Impact & Intent: Hand in Hand

Every so often there is a LONG message thread that appears on a social media thread – whether it is about race or family or something else that provokes a response.

Recently I was asked to write a blog that was helpful vs things that were unhelpful in our adoption process- I hadn’t quiet gotten there when another adoptive mom tagged me in a post and vented a little on Facebook re: things that aren’t helpful for adoptive parents to be told/ said. Interestingly a few other adoptive moms reposted this and concurred with a loud YES that this has been their experience – in fact one of the mom’s comment was “we are in our 3rd adoption process now and we still get all of these” despite their adoptions being spaced over a 10 year period.

A different response to this has been from people saying people’s intentions are not all bad in their insensitive way of engaging with things that the blog post highlighted. That it was important to look at intentions. It was important to engage with people around these things and help them see beyond.

I agree with this.

I also think that it’s time we moved beyond just hearing about intentions and also looked at the impact of what happens.

Last year following a miscarriage I had some very hard interactions with people – most of whose intentions were well meaning, but the impact of what they said and did at the time left me reeling.  I am not still reeling. My heart has healed from this – however I am sad that one of the consequences of this is that certain friendships got damaged because while I was sitting with the impact of what had been said, it was hard to get past the intent argument that was put in front of me when I voiced that I didn’t feel safe or seen or heard in the intended act. There wasn’t space for us to look at the how and what in this.

This is something that I feel strongly about. I always have.

I have erred on the side of not always being able to see the intent in things when they have gut punched me in the moment. I have also been on the side of trying to understand what or why people want to know or have said something.

On a bigger scale, I have sat in company with people who still in 2015 believe that the intent behind the apartheid education system wasn’t bad.  It was well intended but the impact wasn’t so helpful or given a chance, because look how things have deteriorated since.  I have sat in discussions with people who have had to be quiet when well-intended people uttered racist or pejorative comments and they were silenced by the ‘It wasn’t meant badly’ argument.

It has been frustrating though trying to wade through both the impact and intent when the impact gets minimised in looking at the intent.

In all of these discussions the focus has been on the intent and while I definitely believe that this does matter, I am also wanting to advocate for more responsibility to be encouraged on the impact side.  I want these things to start being seen as two parts of one whole.  I have sat up at night trying to work out if this is my own place of hurt speaking or if I am actually just frustrated at the way in which we manage this?  My conclusion is that I have been on both sides of this for the right and the wrong reasons at times.

When we only focus on the intent, we minimise the impact for those experiencing it.

When we only focus on the impact, we minimise the opportunity for understanding.

Ultimately though, these things all come through relationships.

Grace happens in relationship.

Growth happens in relationship.

Both sides of this whole happen in relationship.

Hand in hand.

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Colourblind vs Colour Competence

As a result of conversations I have had since publishing this I want to contextualise the following.  We are in a racially diverse, adoption is common as are cross cultural, transracial families community.  These questions and thoughts aren’t because we are isolated, they are in fact provoked in part because of my exposure to different kinds of normal. The race incident referenced below happened less than 7 years ago in a city which is said to be one of South Africa’s most cosmopolitan ciities.  This is important context I have realised and recognise that it doesn’t mean you will agree with all my stances below or see value in them.  Thank you for reading anyway!

We are on an adoption journey and are preparing to parent a future black man in South Africa. This is some of my processing and I am by no means claiming to have all the answers – however, I am wrestling and wanting to know how we do this well.
I have realised that anytime someone mentions race, there is a HIGH risk of people thinking ‘political’, ‘liberal’ and a whole lot of other not always positive words.
Being colour competent isn’t a political statement. It’s a skill needed in today’s world.

Colour competency is a term I saw mentioned recently in an adoption group. It was in response to a mom of colour asking people to be mindful of the implications of race for their children.

Conversations with friends of colour, reading well researched (sadly all US based) books and observing what I see in my day to day work space are things that have informed some of my thinking. I speak as a white person who grew up in an English/ Afrikaans mixed home – but none of that overtly impacted my social interactions. I WANT to learn from my friends of colour and from people who have grown up in transracial homes, adopted transracial homes how to better navigate these spaces.

A (black) friend recently said to me that she wishes we would use other words- so cross cultural rather than transracial families. I hear her. I concur –but I just wish we would actually more actively engage and talk about this in any form so that the things that for many of my same race peers don’t seem necessary can be understood well and that some of my different race peers can actually engage and tell their stories too and be heard.

I have heard it said by a few of my (white) friends who are parenting (black/ mixed race children) that they are colour blind. Their child is just their child and they don’t think about this. I have struggled with this as our racial features are a part of who we are. Our stories of origin include our culture and race of origin.

A friend from the long ago past grew up as a black man in a white home – on reflecting parts of his story a (white) friend expressed that he wished that there had been a way in adulthood for this friend who has sadly passed away to not have had to have such boxed/ split realities. Until we explore more colour/ race/ cultural competent ways of engaging with each other I am not sure how we are going to get this right going forward.

My child will be my child. I want the best for him. I want him to be the best version of himself. I want him to know that we embrace him, not just for who he is, but for the fullness of who he is- which includes the culture and race group that he comes from. I ALSO want to know how to help him build racial self-esteem – which is a part of his sense of self – and to equip him to deal with the challenges that will face him as sadly the world still does see in colour and race and not always as a celebration of difference.

Recently I have had a few conversations (with white friends and family) where children were said to not see colour – in direct contrast to sitting in a class room 3 months ago where a (black) child was told he couldn’t use the “skin”colour crayon because he was a black man – this child was 9 years old and while he didn’t know necessarily what the meaning of that was to his friend, his immediate response was:
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