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Race Fast Forward Fifteen from a Jaiya John’s Passage

January 15, 2010
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I picked this up again last night, when I was gathering all of the books I have on adoption from an adult point of view. I am working on a resource list for the blog, and would love suggestions from my readers. Depending on the breadth of the list, I would like to create an “Adoption Challenge” too. ( Color Online has inspired me to create one my own. ) Please let me know if your suggestion is geared toward a particular group (transracial adoption, or Korean Adoption for example).  I have read about two thirds of this book on several occasions. I may never  finish it. I don’t know that I need to. I use it like some people pick up a tarot deck or a bible. I pick open a page, and root around until I find what I need at that moment.

This passage from Black Baby White Hands by Jaiya Johns struck me in light of my conversation with Sam in the car  the other day, my conversation with his teachers this morning/this afternoon, and the brief resource review/Diversity 101 Invitation and presentation I gave with two other colleagues yesterday at the middle school where I work. We were actually soliciting suggestions for topics they would like covered in a Diversity Workshop.  The responses were encouraging and thought provoking.  One of the colleagues is the only teacher of color at our school, and the other colleague is a teacher who works with beginning English Language Learners. Each of these events were organized around race, loosely.

In this passage Johns, who is African American, and who was adopted in the 1960’s by a white couple in New Mexico reflects on how his adoptive white family (the Potter family), and his biological black family (the Jenkins family) talk about race:

My adoptive family did not often speak on race-to them it was a subject. A subject that was largely external to them . It floated out there in the air as dust they could only see when the light through the window was right.  They could choose to speak on that subject if they wished, or if the circumstances forced them to do so.

To the Jenkins’ though, race was not a subject. It was their life. They were subject to it. They talked about it as freely as they spoke of the weather, without discomfort, shame or fear. When you have truly, consciously reckoned with a thing your whole life, it tends to lose its power to discomfort you. It becomes the weather. And just like the weather is there to greet you every single day. (P. 330)

I must be growing in important ways, because in the past when I would pick up this book, I would honestly just get irritated and put it down.  Now I just want to read it over. I listen to John’s voice and am constantly imagining the conversations I will be having with Sam and Marcel at 15, 18, and 20 and think; I don’t want them saying that to me. I have a lot of work to do to make sure the memoir they write is less scathing!

What books either about adoption, or race or anything related to the worlds explored here, have that effect on you?

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