Why we are moving (an open letter on diversity)

This is going to be a long one, so grab your coffee (or a glass of wine) and settle in.

I know many people who read my blog are from the adoption community, and may have multiracial, multicultural families. These readers probably understand why Christian and I believe that it is best for our family to live in an area that is more diverse than where we live now. These people have read the same research and personal anecdotes that we have, and they have talked to adult adoptees and social workers who stress the importance of living in areas with diversity. These people “get it.”

However, many people who read are “regular” friends and family, who have not had the opportunity (or the inclination) to research diversity issues. I certainly understand that. When we bought our current house, we didn’t really give diversity a second thought. We just liked the house, we liked the area, we could get more house for the money in that particular area than we could other places, and it was in a good school district. At the time, we thought it was the house we were going to be in forever. We had only been married five months, and our plan was to have two biological children. Now that we have three children, two of whom are minorities, our feelings are different.

I know that to many, it may seem that this move is a sudden one. I assure you that it is not. While the actual process of the move is happening much more quickly than we anticipated, it is something that we have been talking about for more than three years, since before we brought Zoe home.

One exercise a social worker described to us a couple of years ago that really stuck with me was this:

Take an empty jar and a collection of marbles. White marbles represent white people. Marbles of color represent people of color. Place a marble in the jar for every person in your life. You start with your family, then your friends, then your neighbors. Then move on to your dentist, your doctor, your lawyer, co-workers, and the people at your church or other social networks. Then look at the kids at your children’s school, and their teachers.

When Christian and I do this exercise, our lives are pretty white. We have colored marbles for Zoe and Colin and for a few other people, but most of the marbles in the jar are white. We don’t think it is right to live in a jar with only white marbles. We want to live in an area that is diverse, not in an area where our children are the diversity.

Christian took the time last week to write a letter to our families trying to explain our position, and he did an excellent job. Most of the text that follows comes from his letter, but I have made some edits and additions.

 

Dear Friends and Family,

After having a talk with my brother about reasons for our move, I have realized how especially “in-the-dark” our families feel about our decision. My first reaction was that I don’t have to justify our decision to anyone because these are our kids and we are their parents. We are making decisions based on what we believe to be in their best interest, and that should be enough. However, my discussion with my brother has led me to realize that it might be easier if we shared our reasoning more openly so everyone has a chance to understand. In addition, if everyone who influences our children’s lives gains an understanding of our perspective, this will also benefit our children.

Most of the time I communicate better in writing, so while I am happy to have open discussions about the subject, I am choosing this way to outline our position so that I can do it in my most proficient forum for communication. It can be difficult in a face-to-face since sometimes it feels that the outside perception is that we are actually downgrading the children’s education, or placing them in a worse environment due to socio-economic factors by choosing [the new school district]. This makes me react defensively and choose not to talk about it. I revert to the thought that others “just don’t get it,” so I don’t attempt to make them understand. Some of this is due to the fact that, unfortunately, there is a tight time line all of the sudden and I feel I don’t have the time or energy to go through all the pros and cons with everyone.

I don’t have time to cite full examples or pull together all the information and sources that have led to this decision, so my reasons will just have to be taken at face value for the time being. To begin, I would like to point out that it was not our intention to have such a tight time line. No one could possibly imagine that we would sell our house in two days. Yes, the purpose of listing it was to see if we could attract any first-time home buyers before the $8,000 tax credit expired, and that is exactly what happened. However, even though I thought we would sell our house, I think I was in denial about the ramifications of it, and I certainly didn’t think it would happen that fast.

We have an interracial, intercountry, intercultural family. These things cannot be overlooked or ignored. We have researched, read, spoken to professionals, attended panel discussions, soul searched, and conversed with other adoptive families and adult adoptees to form the basis of how we intend to handle these tough subjects as our children grow older. One of the steps we are taking to attempt to enrich our children’s lives is to participate in a school system that is racially diverse. There are pros and cons to this approach, but our conclusion is that the pros outweigh the cons.  

First, we believe that it is difficult to be a minority (especially if you were also adopted). Any way that we can alleviate that difficulty for Zoe and Colin will be helpful. They will have more opportunities to be able to relate their thoughts and concerns about their heritage to their peers when there are more classmates of non-white heritages with whom to be friends.

When we say this, some people ask, “Well, what about Noah?” Our answer is that Noah will be fine. First, we are not moving somewhere where there are no white kids, so Noah will have plenty of peers like him. Second, while Noah is not a minority himself, the uniqueness of our family will certainly shape him. We think it is just as important for him to be around people of other races.

Another concern voiced is, “Along with racial diversity comes economic diversity and many negative things like apathetic parenting that can ruin the educational environment.” Well, yes, but that is the real world isn’t it? You get out of an education what you put into it, just like you get out of life what you put into it. And we certainly don’t intend to be apathetic parents. We as parents have the responsibility to make sure our kids are getting positive gains out of their education and to supplement that education as much as we can. And let’s not forget here that the high school we are talking about consistently ranks as one of the top high schools in the country.

Additionally, we have researched the school district in depth. The district is divided into three areas. We have chosen a house in the area with the highest test scores and the lowest turnover. The area we have chosen has the least amount of apartments and the highest percentage of homeowners with young children. Therefore, it has the least transient school-age population.

Second, since it is difficult to be a minority, we believe that it is beneficial for a minority child to have opportunities to find positive adult role models who share their heritage. The concern voiced here is, “But you and Tracy are positive role models and there are other opportunities to find positive role models outside of school.” While that is true, it takes real effort to seek out role models outside of your current social network. It is much easier when it is just part of daily life. Plus, we don’t feel it is necessary to trade one thing for the other. While we will be in a more diverse area, we will continue to pursue additional socialization, like attending activities sponsored by the local Vietnamese American Society and the Mexican Embassy in our city. We will be able to pursue both approaches.

Also, is not just that a child can look up to or make friends with another minority adult or child, but it is also important that they are accepted in spite of (or because of) their heritage. An environment where they feel singled out or hear racially insensitive remarks is not ideal. The obvious argument here is, “But those things will happen anywhere and at any school.” While that’s probably true, it doesn’t make it right, nor does it take away the pain that those things inflict upon a child. We feel that our best chance to minimize that effect is to choose schools with demographics that are more racially diverse. While the kids may still hear those insensitive things, at least they will be with other minorities who will share the experience and can sympathize. With a good support system in friends and teachers, we feel that the net effect is a positive one. We have heard from adult minorities many times that the argument “everyone gets picked on for something, being fat, being skinny, wearing glasses, etc.” does not apply to the pain inflicted by racial discrimination. The feeling we have heard expressed is that it would be easier to deal with if the minority child was not alone. Tracy, Noah, and I unfortunately do not qualify as equals in this battle no matter how much we love and support Zoe and Colin, how much we demonstrate our desire to end racial discrimination, or how many minority people we befriend.

Ultimately, it is important to us that our children have a wide world view and open minds, and we feel that this is a very challenging thing to achieve in middle of the United States. We discussed moving to a different part of the country, but decided we didn’t want to move away from our family and friends. We feel the best solution for us now is to move to [the new] township, so that we can take advantage of the diversity the schools have to offer.

We will ALWAYS act in what we feel is in the best interest of our children. If there were ever any concerns that we felt would not be worth the benefit we feel we get from sending our children to [the new township], we would rectify them, either by switching to a private school, or moving. No one can predict the future, but right now this is the best decision for our family. Certainly, the other reasons we decided to move that we have mentioned are much easier to understand (more room, renovation potential, lasting home values). The reason for targeting [the new township], however, was not as easy for others to understand. I hope that this helps and please know that we are perfectly willing to open discussions into the matter, but maybe not in real depth until after we have moved and settled.

 -Christian

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18 thoughts on “Why we are moving (an open letter on diversity)

  1. Well put. I hope that answers your family/friend’s concerns.

    We moved from a very economically & ethnically diverse town. Our neighborhood had families from Africa, Asia, & South America & Tova wouldn’t have been the only minority in her class – all things I highly valued. I think the economic diversity can make for a fantastic learning environment. I think the teachers face many more challenges than a typically middle class school & are better for it.

    When we moved one of the things I researched was diversity. We now live in an ethnically diverse area but it’s not an economically diverse group. I miss that part.

    Good luck with all the changes!

  2. When I talked to Christian a few weeks ago, the weekend you sold your house, I asked him which direction you were going from where you are. His response clued me in on the “why’s” of the move. I think it’s a great, commendable, and “right” choice for you two to make… the explanation makes it even better.

    I don’t want to speak for Christian, but I know when we were in high school, I felt surrounded by people who had never ventured past their own front doors, and even though we went to a relatively diverse high school, it was also filled with people who had all gone to school together and had the same group of friends since preschool…. and I couldn’t help thinking what a waste. To walk through life (and be taught and brought up to walk through life) with blinders on, adopted or not, can really be a HUGE mind f*ck when kids get older. (pardon the phrase)

    Can’t wait to hear more about the house and pics! Hope it all works out as smoothly as possible.

  3. Gosh, I don’t even know what to say…..That was a great post and an excellent and informative letter.
    I wish you guys the best on your move!
    Ashlea

  4. Great letter…I can’t imagine either of you would make such a big decision without looking at all the angles! Thanks for more info. and good luck with everything.

  5. awesome awesome letter, Christian! I totally commend you two for making this important move for your family. It’s funny, isn’t it, how different people define what is “best”?

    I grew up in a totally white highschool and it was rough. I am white and it impacted me poorly. I felt suffocated beneath same-ness, knowing full well there was a whole world of diversity just minutes away. The minute I could escape, I did. I’ve never regretted it. Diversity is life and we do not do ourselves any favors (even without the added issue of adopted children of different cultures and races to contend with) to live in a bubble of same-ness.

    Your children will only thank you for it. You will have no regrets.

  6. Great post. Now I “get it” more clearly. I still don’t want you to move, but I hope we remain “regular” friends forever!

  7. Sometimes I feel like I live in a bubble, because I have lived in this large, diverse, liberal city for the past 13 years and it’s very much my “norm,” so reading your husband’s letter makes me feel so sad and so defensive on your behalf that you would actually need to lay out the reasons behind your decision to move. But then I think about my son’s extended family 800 miles away and how our marble jar would be 99% white except for Simon’s marble, just due to where they are geographically. While it sucks that you have to lay it all on the line like that, and possibly feel like your decisions aren’t being respected, you’re definitely doing the best thing for your family.

    Without knowing exactly where you’re moving to, I have to say that large cities are great places to raise children! I think that Simon has thrived in an environment where city amenities are always a quick subway trip away. If you ever want to chat about raising kids in an urban environment, it’s something I think about a lot! (Access to LOADS of incredible Vietnamese food is just an added bonus)

  8. Thanks everyone for the kind words and support. Our families definitely “get it” now that I have informed them about our reasons and they are fully respecting our decisions and would have been supportive and respect our decisions even if I had never enhanced their understanding. This was my way of correcting a lack of communication on MY part, not about exposing a lack of familial support. We are very lucky to have such awesome families.

  9. Everyone’s mileage varies of course, but I don’t want my son to grow up seeing that the few Asian children in his school and community are the ones who are adopted. I think it’s essential to present to our children evidence of a strong and thriving Asian community and contemporary culture (as in, Korean popstars and not just traditional dances) in which they can choose to take part. We can’t be Vietnamese *for* our children, and that includes the wider community of families formed through adoption.

    I may be in the minority here, but I do feel that as adoptive parents, it is paramount that we live in areas that give our children easy access to their culture. Access that we give them as small children, and access that they can navigate themselves as they grow.

    Put it simply, I don’t believe that a community of adopted Asian children is anywhere near enough.

    (Also to say that I have no idea the demographics of where your families live, this is just my experience and strongly held viewpoint living in Boston)

  10. Diversity wasn’t the #1 reason for our move to the DC burbs, but it was definitely in the top 5 (and there were places we wouldn’t even consider because of worries about lack of diversity, or even worse, flat out racial discrimination against our kids) … and I have to say it’s been awesome for the kids here. Where before we had these sort of forced interactions with people from their ethnic communities, now about 1/4 of their class is Asian and they have friends of all colors/ethnicities and it’s just a normal thing for them. An added bonus? Many of my older (bio/white) daughter’s friends are non-white too – she has become very sensitive to racial issues and is not afraid to speak up when she hears other white kids making “jokes” that are racist in nature.

  11. I am so proud of you guys for venturing towards a more diverse part of town and school system. I completely agree with your decision, I think it was the right one. Matt and I are trying for a baby, and we have had long discussions about where we will live when we buy a place back in Indy. He was in support of living on the south side where he grew up until I mentioned the fact that he went to school with all white people. I don’t want my child to grow up in that environment. In fact, it’s something Matt hates about Bend, OR… it’s all white. He misses his black and gay friends. So we agreed to look on the north/northeast part of Indy preferably in Washington township. So hopefully soon we’ll be neighbors! Congratulations on the house, and on such a happy and beautiful family!

  12. We were directed to your blog through Patricia Irwin Johnston, author, adoption educator, and the publisher of Perspectives Press. I am the ED for Adoptions of Indiana. I was impressed with your letter to family and friends and would like permission to share this letter in our “Conspicuous Families” class that we teach.

    We also use your marble/bead exercise that you spoke about. It is an important visual for families.

    We wish your family the best.
    Warmly, Meg

    • Sure Meg. You are welcome to edit it if necessary. Some of the letter is about how quickly we moved (we sold our house in two days) so you can remove that if it would make more sense. I think we have actually spoken on the phone before. We adopted our youngest through Kirsh & Kirsh and I contacted you to find Yahoo groups, local resources for domestic adoption. Also, our daughter goes to school with Allison Montgomery’s daughter!

  13. Pingback: Racism exists – even for Asians | My Minivan Rocks!

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