7.09.2009

Belonging

I hope I'm getting this just in under the wire of relevant Michael Jackson posting, because it has got to be said. Every time the question of Michael Jackson's kids' paternity and custody comes into question, somewhere an adoption angel dies. Really. I've really been wondering how adopted (or any non-traditionally conceived) children feel when they hear these newscasters pondering that because Jackson may/may not be the biological father to those children, it's just a complete MYSTERY who is going to take care of them now that he's gone, and really, to whom do these kids belong? It's ridiculous. Why should his kids (which I assume are legally his kids, especially if their mother relinquished her parental rights) be treated any differently than any other kids whose parents/guardians die? To say that they should be treated differently because they might not be genetically related to their father is such outright ignorance and stupidity, and I can't believe how glibly it keeps getting stated and questioned over and over again.

The other thing that has been nagging at me is this question of whether the kids are his, based completely on their looks, and whether there's any way those kids could be half-black. I thought we had come farther than this as a society, I really did. I mean I grew up with people questioning whether my dad was really my dad, questioning whether I was really Chinese, etc. and I never really held it against anyone. Back when I was growing up -- believe it or not -- multiracial marriages and mixed children were still quite unusual. But nowadays it is so obvious how quickly "dark" genes can get diluted. I'm not saying it's the norm, but it can happen in a single generation. Genetics are weird, and there's so much living proof of this fact that it is simply ignorant and embarrassing for people to insist that there's just no way those kids could be half-black. That's simply not the case. I'm not gonna go on record and say I think they actually are half-black, because frankly, Michael Jackson's life and ways give me plenty of reason to believe that they might not be genetically related to him at all. But to be so ignorant of the reality of mixed ethnic heritage in the multicultural era in which we live makes you painfully out of touch.

And then finally, to top it all off, today when I was finally saying, ah, well, I'm taking this all too seriously and just need to let it go, I see this ridiculous, embarrassing, preposterous story on ABC News of all places (Peter Jennings, please be rolling in your grave!) about Michael Jackson's "white" kids and the challenges they are going to face getting along with his black family. I don't think I need to break down all the things that are wrong with this article, but I do have two questions for our friends at the network:

1) Did Luchina Fisher, the author of this story, and whoever edited it get a serious talking to? Will an apology be appearing for this frankly racist "news" article?

2) If not, then when are you guys going to do a retrospective on my life growing up as the one "white" kid dealing with an all-Chinese family? The language barrier! The hair color! The pressure to do well in school! The chopsticks! Oh, the stories I can tell! If only I'd realized earlier this was breaking news!

Race in this country is a complicated issue, and judging by how contemporary media are handling the strange, sad, unusual story of Michael Jackson's life and death, it's clear that whatever progress we so celebrated when we elected our first black president back in November was -- important though it may have been -- still just a baby step toward combating our tribal, xenophobic, and prejudiced human nature.

11 comments:

Zidan said...

It makes me shake my head when these questions about his genes and his kids pop up. Whatever he did or did not do the man was a father to those kids and it's tragic whenever kids loose their parents. Adopted or not, MJ did what he thought was best by those kids.

feitclub said...

Is this some kind of hangover from his celebrity status that people feel free to make outrageous racist statements about his children because they've been making outrageous racist statements about him for so many years? Adoption statistics/trends aside, his kids have been with him since birth, so there's no reason to assume that they will suddenly feel out of place around family who might not look exactly like they do.

This is some crazy stuff. Call me naive, but I thought Americans had moved beyond this level of stupidity. As the recent father of a Japanese/American baby, I've been worried about how Japanese people might treat my little boy. It never occurred to me that people back in the States were still just as capable of ignorance.

Kyle said...

I haven't really been following this closely, but I think the issue is that MJ tried to pass them off as his biological kids when they might not be. If he had just decided to adopt kids and be upfront about it, I think the media would be very supportive (see: Angelina Jolie).

Of course, the sexual abuse allegations make everything a bit different...

Jennifer said...

Kyle, IMO there's no issue of "passing off" -- how many parents keep their chidren's origin (adoption, different father, sperm/egg donations, etc.) secret to their own kids, or at least confidential to the outside world? Plenty, and there's no crime in that. And if the issue is one of questioning MJ's appropriateness as a father because of scandal/brushes with the law, then make it about that, and not about genetics or racial heritage... that's just what i think.

But thanks to all for the thoughtful comments!

(And congrats feitclub on your new baby... and don't worry, just raise your child to be proud of who he is and he'll never have problems wherever he goes :)

Dan said...

This multi-cultural environment that you are in isn't the whole US and is likely a small portion of it. Maybe in a few generations things will be different, but probably not. I think the best you can do is to be in a part of the country where most people aren't that way.

From my limited experience, I'd also say that Blacks, because of their history in the United States (and the European influence of this perception on other countries such as Japan and Korea) means that they will have a much harder time than other groups.

jfh said...

As Michael's lyrics said, "Doesn't matter if you're black or white." Too bad that is still an unfulfilled wish.

Lisa said...

I have to say I kind of understand where the biological mother is coming from. I know she relinquished her rights and she was happy to have MJ raise them. But I also understand how his death could change the way she sees things. She might feel that her involvement is more important now, that the kids will benefit from contact in a way they didn't before. Not that she should whisk them away from the family they know, but that she would go through the court system and try to get visitation.

stiill said...

"The pressure to do well in school! The chopsticks!"

Damn. Ouch. :)

Adam Coronado said...

Thought provoking stuff, Jennifer. I wish you wrote more often.

Nathan said...

I really appreciate how you articulated this issue. In regards to MJ's children, it's really not an appropriate topic for "news", which is why I generally don't watch video/TV news at all…

The issue of "belonging" is a complicated one. The US is actually very backwards, when it comes to acceptance and assimilation. Using the specific example of the many Euro-African settlements that exist around the world (due to colonialism and slavery, of course), the typical rate of intermarriage has been 40%…except for in the US, where it has never been above 4%!. Our country has a lot of issues with race and racial stereotypes…

-nathangsm/shoukanjuu

p.s. I was looking at your Flickr, and your kids are so beautiful—they have your smile!

Aunt N. said...

Another great blog, Jeni. It reminds me of when Marnie and Art were babies and people would ask me which one was adopted. Of course that was 1959 and more or less expected.