Tag Archives: Toni Morrison

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Chinese like You: White Adoptive Mothers and the Reality of Racial Privilege

By Guest Contributor Sara Erdmann

Cover to “Forever Lily: An Unexpected Mother’s Journey to Adoption in China.”

Despite the fact that international adoption has become commonplace — most recent studies show that over 70,000 Chinese girls were adopted into the United States between 1991 and 2010 — Beth Nonte Russell’s path to motherhood was a nontraditional one. In her 2007 memoir, Forever Lily: an Unexpected Mother’s Journey to Adoption, Russell describes accompanying a friend who intends to adopt on a trip to China.

This book, while almost 7 years old, is continuously recommended across the web for adoptive mothers — it’s pinned on Pinterest and a regular on the book club circuit. In an era obsessed with memoir, it seems only natural that Russell would choose to chronicle her journey as such, particularly considering the major surprise (read: book sales) that characterizes her trip: Russell’s friend changes her mind. Quickly becoming the heroine of her own story, Russell looks down at the little girl she has only just met and begins conceiving a history in which the two of them were meant to be together. Eager to substantiate her sudden role as Lily’s mother, Russell proclaims that “there was a past life connection between [her] and Lily,” and that her “longing brought [Lily] into being.” To suggest that this child living in an orphanage in China exists because Russell willed her into being is problematic to say the least, but Russell goes one step further in her desire to feel permanently and unalterably connected despite her and Lily’s cultural and racial differences.

White adoptive families are regularly challenged by the idea of incorporating their child’s birth culture into their family. Researchers have long questioned whether an adopted child’s birth culture should be ignored, as in cases when families essentially raise their child of color as white, or whether it should be embraced, even to the point of trying to mimic a Chinese upbringing in the United States (think Chinese New Year parties and Mandarin lessons). In Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s, sociologists Michael Omi and Howard Winant observe that “there is a continuous temptation to think of race as an essence, as something fixed, concrete, and objective. And there is also an opposite temptation: to imagine race as a mere illusion, a purely ideological construct which some ideal non-racist social order would eliminate.” Because Russell sees Lily’s race as an essence, something unalterable, and she needs to feel she was meant to be Lily’s mother, she relies on personal epiphanies and memories that confirm that, in some way, she is also Chinese.
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Meanwhile, On TumblR: Intergenerational Afropolitan Genius

By Andrea Plaid

This photo of literary/cultural African American female icons got lots of love this week:

L-r: Nikki Giovanni, Toni Morrison, and Angela Davis. Photo credit: Jim Stroup.

This video of Os Kuduristas, a troupe of kuduro dancers from the Angolan diaspora, caught my soul–like, it’s-on-replay caught.

According to Okay Africa, Os Kudurista (the people dressed in blue and gray) just performed in NYC and will be in Washington, DC at the Tropicalia Club, 2001 14th Street NW, on Friday, 12/21. I say, if you’re in DC and if possible, give yourself a treat and see them…

…and check out what other treats Racializens love on the R’s Tumblr!

 

All The Places We Are Not: The Racialicious Roundtable For Facing Race 2012

Hosted by Arturo R. García

Rinku Sen, the president and executive director of the Applied Research Center and publisher of Colorlines.com, at Facing Race 2012. Via Colorlines.

We’ll finish posting the plenaries from Facing Race 2012 Friday, but collected below are some impressions of the conference from members of the Racialicious team, including:

–Racialicious Owner and Editor Latoya Peterson
–Associate Editor Andrea Plaid
–Arts & Entertainment Editor Joseph Lamour
–Guest Contributors Kendra James and Tressie McMillan Cottom

What were the highlights of the conference for you?

Andrea: “No Justice, No Peas,” “What’s Faith Got To Do With It,” and “Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing” were the stand-out panels for me.

I loved the first one because, unlike the other “green” panel I attended, “Energy Democracy For All,” I never had to ask “but what about the basic disconnect between this idea/policy and people/communities of color, namely that quite a few people of color still think ‘green’ as a whites-only thing.” The presenters made plain the idea that food justice goes far beyond just eating organic foods at vegan restaurants but the racial injustice undergirding the current human ecology of food work, namely who performs which functions in producing, transporting, and serving food–not just to and in vegan restaurants but also, as an example, to and in supermarkets.

“What’s Faith Got to Do With It” was more of a supportive space than a presentation, which is good as far as people connecting with each other but a bit messy when it came to facilitating it–we ran out of time, and our facilitator, an ARC staffer, had to scoot off to do another presentation! I got the feeling that the people needed to have a place where they could talk about how their faiths inform their social justice when larger progressive movements tend to aggressively degrade religion/spirituality as a framework for doing anti-racism work.

“Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing”–which was about how the Right successfully and unsuccessfully uses sexual health issues to drive wedges within communities of color–was so righteous because the panelists brought it so fiercely about not only the racist misogyny that, dare I say, is the Right’s playbook, but also how the Left and the communities themselves are complicit with it when, say, the Left makes it a political strategy to ignore the “flyover states” where the Right is steadily implementing their anti-choice beliefs as laws and others tactics or, say, some Black communities (for example) are silent about abortion rates.

Oh yeah…and I got to ask the first question at the Junot Diaz press conference. (For those who didn’t see the Storified version, I asked him to address several Racialicious readers concern about his “irresponsible” use of the n-word. The Storify is his response.) For all who think breathing the same air as a MacArthur Genius Grant winner would be like inhaling sparkly bits of brilliance–the air’s pretty regular, y’all. He’s a very down-to-earth man, which only adds to his Racialicious sapiosexuality.
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Racialicious Crush Of The Week: Junot Diaz

By Andrea Plaid

If we had to pick a Racialicious poster boy–that aphrodisiac of sapiosexuality–Junot Diaz would be it.

Junot Diaz. Photo: Carolyn Cole. Via Los Angeles Times.

The R’s Owner/Editor Latoya Peterson says this about his book, The Brief Wonderous Life Of Oscar Wao:

My eyes drank in every word of “Wildwood,” the second chapter in Junot Díaz’s novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. On the plane from Baltimore to Austin, the narrative gripped me solidly by the throat, turning a casual curiosity about Oscar into a desperate longing to hear more from his sister Lola.

When the plane touched down, my sweatshirt was crunchy with the salt from shed tears and I had run through six napkins while the story unfolded. I grabbed my bags, and called my boyfriend who had been badgering me about reading the novel for some months now.

“Why didn’t you mention Lola?” I asked.

“Who? Oscar’s sister? Why is that…oh.” His voice suddenly bloomed with recognition and we sat in silence for a few seconds.

In all the reviews I have read about the novel since I finished the final page, the character of Lola is generally a footnote. Described as a beautiful girl, or a troubled girl, or Oscar’s sister, the strength of her narrative and her story seem overshadowed by the book’s focus – obviously, Oscar – or by the story of her mother, Belicia, the beautiful prieta who seemed forged partially from the steel intended to break her into submission. And yet, to me, Lola’s story was the most compelling, reflecting back in stark focus so many emotions, trials and ideas that were intimately familiar to me and the other girls I knew growing up.

….

Because in the book I read – as in life – the men in each of these women’s lives were not central figures. There are men, yes, and Oscar is the unifying force in the narrative, but the people Belicia and Lola were involved with were not the point unto themselves. The men stood for the method of escape. With the exception of The Gangster and Yunior, all the men in the book that Lola and Belicia were involved with were ways to get the hell out.

Lola’s boyfriend Aldo is the method to escape her mother. Sure, she loved him. Kind of. But reading through the lines, the catalyst for her leaving with Aldo was that he asked to her to come live with him. Sex was part of the travel cost. As I have written before, a guy is the easiest way to escape a fucked up family life.

But this easily overlooked difference belies the true genius in Oscar Wao. It isn’t just a documenting a fictionalized account of the things that happen in our real life communities. The book shines in how Diaz fills in what would normally be an outline, and shows us the after. Or more appropriately, how Diaz demonstrates how there ain’t no happily ever after. There are just choices and consequences.

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Racialicious Crush Of The Week: Son Of Baldwin’s Robert Jones, Jr.

By Andrea Plaid

I fell in love with the pithy brilliance of Robert Jones, Jr.  (pictured below) the 21st-century way: online.

Courtesy: Robert Jones, Jr.

I guess that’s what happens when you grab the mic with the moniker Son of Baldwin.

Like his spiritual dad, novelist/essayist/critic/poet/activist James Baldwin, Jones brings the love, the pain, the rage, and the joy of being Black of 21st-century USA through his specific lens of a queer Black man born and reared in New York City. But Jones doesn’t regurgiate Baldwin like hip platitudes: it’s as if Jones sprung, Athena-like, from Baldwin’s head and reshaped Baldwin then-prescient ideas about the contours and everyday workings of racism, sexism, homophobia, and classism (among other -isms and -phobias) for this era.

I’m not the only one who feels all like this about the guy: when I told both Latoya and Arturo, they were all like, “We love Son of Baldwin! Good choice!!” (And, according to the stats on Son of Baldwin’s Facebook page and Twitter, about 6,400 of us thinks he’s pretty choice.)

So, with my questions quivering in my virtual hand–and trying really hard to control my squee–I approached this week’s Crush.

Tell me about your background: where you were born, what neighborhood did you grow up in, what were your family and neighbors like, schooling, etc.

I was born in Manhattan, but raised in Brooklyn, NY–where I have spent the majority of my life (outside of an excursion to Charlotte, NC, from 1998–2002). I come from a family that is Southern Baptist on my father’s side (by way of Savannah, GA) and Nation of Islam on my mother side (by way of New York City).

I grew up mostly in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn in the Marlboro Housing Projects, so, as you would imagine, I know oppression QUITE intimately. I was first called a nigger, in 1977, when I was six years old. I was hanging out with friends, four or five blocks away, when Yusef Hawkins was murdered in my neighborhood in 1989.

It’s weird to think about it now, but I was chased home from school every day by white boys who hated that I went to “their schools.” And once I reached home, I was taunted and abused by black boys (and girls) who perceived me as “soft.” So I was forced to be “hard” simply as a reaction to the amount of cruelty I was experiencing. I have a few fond memories of childhood, but most of them are tainted by some form of terrorism. Nevertheless, during the most ferocious of those years, I discovered reading as a means of escape and that quickly led to writing. I think I wrote my first short story when I was 12.

I’m a bit of a late bloomer in regard to my college education. I didn’t commit to obtaining my undergraduate and graduate degrees until I was in my 30s. I received both my B.F.A. in creative writing and M.F.A. in fiction from Brooklyn College. For the latter, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Cunningham was my mentor.

Why do you love James Baldwin so much?

I am consistently floored by James Baldwin’s intelligence, honesty, and prescience.  I can’t help but admire and want to emulate that painfully rare kind of brilliance. I discovered Baldwin later than most—during my first semester of undergrad. I fell in love with him immediately after reading his last essay, “Here Be Dragons.” Then I hunted for the rest of his work. It’s remarkable that Baldwin’s work continues to reveal things to me, some things I find joyous and some things I find disturbing. No matter what, though: It’s always enlightening. I wish I had the opportunity to have met him before he died.

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