Monday, June 15, 2009

Conspicuous Families

As I’ve discussed before, I have a prejudice of sorts about people who are not willing to adopt transracially. I’m trying to be less judgmental about it and so I try to understand by coming up with various theories about why people are not willing to adopt transracially. One my theories goes like this:

When you adopt transracially, you are “putting yourself out there” in a way that people who adopt children who look like themselves are not.

You give up a little bit of your privacy. The most casual observer sees my family—white dad, white mom, black child—and probably makes all kinds of assumptions about us. Just by looking, one would guess that Lil Sweetie is not our biological child. People sometimes incorrectly guess that Lil Sweetie is a foster child or a grand child. People may guess that Mr. Sweetie or I are infertile. People sometimes wrongly assume that Lil Sweetie was not born in the U.S.

To adopt transracially, you have to be comfortable with people looking at your family differently, being curious about your family, making assumptions about your family. You have to become comfortable with your infertility (if you are infertile) and not mind people knowing or guessing that some of your parts are broken. You have to be comfortable with strangers asking questions. Well, I guess that’s not don’t have to be comfortable with it. But it’s gonna happen, so you have to be prepared.

I thought I was prepared. My standard response to nosy questions from strangers and acquaintances has been "Why do you ask?" Sometimes people say "Because we are thinking about adopting," in which case I try to answer their questions. But most of the time, people are too embarrassed to admit "Because I’m nosy" and so they sort of mumble something and scurry away.

But I wasn’t really prepared for questions from children. I remember when Lil Sweetie was just a baby, an older child at the day care/private school asked, "How come you got a black baby?" My mind raced through possible responses, none of which seemed appropriate, and then I finally blurted out, "Because some families are chocolate and some families are vanilla but my family is chocolate-vanilla swirl." It satisfied the kid and she scampered off so that has become my standard response to most questions from kids. Sometimes, though, a kid will ask something like "How come her mama couldn’t take care of her?" Those children I want to give a pinch to (at least when they ask the question in front of Lil Sweetie) but I just say that I am her mother and I take very good care of her, thank you very much, and if they have further questions about adoption, they should ask their mom or dad.

This weekend, we attended the Africa West festival here in Oklahoma City. And we got more than a few looks from people. Friendly looks, but still looks. People notice us. After seven years, we are used to it. But I can see that this is not for everybody. For people who are extremely shy or extremely private, the conspicuous aspect of transracial adoption would probably be a nightmare.

Which is a shame, because transracial adoption has enriched my life so much. It has enriched the lives of many people I know. It opens up whole new worlds, when you adopt a child of another race. It’s sort of like that moment in the Wizard of Oz when the film switches from black-and-white to color. I hate to sound like a moron but there were all kinds of things happening in the world that I knew little about, or that I knew about but didn’t take personally. Now as the mother of a black child, I follow news events affecting African-Americans more closely, I study black history more diligently. I speak up about things. I question things. I’m more curious, not only about African-American culture, but all cultures.

It amazes me how people grow when a baby of another race enters their life, even peripherally. Friends and family now notice how rare it is to find a birthday card with a black child on it, or how black Barbie doesn’t have black features, or they get irate because there is no black Disney princess. A friend who is a staunch Republican sent me a copy of President Obama’s signature because she knows how meaningful it is to us to have a black President.

So yes, the fact that we are a multi-racial family makes us conspicuous, and occasionally invites comments and questions that we would just as soon not have to deal with it. But the rewards of being Lil Sweetie’s mama are soooooo worth it.


Anjolcake said...

We're a conspicuous too-Me(Anjolcake)is black,Princessa, Sugar and Stinkerbell are white. It can be hard but noe I can't imagine my life witou them.

Milly said...

But the rewards of being Lil Sweetie’s mama are soooooo worth it

Being her Aunt is a great gig also. :-}