The power of words

March 15th, 2013


We all do it.

The brain issues the statement and the mouth broadcasts it faster than the censors can hit the bleep button.

Then, my friend, you are in the throes of an awkward moment.

A while back, I found myself in the midst of one while engaged in a community volunteer effort.

In case you are new here, my youngest child was born in China. She is an American citizen through adoption. She means the world to us.

We became a family in 2006 when she was just under 11 months old. Everyone who knows us well knows our dynamic. Although we cannot shield her from the ignorance and hate of the outside world, we are fortunate to travel in fairly educated and enlightened circles. Our community is a little melting pot of skin colors, beliefs and lifestyles.

But when something changes, like starting a new school, traveling to other parts of the country, or joining new groups, we have to start fresh. We have to go through the shit — again.

So it came as a kick to the gut during this so-called community outreach project when one of the volunteers uttered an insensitive statement for everyone to hear, including my then-6-year-old daughter.

Apparently upset that a piece of equipment would not perform as well as it should, he began banging it about and cursing.  Then he stood up, set down the equipment with force, and said something close to this:

“Another useless piece of crap from China.”

OK. I know. We are in tumultuous times. The anti-China rhetoric is blowing around like trash in the streets. We, especially those of us in the Rust Belt, gripe about the outsourcing of manufacturing to overseas factories. We all grumble that things are not made to last.  I’m just as upset about it as you are.

As I mentioned, my daughter was made in China, quite possibly to hard-working farmers, or severely overworked and under-compensated factory workers. It is not the fault of the collective overseas workforce that products are inferior. Look to the greedy corporations, suppliers and governments. Many of these factory workers travel hundreds of miles away from their home villages to earn wages to support their whole family. Some have children they never see.  Even the best-paid factory workers in China live lives we would consider totally unacceptable. It is an ugly situation. We all suffer the consequences of it through low-quality and sometimes tainted goods as well as job loss right here in the United States. It is a huge problem.

Please direct your anger where it belongs. Boycott products and companies that take part in these practices. Buy products made in the United States. Write letters. Start a movement. Please do not China bash, especially in front of my daughter or your children or anyone of Asian appearance.

Telling me, Oh, I thought she was Korean, does not make it OK.

My daughter is proud of her roots. She is too young to understand the complicated relationship between the United States and China (heck, I don’t get it, either.)  She is too young to understand things like Communism and the Cultural Revolution and emerging capitalism and outsourcing. She’s just a kid.

We teach her there are good and bad people. Good and bad businesses. Good decisions and bad decisions. We must take things on a case-by-case basis.

I haven’t forgotten that day or those words. I’m still wondering what to do. I started to write a proactive type of letter that I could send to local newspapers, the school district, or publish online. It doesn’t seem like enough.

Why didn’t I call him out? Why didn’t I pull him aside afterward? I’ve done that before to little satisfaction on anyone’s part. Perhaps I’m not the most diplomatic. Perhaps those who say such things are firm in their beliefs and are just twitching to engage in debate.  When I approached an offending parent at toddler play group a few years back, she vehemently stood behind her words, asserting that there is no correlation between statements of inferior products and the people of a nation. She suggested I grow thicker skin because the issue isn’t going away.

I’m not going anywhere, either. The day I held my youngest daughter for the first time was the day I knew I’d taken on extra duties, ones that require added defense and offense for the inter-country adoption community.

So, please, take a moment to think about the source of your anger. Think about your audience. Think about the innocent people you might hurt with your uncensored remarks.

Thank you.

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