I have a son in China. Well …not really. He was almost my son. Maybe he should’ve been. He is probably around 17, now. And I think about him almost every day …
During the dramatic adoption of my daughter, we had to rush her to the Chinese hospital twice in two days. This wasn’t the beautiful hospital, tailor made for photo ops. This was the utilitarian, open-air, urine-trough-in-the-floor, blood-and-puss-on-the-examination-table triage hut, the Chinese didn’t want Americans to see (I was asked to put my camera away several times). I’m always amused at theoretical communists who’ve never actually SEEN it in action …but I digress.
As the over-worked nurses were trying to put a needle in my daughter’s head, suddenly, high-pitched Cantonese was being yelled into my right ear. I jerked around, startled to find a very loud, tiny, determined “peasant lady,” complete with dirty head-scarf, missing teeth and weathered, cracked skin, yelling at me.
At first I didn’t know what was happening. But then, on closer examination, I saw that she was holding a 3-year-old boy (about) on the examination table next to her.
He was smiling at me and wearing a red sweater. I still see that sweater in my dreams. The peasant lady was showing me his teeth and his hair while she jabbered on incessantly. I had no idea what was happening. Finally, our translator pulled away from the drama playing out on our own exam table, and told me the woman was trying to give me her son to adopt and take to America.
I thought, in my semi-shocked state, that this was some sort of joke. I laughed a little, trying to lighten the mood. But the translator said, in her slightly broken english, “she serious. She has never seen American before. Thinks this her only chance to get son out of China.”
And that was the day I fully understood birth privilege. This woman and I were only separated by the fact that we had been born in different places …as different genders …under different governmental systems.
Some people roll their eyes at concepts like “white privilege” but I believe it’s a real thing.
Although I cannot change the skin into which I was born, I understand all too well that I write and create and LIVE from the perspective of a white male. And that comes with a certain amount of privilege in this current culture (at least for now).
Once you understand your privilege, it’s up to you (individually) to try and balance it. But the tricky thing about privilege is that everybody has it in some way. And it can play out in paradoxical ways. My daughter was born into less privilege than that little boy. But ironically, his “male privilege” kept him trapped in China. And her LACK of privilege (being born a female orphan) got her out of China …and into more privilege than he will ever know. Life is interesting.
Since that day in that hospital, I’ve tried to level my white, male, American privilege in ways I really don’t care to talk about …because it’s no one’s business but mine. But just know that YOU have some sort of privilege too. White women in America probably have more privilege than black women. But black women in America have more privilege than that peasant woman in China. Privilege is a global thing.
One of the biggest privileges on earth is being born in the United States. We all kind of know this. And many feel guilty about it. But there is also a certain privilege to being born on the North American continent. Why is that?
Being born in Canada is certainly its own privilege. And believe it or not, being born in Mexico has its own privilege when it comes to immigrating to the US.
You see, they didn’t allow me to bring that little boy back from China. There were armed guards and public officials and government agencies LITERALLY everywhere, blocking that from happening. The little peasant lady and her son were ushered away from me by two men in uniforms. She didn’t understand the protocol. And as she was being led away from me, she was still yelling and trying with all her might to get her son out of rural China, to a better life.
What she didn’t understand is you can’t just go to China and pick out a kid and bring them home. There are processes and forms to fill out and back ground checks to do. And there’s a lot of cross talk between both countries and their various adoption and immigration agencies. This is how things have to work.
Even though I still dream of that little boy …I simply could not take him home with me. And some days I have a hard time reconciling that. But laws and borders are serious things. We all know this in the abstract. It just gets difficult to accept when human lives are caught in the middle of that realization.
We’ve had an open southern border in the United States for decades. And we’re the ONLY organized nation on planet earth that allows people to simply walk across that border and live here. We’ll only try to catch you at the point of entry. But if you make it past the guards, you’re pretty much home free …literally.
Nobody else does that. You can’t do that in Canada or even MEXICO. Definitely not China. And reasonable Americans have often wondered to themselves, “Should we build some sort of wall or fence? Don’t we need a secure border? And maybe a vetting process of some kind for people who want to come here? That seems reasonable to me. Am I wrong about that?” But no one wants to say that out loud because they don’t want to be labeled a racist.
No U.S president in my lifetime has ever tried to truly address this …until now. And the can of worms has been opened.
The truth is we who were born in the U.S do have privilege. It’s absolutely true. But, in our attempt to level that, should we keep our borders open and simply allow people to walk over? If so, then why can’t I go get that little boy from China and bring him over? I’ll tell you why. Because he doesn’t have continental privilege.
He was simply born in the wrong hemisphere.
The fact is, if we gave the southern half of the U.S back to Mexico, people from Mexico would still be crossing into Utah and Colorado. Because Mexico has some problems. BIG ones. And people want to get out of there. And THAT’S the issue you have start squaring once you drill into your own privilege.
The ultimate goal is not to have all 7 billion people on earth come to America. That is not physically possible. But what IS possible is to support countries who are moving toward more freedom and equity. And call out counties who aren’t …and help move them in that direction. If China were a better place, there would be no peasant women trying to give their sons to Americans. If Mexico were a better place there would be no inflow of people racing to get out of there.
But laws and borders are necessary. Even if you think the enforcement of such things is unseemly.
If people from Mexico are simply allowed to cross the border without process, then why do we have customs? Why do we have to carry passports? Why do we have border check points going in and out of our countries?
If walking across a border is acceptable, just because …you know …IT’S RIGHT THERE …then someone owes an impoverished teenage boy in China, 14 years of a better life in America …with me.