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 diverse 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.
"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.