Meg Zaletel: Confronting white privilege and building a welcoming community

Meg Zaletel and her husband, Zach, adopted their daughter, Zelda, when she was born five years ago.

Unlike some people with adopted children, their adoption is obvious because they are white and Zelda is black. Being part of a family like theirs has given them a unique window into America and race.

"We are very white. It's been more apparent because we have a black child. It magnifies our white privilege," Zaletel said.

Zaletel knows that her daughter is still too young to understand America's history with race in its entirety. She knows that there is a deeper conversation that she will need to have with her daughter eventually. It's a conversation that requires her to also confront whiteness.

"I was talking to a friend one time who said to me, 'You're lucky. Zelda will never experience what it's like driving while black because you're her parents.' I said, 'Wait a minute, that's not how this works," Zaletel said.

Zaletel understands that her white privilege can't be passed down to her daughter. Even though Zelda has white parents, society will see her as black.

With that in mind, the Zaletels make a conscious effort to expose their daughter to black culture. Although Zelda may not understand the issues now, they want to make sure that Zelda is prepared to address race and racism. It's something that the Zaletels, who grew up in predominantly white communities, had never done themselves before becoming Zelda's parents.

"I think that we were quite naive when we adopted our daughter. We didn't think that we would have to deal with talking about racism," Zaletel said. "Knowing that wouldn't have changed our minds about adopting her."

A family portrait of the Zaletels. (Source: Edible Alaska)

A family portrait of the Zaletels. (Source: Edible Alaska)

She understands that, as a white woman, she won't have all the answers for Zelda. So, she and her husband stay connected with people who do. Thankfully, as Zaletel put it, they have an open adoption with Zelda's birth family.

Zalatel also reaches out to the community. She is receptive of conversations about race, has had a hairstylist teach her how to do Zelda's hair and marched in solidarity with Black Lives Matter.

Being Zelda's mother, Zaletel feels a sense of responsibility to make America better for her daughter's future. This isn't just for African-Americans, but for all people in America including immigrants and refugees.

Last summer, she and her husband bought the house across from their own and opened the Anchorage Community House. There, Zaletel started community initiatives to help newcomers adjust to life in Anchorage. She also opened her doors to the United South Sudanese Women of Alaska.

She is hopeful that organizations like hers will help to foster friendships and connections in communities across the country. She hopes that this will bring a better, less violent America for her daughter and the rest of the future generation.

"My biggest fear is that the hostilities and the problems facing the black community would still be going on and she would have to face that," Zaletel said. "But I remain optimistic and believe if we act locally, we can build a great place for everyone.”

This piece was originally written in the spring of 2017. Since then, Anchorage Community House moved to a new location at the Church of Love.