Friday, December 5, 2008

Black Kids in White Houses

Over a year ago, I joined a message board dedicated to Ethiopian adoption. I can count on one hand the number of times I have posted, partly due to the negative and reactionary tone often found on this board. People often get "flamed," and misunderstandings run rampant. I remain a member though because I want to be exposed to what is going on in the world of Ethiopian adoption, whether I agree with the viewpoints expressed there or not.

Recently, someone on the board linked this article, which I strongly recommend you read. It's caused quite a bit of debate, which I completely understand. These are hard things to read. Reading this article produced in me the same feelings I had when reading a group of blogs I found last year about
adult adoptees who were chronicling their search for their biological roots and discussing how awful it was for them to have been adopted. These blogs, full of truth and bitterness, um...freaked me out. A lot. "Black Kids in White Houses" made me scared that one day Abe is going to look at us with bitterness and tell us that "love wasn't enough" (one of the claims the article supports).

It is a lot to try to go into in a short amount of time (namely, while Abe is taking a nap), but one thing I came away with after reading this article is that the adoptive families that "failed" did so because of an attempt by the parents to be "color-blind." As parents of a child of a different race, we can never ignore the reality of racism that our children are going to face when they are older. This is so much a no-brainer to me. And I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Any parents adopting a child of a different race is doing their child a disservice if they don't read books like In Their Own Voices. We must must must listen to what adult transracial adoptees have to say about their experiences growing up in a family that doesn't look like them.

I mull over these issues every single day. That is my responsibility as a parent of an African child, a responsibility that I must take seriously. I will do my best to nurture in Abe a pride in his Ethiopian heritage, all while hopefully inter-twining the Irish/Scottish/German/American Southern roots that he gets from Ted and me. We'll probably be eating a lot of Guiness stew, with spaetzle, injera, and black-eyed peas. We'll all get grafted in to each other into a very unique family tree.

Such is my hope, but it is easy to be overcome by fear when I read transracial adoption horror stories. I'd been feeling some of that fear lately, and yesterday afternoon in Home Depot, we had an encounter with a man that left both Ted and me in tears, good tears.

While Ted was ordering paint, Abe and I were looking at the displays of Santa figurines. I was delighted to find a row of brown-skinned Santas, and while I was poring over them, an African American man approached us and said, "Ah, I see you're looking at the black Santas because of your boy there." I smiled and nodded and he said a few words to Abe before walking away, though he kept looking at us from a distance.

Ted got there soon after and I showed him the Santa I'd picked out. As we were walking to the register, the man approached us again. Many times when people see Abe with only one of us, they assume that one of his parents is African-American. But I suppose that after seeing both of Abe's parents, the man realized that he had been adopted, so he came up to us to ask us about that.

It turns out that this man had also been adopted into a white family as an infant. I was so excited to hear what he had to say to us. He first expressed to us what a good thing adoption is. His parents adopted another African-American child after him, and he told us about how good it was for him to grow up with a sibling that looked like him.

I asked him if his parents had a very d
iverse community of friends, and he said, "no." He explained that his adolescence was extremely difficult. Finding a place where he fit was very hard for him. But he then said that his father, a professor, did his best to try to understand what it meant to raise an African-American son, not just a white son. I wish he'd had more time for us to ask him more about this.

Finally, I asked him what advice he would give to people like us, white parents trying to raise children of African descent. My heart was actually beating faster as I waited for his answer. I was hanging on his every word.

His answer?

"Just make sure you love him. Let him know every day how much you love him, and it's all going to turn out okay."

A lump rose in my throat as I fought back tears. I looked at strong Ted, and saw the tears already in his eyes. We both thanked the man and Ted told him that this is the one thing we know that we'll do right in raising Abe.

I know that it's naive to think that love is everything. We still need to do the work of educating ourselves about issues of race and adoption, but I was so comforted to hear from a man who is personally and acutely aware of the difficulties of being raised in a white family, that quite possibly, love can have the power to cover the mistakes that we will surely make as parents of an African child.

So maybe love isn't everything, but it surely accounts for a heck of a lot.

28 comments:

A Memory Each Day said...

beautiful.

Blog Shmog said...

This makes me teary. Thanks for writing this out. I really need to make a list of recommended books to read on issues like this...

Ted and Lori said...

Joy: there's a list of books in our archives (can't remember which month) under the post "Recommended Reading for an Ostrich." I put together a list that I'd read and that I want to read.

coffeemom said...

Lori. First: GREAT PICS. Second, I'm so glad that you ran into that man. I'm thinking you were meant to (not to get too mystical magical on you). Next, this is an issue we've been chewing on for years, living with and through. And that's the bottom line of course. You love them more than anything. And you make sure, because you love them, that you are NOT, NOT colorblind. Because you can't be. It matters. For their sake, you can't.
Boy are you the perfect mom for this gorgeous adorable boy.
Love the pics. Great post. Love M

The Albertsons said...

tears.
i love that you shared your home depot story. that is amazing and such a gift to you.
the article... you know? these things are so tricky. because some people read them and get angry, and others feel justified in their opinion that it's best for children to not be adopted across races. I guess in a perfect world, it would be best for all children to be able to remain in their birth families. Yes, that would be best, if it was right. But our world is broken, and children need love. They need us to be educated, and hopefully that's happening way, way more in this generation than in generations before. We can hope. Not many people know about my older sister, emily. She is bi-racial (looks like our new president). She, too, is a strong believer in LOVE. She told me... "tell Sam you love him... that he is beautiful... every single day."
And I will.
becca

Sara said...

I dug your post. It was a great reminder of the huge responsibility we have as parents (or hopefully soon to be parents) of African children. My world was rocked after reading the adult adoptee blogs and the book Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption. It freaked me out, but in a necessary, get out of lala-land kind of way. I also found an organization out of Oakland called PACT http://www.pactadopt.org/, which does work with families who have adopted transracially. They had some good book suggestions and resources.

Lori S said...

Thank you for sharing! I am leaving this month to bring home my daughters. I want to be a good mother and be well educated in the things that they may experience. I appreciate the support I have in this blog community--a place to turn!
Keep writing!

Julie said...

Love this post. How cool that you met this man in the HD. Very serendipitous. And your boys are super cute.

Jocelyn said...

Beautiful post, I got teary reading about your encounter so I can't imagine how you felt being there. I have all of these same fears but the one thing that I do know is that it would be more concerning if we didn't. Hope that makes sense! Love that picture of Abe and Ted, it is so sweet!!

Erin and Keith Sager said...

Beautifully written, I think I may be on the same messsage board, which I rarely post, but read dailey.....Sometimes it breaks my heart, but I have learned a lot in return. I think its so great you ran in that man, it most likely made that mans day as well...Thanks for sharing.....

Amy said...

Dang Lori.... Your posts are so well written and thoughtful!

Josh and I just read this together... well I read it out loud to him. I could not make it through because I was crying! We hear you... We agree with about the importance of not being color blind!!! And I am going to order that book now...

I too have been looking for dark skinned cute santas, nativity scenes, etc and have found nada. I have not looked at Home Depot though.

I am going to be seeing you soon. :)

Stacie said...

I had to fight back tears there too. And this is the second time that article has been recommended - I am off to read it...

Danni and Tommy said...

Thank you for this post. I needed it today.
My Dad is Hispanic, but my sister and I credit my white mother as the one who made me feel SO proud to be Hispanic.
I love this conversation even though I find it scary.
I'm so lucky to know you so we can continue to have it for the next many, many years!

Rebecca said...

This post has me in tears. I don't know if I would have been able to hold the tears in at Home Depot!

Sweet picture of Abe and Ted. A lot of love there.

Caroline said...

ah, more tears here. Thanks for sharing that beautiful encounter :)

Christina said...

Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts on this article, as well as your experiences at HD. I read the same article last week and had a lot of mixed feelings. I typically avoid writing blog entries about these types of topics, often in fear that I will inadequately express my position/reactions and thus be misunderstood. Thanks for being courageous enough to put yourself out there.

More Dorrs said...

Thank you for this Lori. I've been thinking about this stuff constantly since we talked on Wednesday.

I am so grateful to that man in Home Depot. How incredible that you would have a 'chance' meeting in the same week where that article came into your life. :) Funny how things work...

-beka

Karen said...

Thank you for sharing, Lori. Now that I'm almost done with nursing school, I am planning on catching up on all that reading about this topic that I couldn't get through before we traveled, and certainly had no chance to get through after we added a baby to the mix.

courtney rose said...

Ahhh- such an amazing story. I am so glad you shared that here- and your pictures fit the entire write-up to a T.

Well done, dearest Lori, well done.

Staci said...

Loved reading this. And the photos are fantastic!

The Roberts Family said...

So appreciate this post! David was blessed to have an incredibly chat with a guy at McDonald's this last week. He was SO happy to see we'd adopted, as he and his siblings were also. He wanted to know who we went through because his adoptive mom is wanting to adopt more! What a blessing it is to hear of the "good stories" too. Us moms need that encouragement now and then also. :) Love this photos!! Blessings, Shelly

los cazadores said...

Wow, Lori, what an uplifting encounter especially after reading such a severe article...thanks for being honest about your feelings after reading it. It certainly was a tough read.

Cindy

Lori said...

I don't know how I missed this~

Your posts are always a treat to read for one reason or another. I just printed the article and am anxious to read it...

That encounter sounds priceless in many ways - Lori

Nicole said...

Beautiful, touching post and beautiful pictures.

jen said...

Great post. Thanks for the link to the article.

Erica said...

Tears. Good tears. But tears. What an awesome story. I am so thankful you shared that here. You know what we've already encountered recently on this topic and its been something I can't shake. I've poured over articles, had long heart to hearts with my husband, held Silas a little tighter, explained racism a little more to my other children, and prayed a little more over this small child God has entrusted to us. I agree with you 100% it is absolutely our job to do our very best in educating ourselves on how to be the BEST parents we can to all of our children. I love implementing all the cultural backgrounds. It warmed my heart to hear my mother in law bought berbere spice and made misir wat for our Oregon family. Love her. You and Ted are amazing parents, Abe is blessed to have you and you him.

Single PAP said...

that is a beautiful photo.

Sarah said...

Hi! I found your blog through Amy's. And I am so glad I did! Your Abe is so flippin' adorable it's ridiculous. I have never met Amy but went to high school with her husband's family. I just wanted to comment real quick on this awesome post. I was adopted by white parents and feel it very sad that articles, (that you had a link too) about how AA adopted adults are angry about being adopted interracially or feel injustice because of their placement, are even being written. It makes it seem as though this is the thought process of the majority of us who have been interracially adopted. I have many friends who have been adopted as well outside of their race and are nothing but happy and grateful for where God has placed us. That doesn't mean that we don't wonder about our birth family. That is only normal. No matter how much love I received from my family (and it was a lot) I still wondered about my birth family, I wondered about them but did not desire to BE with them. Honestly, I would have to say a lot of my security in who I am and who my family is comes from the love I felt from God and from my family. It also comes from feeling secure and confident in who I am and where I came from, and my life story. I own my story and am happy to share with people. Keep loving on Abe and keep being the awesome parents that you are. PS Hope your shoulder is feeling better!