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.