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I'm in my 60s, and have a sister, a dear woman I love very much. We are both White. Even though she lives in a city far away, we keep in touch via email and usually Skype 1c a week or even more. She is married to her 1st husband of some 40 years, has two children who have families and lives of their own. She was a small business owner, a bookkeeping and accounting service, but she's retired now. And yes, she's a Republican. She believes the Government is too large, taxes too high, and socialism is creeping up on us. But she is not a wackjob, a tea-bagger, or radical. She is a Conservative as that label was meant when she became politically aware, sometime in the mid-60s. We have lots of conversations about this'n'that, but rarely discuss politics because we are both afraid it will damage our relationship. We each respect the other's point of view, and view each other as Patriots in the best sense of the word. We do agree, though, that the religious right are a bunch of wackjobs and religion should not play a part in Government. Neither of us practices any religion, although we were raised Catholic.

I also have a family, still married to my 1st wife of some 35 years. My wife and I adopted 2 children when we were in our prime, a pair of biological half-sisters, 4 and 5 years old. We were living in Texas at the time. Our daughters are African American. Our case worker was also African American, and she told us that if it were up to her, she's squash this adoption. She did not believe Black children should be adopted to White people. In fact, she belonged to an organization, the National Association of Black Social Workers, who had then - and maybe still does - a position paper opposing the placement of Black children with White Adoptive families. The only reason she signed off on it was under duress, and under the direction of her Supervisor, who was enforcing a Texas law that forbade racial discrimination in the matter of adoption. The NABSW believe it will cause them to lose their racial heritage.

Unlike my sister, my daughters did not turn out so well. When a couple adopts a family group of 'older' children, there are going to be problems, regardless of race. And there were. We naively thought we had enough love to fix any problem. While it takes love, it takes more than love. I suspect that nowadays, there are many services available to adoptive families. Then, that state's Child Protective Services put us in touch with other adoptive families so we could support each other. That was a good thing, but still not enough. When the older was 14, she ran away from home, and she has been on her own ever since. She had several children, all of whom have been adopted off or placed with other caretakers, and is now homeless by choice. The younger left home and moved in with a man who used drugs and violence. She had a baby by him, and moved back in with Mom and Dad. She has a job as a nurses aide, the pay is poor and she barely qualifies for benefits. She is underinsured, typical of single mothers with bad jobs. Both girls, women now, are in their mid 30s.

All this as background. Yesterday, I was having a Skype conversation with her, asking her advice on how to handle the campaign account for which I am the treasurer, since she is an accountant and knows things. And I was telling her of my state's Republican candidate for US Senate, Wrestling magnate Linda McMahon, who hired some urban Black youth to GOTV, hold signs, appear at rallies, phone bank. She offered them low pay, but when she lost the election, she stiffed 'em. They went to the local TV station who claims 'We've Got Your Back' and if you have a problem (with authority, landlords, police, etc) they'll investigate. They did, went to the campaign office, the person there sat down and wrote them checks, which then bounced. My sister was horrified. She asked if this candidate was Black. No, but she has Black actors in her wrestling stable, and Black people in most of her political ads.

So we say good-bye, and a few minutes later I get an email from her: "...I don't know why I'm helping you as you apparently believe I'm racist since I was not in favor of Obama. Somehow, all political stories are about racism to you. I don't think of things that way. I don't know what else to say..."

Well, I took it hard. I know she was not if favor of Obama, but it never even occurred to me that it might be because she is a racist. I was stunned. I don't believe I ever said such a thing to her, but she must have picked up on it somehow.

So I'm asking myself, am I too sensitive? Believe me, I've seen some racist attitudes and behaviors that I otherwise wouldn't have - thank you White Privilege! - because of the association with my daughters. And I know racism is out there, there are plenty of folk who just don't like having a n****r in the White House, including some cousins of mine, also about my age. But really. There are things I don't like about Obama, he's not perfect, but his color is not among them.

So I emailed back to her that I thought I understood why she didn't approve of Obama and it wasn't about his color. And we agreed to just not talk politics any more. And this will be hard, as our brother is a politician.

But I'm still wondering, do I tend to look for racism, and perhaps see it when it really isn't there? Or see it as more important than other factors, such as right wing religiosity?

A little introspection, if you please.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (5+ / 0-)

    picking off right-wingnuts at the ballot box, one vote at a time

    by JohnMac on Sat Nov 24, 2012 at 08:04:51 PM PST

  •  J don't think one can be "too sensitive" (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    LilithGardener, JohnMac

    when it comes to racism.

    Being actively on the look out for it, and calling it out if you see it, is a good thing, especially admirable given your circumstances.

    I think this is more an issue about her than it is about you.

    -
    Somebody has to do something, and it's just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us.
    ~ Jerry Garcia

    by DeadHead on Sat Nov 24, 2012 at 08:32:02 PM PST

  •  Sometimes those with White privilege (6+ / 0-)

    think they get it, and don't realize that they really don't.  

    They may express frustration when other seem [to them] to be constantly noticing racism.  It's not that they are racist, but they don't get it, and are tired of hearing about it, feeling that they did nothing to contribute to racism.

    I know you want to respect your sister's limits, but one option is to go the other direction, and tell her that since you have a relative who is a politician you would very much like to be able to talk about politics with her.  And that you are disappointed by the impasse she feels is insurmountable.

    If she nibbles, admit that maybe you don't understand why she voted the way she did, and ask her to spell it out for you. There are likely some criticisms of Obama on which you agree. Find out what they are.

    If she's reluctant, a sincere apology may go a long way.

    Your sister may just be sensitive and be tired of all the Dems yelling about racism all the time.  If she's blaming you for judging her unfairly, you can apologize and state that you KNOW she's not racist, and feel sorry that she misunderstood your reason for bringing up the detail about McMahon.

    •  Thanks (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      LilithGardener

      That's an interesting idea. I know my brother the politician is a Democrat like me, and she supports his office to the extent that she has given money to his campaign. I wonder if she talks politics with him. I'll ask her about that.

      picking off right-wingnuts at the ballot box, one vote at a time

      by JohnMac on Sat Nov 24, 2012 at 08:45:52 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  this was my exact convo w/ my rt-wing dad (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      LilithGardener

      two days ago.  he's been throwing out offensive-to-dems barbs during my thxgiving vacation with him - and does have many racist things to say that he doesn't have a clue about - and then when i tried to respond, he'd put his hand in the air to stop me, saying, "let's not talk about politics."

      it came to a head; i couldn't stay quiet, and told him how i felt about the racist comments and about the one-sided politics.  he felt i've always tried to change his mind.  i told him - "no - i'm trying to hear a well-thought-out argument for why you support what you support, and let the discussion dictate whether it changes either of our minds."  he then admitted, that he doesn't really understand much of it and he's basically intimidated by my interest and knowledge.  so there you go.

      we got through the disagreement; but we aren't going to change each others' minds.  he's not willing to investigate his own mind, for fear he'll reach a different conclusion.

      it was some food for thought tho:  the distance is huge, perhaps insurmountable, at least by ourselves alone.

      Romney in a landslide!

      by jj24 on Sun Nov 25, 2012 at 05:50:24 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Consider inviting her to tell you all the ways (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Chi, jj24

    in which she things the Obama administration is wrong, or off track. She may have felt frustrated, because she wanted to be able to talk about it with you, but was afraid you'd think she was racist.

    There are likely some criticisms of Obama on which you agree. Find out what they are.
  •  Jumble There (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Odysseus

    I wonder if when she asked if that candidate who stiffed her staff was black, she felt guilty for the question? Perhaps the way you responded had a bit more snark in it than you wanted? Seems important.

    My neighbors growing up adopted twins as infants. That did not work out so well and last I heard, the one was a druggie and the other, a moll for the local Hells Angels group. My mother made the observation, not that things are fated by genes but that genetic makeup means that at least one of the natural parents will recognize things in the child's personality and thinking process. With adoption, neither parent has that natural insight.

  •  A racializing identity (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    never forget 2000, JohnMac

    Thanks for the invitation to join you in some introspection. I've been passionately exploring these issues for more than 40 years, and here's my take -

    Short answer: No, you're not "too sensitive." Your relationship with your daughters has made you aware of racial issues and tensions that are always there, but many white people can't see.

    Long answer: There's so much behind the curtain of this seemingly simple interaction, including entire lifetimes - yours, your sister's, your daughters' - of racial identity formation, socialization, and unconscious bias.

    Social psychologists tell us that our identities, racial and all the other kinds, are formed based on what is made salient for us. I like to think of it as the mirrors that are held up for us (thanks to Beverly Tatum, WHY ARE ALL THE BLACK KIDS SITTING TOGETHER IN THE CAFETERIA?).

    Members of majority/dominant groups (whether race, class, religion, etc) see very different reflections than members of minority groups. These reflections cause us to internalize certain messages that form the mostly unconsicous basis of our identities.

    In shorthand, the majority group message is "You're normal."
    The minority group message is "You're different."

    That's why, for most white people growing up in the U.S., their race is normative, therefore mostly invisible, and doesn't become a conscious part of their identities. For many Americans of color, race is spotlighted, highly visible, and often a defining part of their identities.

    Then you add socialization in a white-dominated culture, + unconscious bias  - what I like to think of as lenses - but these are topics for another day, another post. (If you're interested, a great overview is found in the highly readable book, ARE WE BORN RACIST?.)

    All this explains why your sister is completely convinced that her perception of reality is true, and why she can't see that the lens through which she views the world is a white one, and that it's making her blind ("I don't think of things that way") to other realities. We all have lenses; the difference in your case is that fathering your daughters was a racializing experience which gave you the opportunity to begin to see your own lenses and how they might be distorting your perceptions.

    I like the suggestions above for engaging her, broadening the conversation and deepening the relationship. Your love and regard for your sister is very evident in this account. I think, if we want to be effective, that it's useful to remember how much of this stuff is completely unconscious.

    --
    Just have to add, as the mother by transracial adoption of a now-grown daughter: Our experience was very different. I'm sad to read of how hard your struggles have been as a family.

    (Though I'm a long-time reader/lurker, this is is my first comment ever on DKos, so I welcome feedback if there are things I'm not doing that I should be. I promise that most of my comments won't be this long!)

    "Diversity is, in action, the sometimes painful awareness that other people, other races, other voices, other habits of mind have as much integrity of being, as much claim on the world as you do." William Chase

    by Maine Islander on Sun Nov 25, 2012 at 08:12:08 AM PST

    •  If all your comments (0+ / 0-)

      have as much to say as this one, length is not an issue. Thanks, she is a good person, but blind is perhaps the best analogy I've seen. Unconscious is another good way of putting it, I've been to therapy, the goal of which is to be conscious. And conscious in the way you mean here, that is, seeing and hearing and knowing what is going on around us, especially emotionally conscious.

      picking off right-wingnuts at the ballot box, one vote at a time

      by JohnMac on Sun Nov 25, 2012 at 01:32:03 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I guess I'm dense but I don't get the point (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JohnMac

    (if there is a reasonable one) in asking if the deadbeat candidate is Black, or if he/she had Black wrestlers in their "stable," or if they used Black actors in some ads. When in doubt, I usually ask myself if the person would react in the same way if the parties were White. Would all those race-related questions be posed if the canvasser who was stiffed were White?

    I'm guessing the answer is no.

    •  I'm guessing you are right (0+ / 0-)

      but if the parties were White, would they have been stiffed in the 1st place? That is the racist angle, imo. I doubt very much the candidate is primarily racist, it is just another aspect of her character, and one she (thought she) knew how to use based on her experience in the world of professional wrestling.

      picking off right-wingnuts at the ballot box, one vote at a time

      by JohnMac on Sun Nov 25, 2012 at 01:35:25 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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