Navigating racial lines

February 24, 2021

So that's, that's how it worked out with race – I worried about it. The other person worried about me worrying about it.

Must have been 20 years ago, this is a while ago, there was a phenomenon where people would adopt cute Black babies, and raise them White, and the Society of Black social workers was really unhappy about this. Because even if a baby comes up for adoption, you know you have a wealthy family, or a poor family that would need more help. And of course you get the wealthy family and you know we're colorblind, but the wealthy family’s White and the poor family’s Black and the kid gets brought up White and that's a problematic thing. So they publicize the problem, so I understood the problem from that, right, they were saying, you should never do it. Well maybe they meant they shouldn't do it right now I just want you to be aware. Interestingly enough, I was also not entirely convinced that I would be a wonderful mom and I was right, righter than I knew.

We used to joke that if you lined up sort of 100 prospective parents from the best number one, you know, to the worst number 100. Right, we'd be up there about 65, but numbers one through 64 didn’t show up so there we were. There was one woman, actually a White person who worked for DCS for quite a long time, reassured me about this when I asked but then she got very sick and we weren't working with anyone for a while. She, alas died, and the next person that we worked with was African American, and I raised the question of where we, you know, it was maybe trying to be conscientious, you might want to talk more in depth to some of your relatives who are African American, you know, how do you teach a kid to be Black if you're White, and she thought I was being completely racist by worrying about it. And she got rather hostile and decided that maybe I didn't really want to adopt her when I was actually being this White liberal, right, and whatever so at that point I shut up and pretended I wasn't worried about anything and after a couple of months she decided I was okay. Does that work? So that's, that's how it worked out with race – I worried about it. The other person worried about me worrying about it. She had been picked up for something, she was less experienced than the first one but she was no dummy but it all worked out.

Here's the thing, everybody means well, everybody means super well, everybody wants to have a diverse situation right, everybody believes in diversity. You know, I don't think I've ever run into anybody at school who's a racist. I shouldn’t say that; who advocates racist ideas, has racist ideas so I mean right everybody means well. I mean I think diversity is a stupid concept, pardon my expression I don't know if you guys talk about it or not, but when it was affirmative action it meant something. Affirmative action you say look, people have different, different backgrounds, built into our history. Right. And the only way to get past that is we overcome it so we adjust for that. And honestly, if two people are equally good, you take the person of color. Nobody says that, diversity means squat diversity means we have our Chinese buffet and can eat all the different foods we want, diversity means we're all in different color sweaters, it doesn't do anything about race – pardon me. So when people want diversity, I've often seen for example with faculty, and I’m not going to name names so I’ll be general. In terms of hiring, we want diversity as long as the people who are diverse are just like us, you know I mean in terms of the way that they do scholarship. We could hire people from abroad as long as their scholarship looks just like American scholarship, because people aren’t rethinking the categories, they aren’t rethinking themselves.

Gail Bederman

Gail Bederman is a professor of gender studies and history at the University of Notre Dame.