So, the reason I named my site "Polymathematics" is that the things I do (my life, my hobbies, my politics) are so varied that I wanted to see all (or most of) the parts of it in one place. I'm still not sure if it will work. But here's another part of my polylife...a big one.
In about April or May of next year, my wife and I will be adopting a baby from China. Let's get some common questions out of the way first:
- So you're at the end of your fertility treatment options? No, actually, we haven't tried conceiving; adoption is our first choice. Neither my wife nor I have any serious emotional attachment to passing our actual DNA to a new generation--my life is my loves, views, desires, interests, etc. I can pass those on sans DNA.
- Do you know if it will be a boy or a girl? Due to the political situation in China, our baby will almost surely be a girl. Chinese culture and law are asymmetrical in how they treat boy and girl children--girls are fine, but boys (supposedly) take care of you when you're old. If the Chinese government says you can only have one (or two if you live in a rural area and your first one is a girl), you might have to give up a girl so you can have a boy for your old age. Sad, but true.
- Do you know how old she'll be? Probably 9-12 months, no younger than 6 months, possibly as old as 2.
- Why aren't you adopting an American kid who needs a home? (Smart-ass answer for a lot of people: Why aren't you?) Real answer: We (mostly my wife, to be honest) did the research, and this choice works for us. And we kinda resent the implied rebuke in the question. So please just accept our decision.
We're currently awaiting our final document from the U.S. government, which could arrive any day now. We will "be DTC" (Dossier To China) by mid-August.
Amazingly, in the middle of writing that very sentence, my wife informed me that the document came in the mail!!!
So in addition to all the normal preparing-for-a-baby stuff (which we're doing a bunch of over the summer because it's less busy than during the school year), we've been talking a lot about where we want to live when she starts school, since the school systems around here are enormously varied. Which brings up one of the central issues of this adoption: Our child will be of a different race than us. We are Caucasian, she will be Asian.
What's it like growing up Asian in America? Well, I have Asian students and acquaintances and friends (although not especially close friends). I've done some reading about growing up as an Asian adoptee. I've spent time learning about how racism works. I can't know for sure what it's like, but here's what I know: Asian-Americans experience race very differently from African-Americans. The stereotypes are not as blatantly negative, but they are at least as strong.
- Asian kids do well at school.
- Asian kids work really hard.
- Asians are non-confrontational.
- Asian families are male-dominated.
- Asian culture is "exotic".
- Asian women are highly sexualized, but submissive.
- Asian straight men are asexual.
- Asian gay men are very sexual.
- Chinese people are sneaky, inscrutable.
There are lots of them. And they hurt. Teachers might be less likely to help a struggling Asian student if they think it can't be a serious problem. Standing up for beliefs might be more likely to be punished if it is viewed as unnatural. Will our daughter ever be sure that romantic interest in her isn't a fetish? And since many of these stereotypes contribute to the "model minority" image, the pressure on kids to conform to the stereotypes is huge (if you could be pretty sure that certain non-academic behaviors would cause people to look at you as brilliant and hard-working, wouldn't you behave that way?).
So....what does that mean for our daughter? Should we find a school that has enough Asian kids to make her feel more at ease? If many of the non-Asians are Black, would that help her learn to cope better with racism? What about the reported anti-Asian sentiment in the Black communtity. Is that a stereotype, too? What if it's not?
I know, I know. All you Asians and African-Americans and Latino/as reading this are thinking "welcome to my world, Mr. Oblivious White Guy." Having been a teacher for a while now, I hope I'm more sensitive to the insidious effects of racism than most Oblivious White Guys. And I'm painfully (and guiltily) aware of my White privilege--in particular, the fact that Whiteness is basically neutral in American culture. My wife said it well when she pointed out that having an instant interracial family will force us to shed this racial neutrality. Of course it would be good for a lot of people to be forced to do this. Probably good for me, too.
I don't have answers. You know how some people think that math is hard? I'm sure it is for some people who's minds don't think of it in the right way. But I think race is hard. That's because America doesn't think of it in the right way.
Welcome to America, daughter. We love you. I'm afraid that won't always be enough.