This post was inspired by Kristens post over at Rage Against The Minivan.
My daughter is black (domestic adoption) and my son is latino (adopted from Guatemala), my husband and I are white. We live in a moderately racially diverse area, heavy on the white and latino population. My husband and I were raised in an urban area where at times we were in the minority. Both of us are comfortable living in an interracial family. Part of the responsibility for the type of family we chose, is being vigilant in addressing issues of racism and prejudice. (Which happens daily. Yes, daily) Another responsibility we have is to seek out medical professionals, teachers and community leaders that ‘look like’ our kiddos. We consider carefully if we are going to have the only brown kids at an event we are attending or in a sport we are signing up for. We are almost compulsively involved in their education so as to be certain that race is not a factor in the quality of their instruction or in any disciplinary action. Our decisions are not made out of fear, but to be ever mindful of the impact of these interactions have on our children. Institutionalized racism is part of the fabric of our society, white privilege informs most of what is happening around us. We must be aware of this and address issues as they arise.
We have several people in our lives that state we “over think” all of this. They tell me its ridiculous to refuse to put my daughter in clothing with watermelons or monkeys on them. They tell me when my son was being singled out as “lazy” at school that I overreacted. (He isn’t lazy, he wasn’t getting his work done because he had untreated ADD). If he had been white, would lazy have been used to describe him? I’m not sure, but I do know that I am too tired and too busy to educate everyone in my life about white privilege and the perpetuation of racial stereotypes. We take swift action (we pulled him from that school ) and move on with the business of living this life we are creating.
When I first brought my son home, I noticed people noticing us. He has light brown skin, dimples as deep as the grand canyon with dark eyes and gorgeous dark brown hair. He is uninhibited and friendly with everyone he meets. I ‘ve had only one person comment on our differences. A cashier in a hardware store asked me, “What is he mixed with”? My gut reaction was to say, “A spoon”, but that’s because I’m a jerk. I responded, “He is latino”. “Oh.” When I am out alone with him, it is reasonable to assume that his father is Latino and I am his birth mother. This is an easy leap as our community has a large (and growing) number of interracial couples. Our visual impact is minimal unless I am in a room of children where, at least one of them will ask why I am a different color than my son.
There seems to be more of a jolt for onlookers when I am out with my daughter. She has dark brown skin, full lips, dark eyes with eyelashes that go on for days and incredibly luscious corkscrew curls. When I first brought her home, I was hypervigilant about how people were responding to us. Awareness is valuable, but, I would interpret every glance or stare as disapproval. You have probably heard the saying, “You will get out of people what you expect from them”. I expected the world to reject our relationship and so that is all that I could see. After hours and hours of chatting on adoption forums and talking with friends and family, I realized that I just had to make the decision to stop looking for disapproval.
My energy shifted tremendously, which I am sure contributed to people feeling more comfortable smiling at us or commenting on how beautiful she is. (I am not kidding, every time we went out in public someone told me she should be in a magazine). But there was one shift that was surprising. Because I am white, older white women (older, like in their 70′s) felt like they somehow had permission to touch my daughter’s hair. They would come over in restaurants to say hi to her and would invariably reach their hand out to touch her hair. Now, I am going to take a leap and say, If I were a black mother out for lunch with her black daughter, these old white ladies would NOT be coming by and they would definitely not be touching anyones hair. I struggled with it a lot. These women, born into a segregated world, never imagined they would touch the hair on a black person’s head. Was my little girl some sort of ambassador? She didn’t ask for that. Should I have seen them coming and asked them not to touch? Certainly my daughter was not harmed by this, she LOVED the attention. And to see the light shining in the eyes of these women after having interacted in such a gentle and positive way…well, it seemed important. I still struggle with this but my daughter is able to advocate for her self these days, so that makes it easier.
After the shift from fear to love…that’s what is was you know? I had projected fear and I received it, when I projected love I got love back. Pretty simple stuff really. After MY shift, things seemed easier.
Within and between all races there are complications. Fear and misunderstanding, prejudice and ignorance are abundant in all of our communities. In my family we practice loving ourselves , we practice standing up for what we believe in and for what we value and think is right. We learn that what others think of us is none of our business, but how they treat us is our business. We do not accept unacceptable behavior from ourselves or from those around us.
I cannot teach my daughter how to be a ‘black’ woman, or my son to be a ’latino’ man. I can teach them how to be empowered and self-assured human beings. I can teach them that prejudice is based in fear and that all of us will have to learn skills to overcome that fear.
Peace, Love and Understanding,