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August 25, 2011



Really interesting post. I am wondering how much gender affected the scenario as well. I know that I have experienced similar treatment when males in the same situation have been treated with more respect. Thank you for the reminder that as a white parent of a daugher of color, it is incumbent on me to remember that she is going to have to navigate the world as both a female and as a person of color.


oh this is such a thought provoking post.


I am willing to agree that you are probably the suject of racism at times, but the plane incident could of just been a cranky flight attendent. We've all experienced people treating us second class not matter what color we are. No I am not a flight attendent and yes I am the blessed white mother of an adopted daughter from China. I will take the rest of the blog into consideration and thank you for your views.

Paula O.

@Linda: Thanks for your comment. You're right - she could have just been a cranky flight attendant; that possibility ran through my mind as I tried to think of every excuse for way she chose to interact with me.

However, (and this is an important piece that I neglected to distinguish in my original post) after observing her behavior on the rest of the flight, it was clear to me that there existed a much different standard in how she chose to interact with the passengers who were white.

I have spent a lifetime trying to make excuses for people who exhibit racist behavior and who act on their prejudices. Racist behavior isn't limited to someone calling me "Chink" or telling me to go back from where I came from because I'm "making America dirty". Much more often it's so much more subtle than that - I've learned to trust my gut when I know I'm being treated in a way that has everything to do with my ethnicity.


" is incumbent upon white parents of children of color to be intentional about NOT using their white privilege to their advantage and especially not cashing it in for their children's benefit." My question is, as a white AP mom, how do we not use white privilege? It doesn't seem to be something we can turn on and off. I can't tell people, "please treat me as a POC even though I'm white." (I really mean this as a serious question.) My Korean son is growing up in a white family and even though we deliberately put ourselves in many situations where white people are the minority, and Asian Americans are the majority, I want him to be equipped to deal with racism and prejudice as both a child and an adult. (Our son is 7 years old.) If we don't prepare him for the reality of life as a POC in America, then we will really have failed him. I really need some advice.


Ditto what Courtney wrote.

Jen Hilzinger

What a great blog post. I'm going to go through your blog and read them all this morning. Thank you for sharing this piece with us and being willing to help white adoptive parents grapple with these issues. It is so important for us white parents raising kids of color to understand these issues. Often whites will react harshly or dismissively/paternalistic to people of color when they speak the truth. I can imagine this may have happened to you as well, and yet your voice is clear :) Please know that some of us read and take it to heart.

I'm reading and sharing,


Thank you for this. I am going to share this post.

Paula O.

@Jen H. and thewonderfulhappens: The validation and your willingness to read and talk about these kinds of issues means a lot and in my opinion, can only benefit us all; thank you.

@Courtney and Jen: I appreciate your questions and your desire to go deeper and examine the enormous complexity that is white privilege. I certainly don't have a comprehesive answer to the question that you've asked, but I'll humbly start by sharing my own initial thoughts and speaking to my own experiences and hope that others will offer their perspectives as well.

First of all, I think it's paramount for our TRA kids to have as many opportunities as possible to be in the majority and I think it's great that your son is able to experience that affirmation of his identity.

In terms of how does one not use white privilege. . .this is my take on it: Historically, being white has always carried certain privileges. Being white in this culture and society has never been seen as less than and whites have never been portrayed or treated as having traits or characteristics that are deemed less desirable, unlike POC. It is my assertion that white privilege will always be present in the equation of human interaction and that it is so deeply embedded into how our systems and institutions operate that white people will, for the foreseeable future, continue to be the beneficiaries of unearned privileges, benefits and virtually unlimited access to resources.

I liken this to the way that our society traditionally has held men in higher esteem than women. Men aren't suddenly going to get a cut in pay even though it's an estabished fact that men with the equivalent amount of education as their female counterparts will earn a higher salary. White people, like males v. females, will continue being the recipients of privilege in this society.

So. . .I guess what I'm trying to say is that the mentality of "Please treat me as a POC even though I'm white" is flawed in that A) It's simply not going to happen and B) More importantly, I believe that we together should be fighting for equal treatment for all, and that even though there obviously exists a separation in how POC and whites are treated, portrayed, represented and received, we - and especially white people - need to CALL OUT racist behavior, stereotypes, prejudices when we see it and that white people cannot allow themselves to benefit in the everyday subtle ways that they do.

Here's an example of an everyday situation that happens all too often: Let's say my husband, who is white, is amongst a group of people of color waiting in line for a particular service. It's not a stretch to say that the salesperson is likely to defer first to my husband and ask him how he can be helped, even though others may have been waiting longer. In my opinion, it would be a blatant abuse of white male privilege if he were to just accept the offer for help without speaking up on behalf of every other person was there. And wouldn't it even be better if he were to say to the employee something to the effect of "You might find it useful to address the group as a whole and find out who was waiting first". This has the potential to be a really powerful statement coming from a white male.

Of course we know that white privilege extends far beyond the lines at a store. . .but I use this example because it's an apt illustration of how white privilege is exercised on a daily basis in front of our TRA kids. And if their white parents allow themselves to benefit, our kids may very well start to draw their own conclusions about what their racial identity means and how it is valued (or devalued)in our culture.

Taking a really critical look at the various circles that one's family travels in can be a good starting point to noticing examples of white privilege. For example: Your kid's school. Do you notice any disparities between the kids who are referred out for targeted services? Do you notice any discrepencies in how your child's teacher disciplines students of color v. the white students? How many POC are in positions of power and influence in your school, church, sports teams, etc? How many families talk about this with their children of color?

One example the aforementioned white, male AP (the man I referenced in the original post) used was not speeding, especially in the presence of his son, who is black. This parent knows that his white privilege will afford him certain benefits on the road that are simply not afforded to his son and that it is critical that he does not abuse his privilege, because really - what message is this sending his son?

I realize that I'm talking in a very circular fashion, but I guess this is all to say that it starts with a heightened level of consciousness and awareness. And it requires people in the dominant culture to observe, listen and speak up.

Amy C.

Thanks for the thoughtful post. How to deal with this issue is something that positively plages me as the white parent of a Chinese adoptee. I very much appreciate your perspective and want to let you know that I apprecaite you putting this out there. At least one AP hears you, and hopes to act on your experience to the betterment of my daughter. I know I won't always succeed, but I will try my best.


Paula! I have missed you and am thrilled to know you're writing again. With this post you hit the ball right out of the park.

"I remember feeling such dissonance when I was about my kid's ages regarding my white privilege by association."

"It's not uncommon for me to hear from white adoptive parents that it's somehow okay to use their white privilege as long as it benefits their own child of color."

There is so much I as a parent can learn from these two statements, about what I should be doing and what I should not do. Thank you for reminding us that even the best of our intentions can bring painful consequences for our children.

Hope all is well in your world!


I think this is such an important post. Thanks so much for writing. I would love to cross-post it on Love Isn't Enough. Would you be open to that? I can be reached at

Thanks again.

Paula O.

Julia, I'm so sorry that I'm just getting back to you. In true form, I've been neglecting my blog and haven't logged in for several days. Yes, please feel free to cross-post it - thanks for asking. Again, sorry for the delay.


I agree wholeheartedly with what you are saying, but racism does work the other way as well. I am white with a Korean husband (and an adopted Chinese daughter), and when we travel by Korean Air to visit my in-laws I find I am always treated horribly by the cabin crew (typically they forget my meals, do not offer me drinks etc, ignore me if I try to speak to them, and are generally very offhand. I always end up with my husband having to demand things for me). I assume that this is because I am white and married to a Korean man, which appears to be a bit of a cultural no no.

Michael Johnston

OK a beautiful and accurate description of how things are Paula. I am an adoptive dad in what was a two cultural family now three cultural thanks to our youngest. Born and raised into white privilege. And oh boy is it real, the change to understanding of just how real was devastating and shocking. How can people treat my wife so? Even more devastating was when I visited the country of her birth. Her parents were refugees and settled in Finland. It is a ultra mono-cultural country and some elements there are openly hostile to any difference. I have an extensive collection of swearwords abuse and obstruction most too pathetically hilarious to bother with. Being clearly not a Finn they assume I am a Middle Eastern Islamic fanatic. Why I have no idea racism is not at all logical, but a dark skin from many hours at work outside round the world clearly helps them get there. What all this does do is alter my behaviour. I have become much less trusting of people and much more willing to to intervene in situations where my family is involved. Sometimes abuse happens right in front of me, as I cannot possibly be a family member of this group. However I also find all people of colour do not not need or want a white night, they know full well when to do what they need to. Finally I do have sympathy for Flight Attendants of colour. On one of my flights back from a job in Russia the Russian passengers regularly bellowed the N-word (edited) when they wanted a drink. They did not get any nor they they make their connection. Keep telling the truth Paula.

Tee @ Fostering Thrifty Families

A really excellent post. Thank you. Especially this: 'The whole "Just stick by me, kid, and you'll be fine" mentality does a child of color NO FAVORS.' Wish I could tattoo that inside the eyelids of every transracially adoptive parent :)

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