Sunday, December 6, 2009

I'm the only black person in my family

Sometimes I worry about these issues.

Things are pretty easy now, while Charlie is little and the bigger questions have not yet been realized.

But I think about her teenager-hood. How trying that time can be for every teen, let alone a trans-racially adopted one. When I mention my concerns, some people tell me I'll MAKE it an issue if I acknowledge it. If I ignore it, Charlie won't feel "out of place" being the only black person in our family. I don't think that's true. I think it IS an issue and if I DON'T acknowledge it I will not allow Charlie to feel safe enough to talk about it with me when it comes up. I think some people are still thinking color blindness is the way to go, but that discounts and un-validates the person of color's experience. It's easy to be color blind when you are white. You can go all month without thinking about it.

Try being color blind when you are black. Impossible. Where are the "black skin tone" band-aids? Did you get pulled over because you were speeding or because you are black? Did you get hired to fill a quota or because you were the best one for the job? Hundreds of reminders every day that you are not in the majority race.

I spent 4 years at a Master's level studying social work, oppression, racism.... I have read SO MUCH on this topic. In my everyday work I see the effects of racism all the time. For a white person who has not really studied these issues to tell me I should not "make it an issue" or I will "make it worse" is just not aware of what it's like to be a minority (not to mention insulting my education on the matter). Not that I am an expert on being black, obviously, being white and privileged, but at least I realize there is a deficit in my experience. I'm aware of institutional racism. I'm aware that growing up in a white family might really confuse a black person as far as their identity. I hope not, but at least I am aware that it MIGHT. I'm going to be watching and as ready as I can be for when Charlie has questions and feelings about this. I'm not going to pretend she is white and go about our lives as though nothing about her race would ever come up. Me asking Charlie her thoughts and feelings on this issue will not MAKE her have these issues. If I were not single, I would adopt another black child so Charlie could at least see her own skin tone around the table at family gatherings. (I would adopt again for other reasons as well, I'm just saying the child would be black for that reason.)

Here is a trailer of a movie at the Toronto film festival. If it comes to my area I so want to see it.

The official film description:

With white Jewish lesbians for parents and two adopted brothers — one mixed-race and one Korean—Brooklyn teen Avery grew up in a unique and loving Jewish household. But when her curiosity about her African-American roots grows, she decides to contact her birth mother. This choice propels Avery into her own complicated exploration of race, identity, and family that threatens to distance her from the parents she’s always known. She begins staying away from home, starts skipping school, and risks losing her shot at the college track career she had always dreamed of. But when Avery decides to pick up the pieces of her life and make sense of her identity, the results are inspiring. OFF AND RUNNING follows Avery to the brink of adulthood, exploring the strength of family bonds and the lengths people must go to become themselves.

Read more:

Here is the film's official site.

Parents, how are you planning on handling these issues? Have you given it a lot of thought, or are you waiting for the day it comes up?

I would LOVE to post some comments from transracial adoptees who grew up in white families and how they felt about these issues. If any of you are reading, please comment and educate us.


Amy said...

I worry about this as well. While we do plan to adopt more than one child (eventually) that does change the fact that they will be Ethiopian children in a white family. I get the same response from friends and have a similar background to you. The more we educate and prepare ourselves the better.

Sam's mom said...

I agree, pretending it's not an issue won't make it go away, ignorance (for our children) is not bliss in this situation.
I want Sam to be proud that he's Ethiopian. Just like my DH is proud he's Italian. I don't want to shrink away just because it may be an uncomfortable issue. Rather, I want to arm Sam, so he can answer questions and the ignorance of others.
I want to prepare him for the racism I hope never happens. But he must be armed, or he'll be defenseless.

shauna said...

I will definitely go see that film too if I can.
So... about the painting. I know! I fell in love with it when I saw it. I purchased it from an Italian restaurant in Addis that was full of paintings from all different artists. They took the canvas off the wooden frame and just rolled it for me to travel home with... and then I just had it restretched out here. Now... As far as the artist? Hmmm... don't know how to tell you about getting one -- I believe the artists are just locals from Addis... if you really wanted to do some research, I could try and find out the name of the restaurant and you could go that route? Let me know...
Hope all is well.

Anjolcake said...

I don't have an answer because I have the same issue just in reverse. I hope someone comments with some words of wisdom or first hand experience.

J-momma said...

talk talk talk about it. that's what i've heard is the best way to handle it. even if it seems uncomfortable. talking makes it more normal. we are actually moving to a very hispanic town so my kids (who are hispanic) will actually be the majority. the schools are 80% hispanic. i love it. it's very important to me that my kids aren't the only "brown" kids in their class. or even one of the only ones. and transracial adoptees that reiturated this importance. the more you are around people who look like your kids, the more they will feel like it's okay to be black/hispanic/asian/biracial/whatever. especially if you are exposing them to professional and people of power who are minorities. it tells them they are valuable in our country. because eventually, our kids will start associating themselves with other people who look like them. so the more they have a positive view of people of their race, the more they will have a positive view of themselves. and that will feed their pride and self esteem.

since adopting my kids i have noticed how unequal minorities are represented, everywhere but specifically in childrens books and toys. even in looking for christmas decorations, there are very few black santas or historically accurate representations of jesus. anytime i see a book with minority characters, i buy it. my kids have dolls, fisher price characters, and books of all colors. i don't know if this will do anything in the long term to help their identity, but it seems like the right thing to do right now. we also talk about mateo and maya's skin color. i try to find pretty words to describe it, like bronze, golden, olive. and i tell them that they are hispanic (the baby doesn't understand yet), daddy is italian, and mommy is swedish. we are all special and learn about each other. i tell them their skin and eyes and hair color is beautiful. and that we are happy we get to learn about hispanic culture. again, don't know if that will help any, but it seems right for now.

as far as racism, we absolutely have to prepare them. my kids are too young for that right now. right now it's about building up their self esteem about their looks, since pretty soon, mateo will start to realize he looks different from his parents. i want him to be ok with that. but as he gets older, he needs to know about racism, but also that many people are trying to fight against racism and that there's hope in the world. he's not doomed to be anything he doesn't want to be.

anyway, just my thoughts. i do get a little upset at people who have several white bio kids then adopt only one black or minority child. i feel that's unfair to the child. no offense to anyone. but of course, i'm also someone who believes the world is already overpopulated and everyone should adopt. :)

good subject. i'm interested in hearing more views.

Lisa said...

As a fellow adoptive mom, I agree with your point! In fact, here's a Newsweek article that supports your thought that ignoring racial issues does more harm than good: