Thursday, April 9, 2009

Stuff White People Do

One of my favorite blogs, Anti-Racist Parent, posted a link to a blog that I wasn't aware of but am glad to find. It's called Stuff White People Do. (Not to be confused with Stuff White People Like, a different blog entirely.) The blogger is a white male, and the few articles I have skimmed seem to be insightful commentary on white experience - how we are shaped, harmed, and twisted by racism and the "white" part we are trained to play.

The latest post (which is a re-run I understand), entitled Teach Their Children to Act White quotes a book by Lillian Smith, a memoir about growing up as a white Southerner during the early 20th century. An excerpt:

I began to understand, slowly at first but more clearly as the years passed, that the warped, distorted frame we have put around every Negro child from birth is around every white child also. Each is on a different side of the frame but each is pinioned there. And I knew that what cruelly shapes and cripples the personality of one is as cruelly shaping and crippling the personality of the other.

SWPD goes on to quote a list of ways Smith highlights that people are raised to be white, here's a tidbit of it:

4. You are an individual who is responsible for your own actions and accomplishments; your own racial membership is not a factor in your life. Nobody tells you that your race has anything to do with who and what you are, nor with what you achieve (nevertheless, as you might learn later in life, it does). The rules for white conduct are not explicitly stated as such, and you instead learn what you supposedly are as a white person by learning what other people supposedly are. The characteristics displayed by figures who are presented to you as “black,” “Indian,” “Mexican,” and so on, help to define what you are by defining what you are not.

5. At the same time, your race does matter, and you should be proud of it. It was people like you who “revolted” against England and then “settled” the land, people like you who “built this country” into “a nation of immigrants.” And it’s people like you whose faces almost always occupy the various center stages placed in front of you, where lights shine on them as the makers of history, the captains of industry, the writers of books, the doctors of medicine, the inventors of inventions, the scientists of science, the psychologists of psychology, the movie stars of movies, the TV stars of TV shows. These are brilliant individuals, not “white people.” On the other hand, when a non-white person makes a rare appearance on these stages, he or she is carefully described as a black inventor, a Mexican labor organizer, a Japanese internment camp resident, a Chinese railroad builder, and so on.

6. The race of your parents does not matter. Never mind the fact that they’re both white, and that all or most of their friends and acquaintances are too. Do not wonder, nor ask, what their being white has to do with the ways they think, act, talk, or feel. They’re just individuals—“mom” and “dad.”

I recommend reading the whole thing.

As I skimmed over this blog this morning, and added it to my Reader for further perusing, I realized that a lot of my efforts to prepare for mothering a child whose race is different than mine have been focused on the anticipated race of my child. It occurs to me that it is just as necessary for me to spend time examining what my own race means: how I have been shaped to be a white person and to eventually raise a white person. I would hope that if I had a biological child I would still be conscientious to raise him or her as anti-racist, to avoid placing him or her into the "warped, distorted frame" that Smith mentions and SWPD quotes. Building a transracial family means I can't ignore those things, and first step is probably not learning about race by looking out towards the other, but rather seeing what I can learn from looking in.


  1. I'd have to recommend that you move to our small town here in middle of nowhere Ohio. There are SO many adoptive families here, the white kids who have white parents (how boring! LOL) seem in the minority.

    For us, it helps to have open adoptions. One of our birthmoms is absolutely valuable in answering our dumbest questions.

    Also, we have found allies in 99.9% of black people we meet. When they find out we've adopted our boys to be OURS FOREVER, they are more than willing to offer any support needed. Actually, this part of adoption surprises me. I thought there'd be more "Oh, you took a black child away from his people" and it's more like "God bless you for saving that child". Don't get me wrong, we don't want our kids to feel like they "owe us" because we 'rescued them'. We want them to feel like God Himself formed our family and knew exactly who was meant to be a Miller.

    When you get that baby, that little gummy smile and big brown eyes are going to warm the heart of every person you meet. You will build bridges across racial lines you never expected to build. Just remember... your child will be the MOST ADORABLE baby on the planet (next to mine, of course) and you should just get used to being the center of attention. YOUR joy will radiate and people will be drawn to you... enjoy it.

    Oh, and I did the read the book "Stuff White People Do" and I thought it was a riot... tacky... but funny LOL


  2. Thanks Katie! :) I know we can't wait to start actually trying out all this theory I'm collecting! And your town sounds pretty amazing, I can tell from your blog that you have a strong adoption community there - I'm still exploring what Seattle has going on in that dept.

    I think you might be confusing Stuff White People Like, with Stuff White People Do...I agree - the first is funny and tacky! ♥

  3. You might look at reading "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together In the Cafeteria: A Psychologist Explains the Development of Racial Identity" by Beverly Daniel Tatum. I read it as we waited for our first child. It was a real mind-opener for me - the privilege that we do have, the caste system of race, what my children might experience, understanding how we define ourselves and (hopefully) how we do not define others. It was a good read.

  4. Hi, thanks for the nice words about my blog, and I'm so glad you find it inspirational toward self-reflection, and toward more aware parenting.

    I can recommend another wonderful book, more recent than Smith's, Thandeka's Learning to Be White. I found it SO revealing about my own white upbringing and training. Pretty pricey though, hope you can find a library or used copy.