This blog post is based on a status update I made recently on Facebook. I have adapted it for this blog. Thanks, Brett, for giving me a place to share my voice on this topic.
Over the years I have been quite active with blogging, sharing my colourful thoughts about everything from the opening act at the U2 concert to my opinion on Apple vs Android. However, since becoming an adoptive parent 3 years ago I slowly became less vocal. I am not 100% sure why, but I chalk it up to the fact that I have learnt that pointless and uneducated opinions simply clutter up the world.
November is Adoption Awareness month. I don’t really like weighing myself up, suddenly, as an expert simply because I adopted a child. But after reading a friend’s bit about his experiences as a “trans-racial adoptive parent”, I saw the value in taking advantage of an “awareness month”. I am not particularly comfortable with all these terms we have to categorise the whole thing, like “trans-racial” but it’s the best we have so I will be using them here.
I have come to understand that people’s responses to issues like race, generally reflect their own problems and issues. I think this also contributed to my increasing silence about things, only posting things online or sharing with friends when I really feel the need.
My first comment regarding adoption, and specifically trans-racial adoption is that I have come to understand that racism in and of itself as a “sin” in this world, does not discriminate. Whatever the colour of your skin, you do have some bias to the way you were raised and the norms you are accustomed to – no matter how hard you try to be non-racial or non-sexist or whatever… we are all prejudiced in some way. It’s the responses that show up our racism and prejudice. I get a little uncomfortable with a person who vehemently insists they are “non-racial”, because this inevitably means they are!
People’s responses about Alou (our daughter), for example. Oh, “she is so lucky to have you”, interprets as, “man, so unfortunate she was born black but at least you saved her”, or “man she is such a cute little coconut” interprets as “man at least it’s only her skin that’s black” and my personal favourite, “just listen to how well she speaks”, yes, she speaks South African English like a South African English person, you… person! This comment only points out how overly aware you are of people’s skin tone … Sure, I’m a cynic, but when you hear these sorts of things on a regular basis you come to a pretty accurate understanding of the motives of people.
Our focus as trans-racially adoptive parents is on the fact that everyone is different. Uncle so-and-so is fat, aunty so-and-so has a big nose, daddy is caramel, mommy is vanilla and you are chocolate… and we really love chocolate! We try our best not to use the terms black or white, because they are loaded with our history of prejudice and bias… and it isn’t always easy to do when you realise it’s a thing we always do – try to box people as black or white or whatever (talks a certain way, has certain beliefs, etc). It also brings up the issue of culture which is a minefield of drama, especially for a toddler let alone adults who want to know how we speak to her since she is Xhosa or how we relate to her since she is from a different culture or black people who get possessive over her because Alou “belongs” to them. Remember, her birth parents chose us, not the other way round.
My second comment regarding all this is: TRANS-RACIAL ADOPTION IS NOT A THIRD RATE OPTION – if your response to my position is shame… you’re wrong. In this world of grey areas, I refuse and will not accept shame as a reasonable response to someone who simply has a “different” family unit.
Sure, some parents reach this point of building a family through adoption due to infertility and hardship but nobody forced them to adopt, they always have other options. In the end adoption is a different way of forming a family. The bond is real and strong, the love is real and life changing and the experience is more than anything one could imagine. It’s not a thing you should say “shame” about. I am not ashamed. We as adoptive families are not feeling sad or wounded or upset that we ended up with a family that isn’t blood. I am pretty sure you can ask any adoptive family member, whether religious/spiritual or not, and they will all agree that by some incredible cosmic plan they were MEANT to be with their adoptive family members. It’s an incredible sense of meaning.
In our home Alou is ours. Full stop (or period for the Americans). She knows this deep in her heart. And when people’s attitudes suggest otherwise she gets unsure and wants to be in my arms. And we try to say things to reassure people that she is ours. She is not a culture, or a race. None of us are.
I can say from Rita and my perspective that although the natural process of getting to know this foreign little creature that gets handed to you at a care facility for children can be tough; in every moment we have sensed God’s hand and intimate care in making sure Alou was our daughter. In fact, she was always ours: I wrote a song during the month Alou was born, about how there were whispers in the trees of our love. I had no idea she was being born. But both Rita and I could feel her in our lives before she arrived.
Lastly, we could all do with a little grace for one another. People will pass us in the mall and stare, often with a disgusted or confused look on their faces – seeing this skinny white man with his very vibrant chocolate baby girl. I always wait and watch them in the corner of my eye. After a few seconds those people almost always look back with a smile. They’ve processed the information – the family they saw was not in their frame of reference but then decided that whatever brought us together must have been something special. Many of these people bump into us again and want to say hello. And this opens a door of discussion.
There are two other groups of people apart from those who accept us as trans-racial families: those who choose to remain ignorant and not process the information (the sorts of people who ask the same silly questions every time I see them!) and those who choose to accept it as wrong. I spend most of my energy on those who accept it, but maybe say the wrong non-PC word here and there. They’re great because you get to laugh about our weird prejudices and slowly break them down. When I feel adventurous I will engage with the ignorant… and for the last group who think we are wrong, well, I love you and I hope God deals with you because my responses aren’t really appropriate in public spaces! I mean, how does one respond to, “How much did your baby cost?!” I joke, but really, if a person’s response isn’t too offensive, it’s always great to engage and try deposit some thought that will challenge someone like that.
I have stopped blogging mostly because the more I know, the less confident I feel in my certainty about things. Life is fluid and messy and confusing. People change. And have hugely differing views on literally everything. We all have something valuable to contribute to this melting pot of ideas and progress. And every one of us can do with a little grace to get us through.