I am really jazzed about this series of vignettes, and the TRA community exchange happening here in the process. I’m open to adapting the form of this to meet the needs of the participating community. So OFFER FEEDBACK please. Some vignettes will speak more to some members of the community than others. I hope to cover a range of topics (over the coming months, about once a week) so that TRA/multi-racial readers through adoption, marriage, birth and any other means will feel interested and invited to participate. Thank you to all who have enthusiastically endorsed this undertaking on and off line! Let’s get started.
Vignette #1: Making friends of color as adults
Before adopting Sam I had zero Black friends. I mean the kind of people who you call when you are excited about a life event, or in a panic. The friends who have to be at the graduation, or else it doesn’t count. I had acquaintances of color in college, and friends of friends when I lived in New York City after college. I dated a few Black men in and out of college, but had not remained friends with them. It was not about choice, I would tell myself, but circumstance. Was I waiting for them to find me?
The present moment: I am sitting in a heart of the city diner waiting for Hassan to join me and the boys for breakfast. Everyone else in the very small breakfast nook is White-except for one other obviously TRA adopted Black girl, and an Indian woman with her toddler and partner. When he shows up Marcel hurls himself towards him, almost tackling him with love. Sam is more laid back, waiting for Hassan to come to the table to exchange greetings. My feelings for Hassan range from maternal to sibling like to occasional-groupie. Hassan is a beautiful, brown skinned jazz musician/composer in his mid twenties. He is an African American male born and raised in Cincinnati. He was introduced to me through Eddie-our former Haitian-French nanny-big sister-friend. Our family friendship with Hassan includes visits, texts, phone calls, and family dinners. As he reaches the table, I get up and meet him with a giant embrace.
I consider for a second if the people in the diner think he is Sam’s or Marcel’s father? He looks older than he is. I realize I care a lot less what the hell people think about me and my family than I used to.
We share a meal. We decide on the after meal outing. We talk about kindergarten, baseball, his visit home, and being a Black man in Portland. He says that he loves it here. He loves the space and freedom he feels to create here. He went to college near here, is discovering as an adult his profound love of the outdoors. He did not have this as a child, and is in complete awe of things like watching the sun rise from the top of a mountain, and being on a sail boat far enough out that there is only water on all sides.
When I asked him point blank if he thought I was doing my children a disservice by raising them here he shook his head NO emphatically. He said the kids will know the world wherever they live, as long as I keep doing what I do. He talked about the rich diversity of his friendships here in Portland, and how that is what brings him back. It is not about just having Black friends, it is about having friends who are everything he said. Black, Jewish, gay, Hungarian, poor, Muslim, Asian… “But,” I interrupted him, “what about everything I can’t teach them about being a Black man, a Black person?”
He paused. He thought. Then he said, “As long as they have friends who look like them, and who share the experience of being Black in the world, they are going to be fine. And they have that at school and out of school. It doesn’t have to be everywhere. It just has to be accessible in the form of a few close friends.” Of course this is his opinion, and of course this is what I want to hear. I realize this, and continue to push.
Between throwing rocks, and demythologizing Columbus (we were sneaking a pauper’s view of the Nina and the Pinta replicas from the adjoining boatyard in the misting rain) Hassan continued with his thoughts; “Travel” he said “is key.” What ensued was a conversation about creating awareness of the world around us. How easy is it for you to travel? If you are not in an ideal situation, are you committed to frequent trips to places where their race/ethnicity is the social and cultural norm?
After parenting transracially for almost seven years, I can now count on three hands the adult Black and Biracial friends that we see on a very regular basis--to share a meal, a baseball game, or family celebration. This translates to almost every few days that my kids are spending time with an adult or young adult person of color in addition to the children of some of these friends who are also Black or Biracial. In this list I include African American families, African families, Muslim and Christian families, American and foreign born Black families. In addition we meet on a semi regular basis with other transracial adoptive families, which meets many other needs, and will be talked about in future vignettes.
The questions: Is having ongoing friendships and in some cases mentorships with Hassan and other friends of color (ongoing equals shared meals, outings, playdates and the like) the kind of meaningful access to a “racial check point” and connect for my sons to fully or partially meet their needs at this moment? What about when they are older? Does knowing that our extended family is racially inclusive-counterbalance for my children the knowledge and experience- that our larger community appears quite often to be more racially exclusive by in large?
Question for Adult Transracial Adoptees of Color: If you lived in a predominantly monochromatic area growing up, did your parent(s)/guardian(s) have or make friends of color who became important to you? What recollections can you offer here to help families go about this piece better or differently? Did you feel like you were able to learn race related navigational skills from one or two mentors or family members–or was that only partially helpful? Would you agree or disagree with Hassan who is not an adoptee that having a few good friends who look like you, and share your experience of being Black/Asian/Biracial/Latino/Other is enough? Or not?
Question for First parents: How important was it or is it to you now– the racial/ethnic make up of the adoptive parents’ social/religious/educational community? What were your expectations or hopes having to do with these questions of race/ethnicity and place? What kind of choice did you have concerning place and the families that you were considering if applicable?
The how-to’s: Are you wondering how to go about making friends outside of your ethnic or racial group? I asked people who knew me well if they had friends they could introduce us too. Friends with kids, friends without. I had a group of business cards printed up, with a picture of us on one side, that I handed out to people at the swimming pool, or the playground in it felt like an easy connect. Once in a while those materialized into a playdate. All of our dear friends now, were introduced to us by other ear friends. How have other people gone about making friends?
To keep in mind: YES it can feel awkward. And, so what. That is our job. To get passed the awkward and the uncomfortable so that our kids don’t have to live that story everyday of their lives. So, who doesn’t like to be an expert? I have found that in directly asking for HELP in providing my sons and myself with Black and Biracial role models I immediately put people at ease. People love helping kids, and being asked to help period I have found. All you need to get started in shifting your social grouping is one new friend. You’ll either click or you won’t. (I am working on another post, on how this might be easier for me as a non partnered parent.) Online friends of color are a great start, but they don’t count when your kids are concerned. Unless they manifest in real time too!
Have something to add? Please join in. If you feel willing and able to introduce yourself, and what brings you to the conversation, I think it helps to encourage others to share too. And please spread the word to others you think would enjoy the topic, offer insights etc. Feel moved to do your own post on the topic? Have at it, and link back here if you feel so inclined!
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