it seems that as much as i have tried to avoid writing about race, i really cannot get away from the intense desire... or maybe even the need... to write about it. for me, much of my understanding about how others view race and ethnicity has changed over the past 4 years. this is about how long we were openly pursuing adoption.
since we began the adoption process, we have had an array of opinions and concerns from onlookers. family, friends and perfect strangers alike have celebrated, judged and/or criticized our journey. it has been such a medley of responses from people, that i have experienced all the paralleled responsive emotions. i have been shocked, saddened, infuriated and often felt pity toward the opinion-giver. on a rare occasion, i have even felt guilty for adopting an african-american child. before continuing, i would like to say that the overwhelming response from people, both those we know and those we do not, has been extremely positive. almost everywhere we go, people stare, comment, smile and let you know that they are in support.
i always have mixed emotions about the people who go so overboard in an effort to prove they are okay with it. people go on and on about how harper is "sooooo cute, just the cutest little thing ever, never have i seen such an attractive child..." k, i got it. you aren't racist. or another favorite "ya know, he looks just like my very best friend in the whole world's stepdaughter's cousin's half-sister!" ok, i got it. you know somebody else that's black. i say that this over-the-top response gives me mixed emotions because while it seems a little disingenuous to be that enthusiastic about a child you've never met, i also agree that he is the cutest little boy on the planet... so, i let all this slide.
apart from the overly positive remarks, there is the savior-syndrome response. the "how good of you to rescue a poor child" type of remarks. my personal favorite manifestation of this sentiment is "well good for you!" (if you can imagine that exclamation point to symbolize the atta-boy fist-sweep... you will hear the condescension in this better-you-than-me remark.) again, this creates mixed emotions, because some people really do support adoption and i will take all the support i can get... but, some people are just uncomfortable, but like to remain pleasant and upbeat. and it often comes in this "way to go, sport!" form we all know and love.
then we have the occasional openly disapproving (or just downright ignorant) remark. before we even adopted, i was speaking with a man in philadelphia who asked if we were done having children. i said that we were in the process of adopting a child and he boldly stated that one should never "mix real children with adopted children in the same family." this makes me want to puke for a number of reasons. 1) adopted children are still real children. 2) it's none of his freakin' business. and 3) seriously? *i would like to note that this was a hispanic gentlemen, which i only point out to show that it is not always white people, but ignorant people, who make offensive statements.
since then, we have experienced racist remarks clothed in "concern" for us. my personal favorite was a woman i met at a birthday party who was looking at harper in his infant car seat shortly after we brought him home. she gave the usual "wow, well isn't that just the nicest thing you did... blah blah blah." then went right into "now, are you ever afraid that he might become a gang member?"
just gonna take a moment to let that really sink in for you.
(during moments like these i vacillate between the civil responsibility to educate people who are clearly ignorant, and the fleshly desire to punch a face. so far, i have always opted toward civic duty... but usually with a little metaphoric face-punching sarcasm. i can't help it. i'm a mama and just a touch of a rage-aholic. so, this is the best i can do at this point.)
so, i calmly informed her that "the gang activity amongst infants in our area is really quite low." fortunately for us.
even when there aren't these in-your-face statements... there are the occasional, seemingly harmless, less obvious experiences that are shrouded in poor-taste humor. the "i love his little nappy head" and "did you leave him in the tanning booth too long?" type of comments. our son is often confused for other children of color, no matter how different he looks for them, he will be called by the name of another non-white child... as though they are interchangeable.
once, a bitter old man at the airport airplane was giving me nasty looks as i swayed with harper (a newborn) in my sling. when i boarded the plane, the man stood up as i passed him and unapologetically said "where are you headed...back of the bus?" this was actually my first (and worst) encounter with open and cruel racism since we adopted harper at 10 days old.
now, harper is 2 and 1/2 and the comments keep coming. only this past weekend i was at an event where a woman was inquiring about my family. when i mentioned that we were an adoptive family, she asked for more details about him being adopted from america because she had been told "it takes years and years and years to get an american child." i explained to her that since we were open to a child of any race, it actually was a very quick process for us. without a thought she immediately said "oh, so you just lucked out and got a white one."
i felt physically sick, turned tomato-red as i'm told, and again weighed the benefits of violence vs. education. i replied "no, actually he is african-american, but we still condsider ourselves to be very lucky." in hindsight, i kinda regret not roughing her up just a little.
as i revisit some of these encounters in my mind, playing them over and over... i can't help but consider what some people say about trans-racial adoption. that it isn't fair to the child. that they will never feel like they belong. that we are doing him a disservice. i can't help but wonder if he will experience these types of remarks and worse...
then, i go in and peek at him at night when he's asleep. he is small and dark and sweaty. and i remember that he is my son. he is my one and only boy. he is scared of sharks, and the smallest of bugs. he thinks he actually is spiderman, and is therefore afraid of his own reflection. also, if he gets really, really upset... he will try to shoot a web at me. he wakes up most mornings by sneezing a dozen or so times in a row. (no joke. it's crazy, so much sneezing.) i remember all this, all the little facts about him. that when he grows up he wants to be an "awesome guy eatin' pizza." that he loves his sisters, and trucks, and drinks. probably all the same amount. i remember that he is sweet and precious and valuable, and he's mine. i know all the things that nobody else knows because he is mine and i am his. and in those quiet, still moments the rest of it just fades into the background and i have faith the when he goes through (because he will go through) all the garbage in this world... he will know that he is loved. he is wanted. and he is mine. and i am hoping that at least some of the time, that will be enough.