Recently a friend was over for a play date with her two kids. On the way home from the park she told me the story of a young Black girl who was adopted by dear friends of her parents twenty some years ago, in a near by state. The young woman was the only child of color in her neighborhood, and her school all her life. Her family had no friends of color, and did precious little to expose their daughter to people of any color at all, as far as the story teller knew. As the girl grew up, she began her own research wherever she could find answers, which was for the most part on television. By 19 she had run away from home, in search of a more authentic Black experience, according to the friend. It has been years since she has heard any news of the young woman from the family.
Even if this story is missing 90% of the truth, and sharing only 10% of it, the outcome did not really surprise me at all. I sat with that story, grieved for the girl, and the family. I immediately wondered how that story might or might not apply to the experience my sons were having. Then I let myself try to imagine being raised by parents of color in a non white community. I tried to imagine what it would be like, if there were no white people in my neighborhood or school, or in 98% of the movies I saw, or music I listened to. I imagined only going to a Black/ person of color dentist, and doctor, and once in a great while meeting another white kid at a play group, or on a soccer team. I imagined what it would be like if everyone assumed her and I would naturally want to be friends because of how much we were suddenly alike. I tried to picture my family acting out their very well intentioned “white traditional customs” to help me feel seen or taken into consideration.
Then I imagined my family noticing all of that, and doing their very best to make friends who looked like me, with kids who looked like me too, and not just having a few books on the shelf, and one white doll. I let myself feel the relief in knowing I was not always going to be the other, the exception, the one who “is not really white, because we see her as one of us!” I imagined how I might feel so worried to ask them for what I perceived I needed in case it seemed like to do so was in someway a negation of all the “good” and “loving” they were providing me. Not that I would even know what it is I needed to begin with, but if I did…
I tried to picture arriving at college years later, and being roommates with another white person, but really not understanding certain “givens” that all other white people might just assume I would know, or do, or talk about. Givens around customs, hair care, celebrations, religion, food, art, and so forth.
That little five minute journey opened me up even more to what I need to be doing more of, and more of. Sammy did not choose to be placed in this family. I chose to honor his place in this world to the best of my ability, when his first mom, his birth mom, his only mom until I showed up placed him in my arms. The more I learn, experience and grow, the more able I am to provide him with an experience that allows him to be as fully realized as possible in this world he has been placed in. That is my duty to him, and Marcel.
I just know that for me anyway, I tend to learn more, when I can imagine myself in the other person’s shoes. Or, at least try to.
Sad story /cautionary tale…
… I love what you did by the way … very few of us white people really think beyond “well we aren’t racist.” Reminds me of being a 25-year-old white woman in Japan and feeling so ‘lost in translation’ … and then again in India… but STILL being the privileged one who could go home, who was there because I had the money to back-pack around Asia..
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how it’s an unalterable fact that my son does not live with his biological family nor does he live with a black family nor does he live in a black community (because there aren’t any in Vancouver.) This is his reality.
This is also his reality: he lives with us in a multiracial community and he has ties to his birth family. Many of us adoptive moms/dads of Vancouver have created friendships and connections around adoption that we hope will result in lasting friendships for our children. But no matter which way you slice it, this is the reality of his life, and we are working (just like you and everyone I know) to make it a great one. I might add that all the “work,” isn’t really work, it’s expansive, world-opening stuff.
SO well said H. It isn’t “work” it is the gift of the transformation our children brought to us. And yes–I think along the same lines–embracing as much as I know how the “unalterable” truth and celebrating it while always mindful of all that that means. His path is his path. It was chosen for him, but he makes amazing choices within it. The woman in the story above made her choices too. Perhaps because for now anyway Sam’s first parents are not actively in our lives it feels even more stark or -what else can I do- to me sometimes?
And by the way, I don’t mean to make it seem like because we have a relationship with my son’s birthfamily (… and that is right now…) that he is somehow going to be happier, better rounded, blah blah blah… at all that. I just think we’re all dealt a hand and we have to, as you pointed out, accept our path, and go with it. We only have one life.
Oh of course it isn’t taken that way at all. I have my demons you know–like; “what if I had…” or “what if I didn’t”. But again I appreciate your insights–and this is just exactly what and how it is. My job is not to get stuck in that what ifs…but to allow exactly this life as it is, to be the very best. Maybe in the end this is what shee needs and wants? Maybe when he is grown they will sort things out on different ground? Maybe not..
I, like you, tend to learn more about myself, my thoughts, my feelings when I put myself into another’s shoes. When I was a child, the school that I went to had one black boy. One.
I was friends with Kevin, where many were not. I hated that people treated him different. I talked to my Mom about it, and she had told me a story of a friend she had in high school who was black, she wasn’t allowed at my grandparent’s home, and my Mom wasn’t welcome at their’s either. I hated my Mom’s story, it was sad, they were friends. They should have been allowed to be friends.
When Mack was little, I sent her to an awesome summer camp, blogged it here http://makingmonkeysoup.com/2011/05/25/macks-summer-camp/
I wasn’t in a trans-racial relationship, I was nearly two years from meeting my husband, and was quite far away from being the mother to Mea. That experience was incredible for me and for Mack.
Perfect. Thank you, once again, for not trying to be that perfect-white-parent-of-nonwhite-kids-who-has-nothing-to-learn. Thank you for giving us permission to grow by showing us how you do.