Inviting me to the party

This past Friday was our school’s annual Fall Picnic. As you may recall, last spring I wrote about being snubbed from a Mom’s Night Out event in which several moms from my kid’s school organized an evening of socializing.

As I’ve alluded to before, out school is fairly diverse and considered an “inner-city” school. It is also a magnet school, which means that it has a specialized curriculum (in this case Montessori). Families who live in the school’s neighborhood zone can automatically get into the school while those outside the zone need to hope that they get picked from the lottery. We have a large mix of African immigrant families and a decent representation of Native American Indian, African American and SE Asian families in the neighborhood and school. We also have a much-larger-than-average representation of gay and lesbian and transracial adoptive families (and several are both).

Over the summer, I’d tried several times to talk to my co-worker, who first informed me of the Mom’s Night Out event. I felt this co-worker was an ally and someone I could trust. However, we don’t work in the same building, so I didn’t get the chance to talk to her in person about what transpired until July.

My colleague was saddened and as upset as me about how “Mary” passed over the moms of color when handing out invitations. She admitted she hadn’t looked around to see how many moms of color were at the party, but she related that she often thought about why more parents of color didn’t participate in the PTO or on other school committees. We had a nice discussion about inclusiveness and how organizations can recruit and retain families of color.

Despite my irritation at being snubbed by “Mary,” just having an invitation alone isn’t enough to entice me to participate or volunteer. I could pretty much predict what it would have been like had I attended. I’ve had enough bad experiences in my lifetime regarding this to make me almost expect being used as a pawn for celebrating “diversity.”

One example: several years ago when I was a stay at home mom with one
kid and one on the way and new to my neighborhood, I decided after
several lonely months to join a “Mom’s group.” This group has a
national affiliation and many local chapters and it was a way for me to
hopefully meet others in my neighborhood. Because I lived in a big city
with lots of diversity, I was surprised to see I was the only mom of
color at the first meeting. And guess what? Only two women in that
group of about 30 moms came over to introduce themselves and one of
them was a mom to a Korean-adopted boy.

The next several meetings were like the first one. I attended a park
play date and when I introduced myself to the other moms, several
literally turned their backs to me. Again, only the adoptive parent
talked to me.

Back then, I was very shy, and it has always been difficult for me to
just go up and talk to someone I don’t know. However, I knew that I
couldn’t expect strangers to just welcome me in without some effort on
my part. I stepped way, way outside my comfort zone only to be told in
clear body language that I was not welcomed.

Taking it one step further, I decided that I wasn’t giving it enough of
a chance, so I volunteered to be on a food committee for the mom’s
group annual holiday picnic. My rationale is that I would get to know
the other women on the committee and hopefully forge some friendships
that way. I waited for months and was never called or contacted by the
committee leader. That woman later approached me and told me that she
never called me because “I already knew everyone else and it was just
easier.” No apology.

This group, like many others I’ve attended over the past decade, had
increasing their membership diversity as one of their strategic goals.

I thought about this when my colleague and I talked about our kid’s
school and the lack of participation of parents of color. I thought
about the Silicon Valley blogger who wrote about why Asian American
parents don’t participate in the PTA
. And I thought about a recent
thread on a discussion forum I’m on in which people wondered why “adult
adoptee bloggers” were not invited to participate at a big conference.

Schools, churches, parent groups, social networking groups, writing
groups – I’ve attended countless “groups” that ask me, as typically the
lone or one of the lone people of color – what “they” can do to attract
more people like “me.”

So here are just a few suggestions:

  • Don’t just put up a flyer and expect me to come. If I know the group
    is not diverse, I need a personal invitation and a reason why my
    participation is requested.
  • Take time to find out what my issues and concerns are. The only way to find that out is to ask.
  • Don’t ask your one token friend of color/community what the issues in their
    community are and take that as the gospel truth. One person does not a
    community make.
  • If I volunteer an idea, suggestion, or my time, take me seriously.
  • Don’t expect me to be the spokesperson for my community.
  • Investigate whether there are barriers or obstacles written into the
    foundation of your organization that prevent a more diverse membership.
  • Don’t expect us to do all the work socially. You need to step outside
    your comfort zone and build relationships with us. It’s not always
    about us having to make relationships with you. That means, come on our
    turf once in a while.
  • We can smell insincerity a mile away. If you’re inviting us just so you can have some “numbers” to report, we won’t stay.
  • If you invite us and we don’t come, don’t just write us off. Take the
    time to find out why we didn’t come. And if it really matters to you,
    you’ll address those reasons.

Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

8 thoughts

  1. Great post. I know what you mean about the mothers’ groups. The one I went to was very white-bread, and despite the diversity of our community.
    I think your point about white people needing to get outside our comfort zone is so true, too.
    P.S. I hope you cross-post this. 🙂

  2. Oh Jae Ran, this makes me so sad. Thank you for writing about it and offering suggestions. It truly is a two-way street. Some people seem to think otherwise.
    I’ll be curious to know if your colleague mentions anything to the rest of the moms and if anything comes of it. However, it’s sort of a ‘sucks if something happens and sucks if nothing does’ situation now.

  3. I absolutely think race is a factor so my comment does not negioate your experience. However, I think when you get women-dominated groups together, well… not always, but in my experience, there tends to be cliques. Sadly, either you are in or you’re out– regardless of race. Perhaps race is the added layer to the complexity of some womens’ groups.

  4. “Take time to find out what my issues and concerns are. The only way to find that out is to ask.”
    This is incredibly important advice. In society generally, a person’s willingness to do that is no doubt in direct proportion to the importance they grant to understanding the impact of race in our country.
    But for adoptive parents, I think this isn’t negotiable. We absolutely have to understand the issues in our children’s communities.

  5. Always sorry to hear of such things. As for myself I just keep trying to cross the lines every chance I get.
    My wife has actually been having a hard time reaching out to other moms here – her being a white adoptive mother to Korean boys.
    Oddly enough the worst case of this was an Asian woman, married to a white man, who adopted a child from Korea. At first my wife and her seemed to be getting along well.
    Ironically, what blew them apart was how open my wife is about the issue of adoption. Her (ex) friend decided my wife had a problem with Japanese women. To make matter worse she didn’t say anything about it when the conversation that offended her took place. My wife had to seek her out and then with “permission” to not be polite, out it came.
    It was an utter misunderstanding and I think quite a shame. It wasn’t about the white world excluding people of color. It was simply one woman making a horrible assumption about another and then not being willing to accept that she was wrong.
    I think what we need is more tolerance as individuals. We need to hold up when we aren’t sure what is going on with the people around us. Give things a chance to work out.
    And now when I take my kindergartener to school in the morning and the group of Asian women that my wife has been pushed out of is standing there, I stroll right into their midst and give them the same chance to talk to me every day.
    Lately they have begun to.

  6. Hi, I enjoy reading your experiences as an adult and an adoptee.
    You mentioned a forum thread discussing the reasons for a “a big conference” not inviting adult adoptees. I actually know for a fact that this conference will have a forum called “Meet The Bloggers” and I did get an invitation to attend (I write the “Borrowed Notes” blog). Unfortunately, I had to turn it down due to the cost of travel and such. Hopefully, they got some takers.

  7. I think it is telling that the author of “Chew”
    was invited to the conference, even though she
    disrupted an adoption on the advice of doctors
    who never even saw the child, and her deleted
    blog posts about her experience in China were
    very offensive regarding Chinese people.
    How could someone who has no respect for Chinese
    people even be approved for transracial adoption?
    I wonder if that point will be raised.

  8. As a caucasian mum of an adopted asian child I have also experienced exclusion, I would never hazard to compare it with what you have encountered but my case is different. I am not AMERICAN, I am a permanent resident married to a Caucasian American. I NEVER get invited to Moms club stuff, I tried joining but they already had their ‘clicks’, we moved to our very white suburb outside Minneapolis two years ago and have still to meet anyone local who is comfortable with extending a welcoming hand. I’ve lived all over the world, but the American suburbs are awful!
    On top of it all, I am a larger lady, so I’m pretty sure that there is some discrimination there too…why do I feel that here, but never in England, Australia or New Zealand?
    When we were in NZ earlier this year I was included in not only ‘old’ friends activities but invited to many new friends ones too!
    It’s such a shame. These people are missing out on making some great friends!
    I have made one friend in the neighborhood…an Italian American transplant from Long Island. She is open, honest and forthright…what a blessing.
    I have yet to be invited to ANY birthday parties or Moms events locally, sad for me, but sadder for my 2.5 year old daughter who doesn’t have any close buddies.
    I think people like to stay in their comfort zones…it’s a shame, it’s insular and sad.
    a kiwi in MN

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