom. She, her husband Ralf, and their two children live in Alexandria, Virginia.