21 September 2009

Humor, race, color-awareness...and adoption

Chris and I have now taken 4 parenting classes with 2 left to complete the required series. For the most part they are all interesting and informative, although the "Creating Your Profile" course did provoke some yawns.


Well, the course is geared to people who don't really write much or who are not confident in their writing skills. Being that Chris and I are both writers I can't say that we found the course as useful as someone would who doesn't write or feels very nervous about putting together a profile. I imagine that this course is a very helpful tool in the adoption process for non-writers.

The course that makes us break out into laughter from time to time is "Conspicuous Families: Race, Culture, and Adoption."

Please don't get me wrong - transracial adoption is no laughing matter.

However, part of the course involves providing strategies for parents of multicultural families to deal with intrusive comments and questions. One of the suggested strategies to use is - in the appropriate setting and time - humor. Apparently this strategy can be quite effective at deflecting unwanted questions. This strategy is also apparently to be used very sparingly - and not when your child is at an age where he/she will not understand sarcasm and may take the comments to heart.

But some of the sample answers were pretty funny:

In the grocery store...

Intrusive comment/question: What a pretty little girl. She has such beautiful dark skin and curly hair. So different from you! Is she your real daughter?

Adoptive parent response: No, she's my fake daughter.

In addition to some of these sample humorous responses, in this course we get to read stories from adoptees and their parents about how they handle issues and intrusive or insensitive questions/comments in transracial adoptions/multi-cultural families. Here is a story from Judy Stigger, a white mother raising her bi-racial African American daughter:

I was driving my daughter and four new teammates on the seventh grade basketball team to a game. A girl in the backseat, to whom I'd just been introduced, asked Kathy, "Is your Dad black?"

"Oh no," I thought, "racial category question yet again."

Kathy responded casually, "I don't know, my mom can't remember."

Every face in the car turned towards me.

I both blushed with embarrassment and beamed with pride. Kathy had found a way to move the spotlight from herself onto someone else. She had used humor to sidestep he race categories question.

Chris and I both get a good chuckle out of this one.

Laughter aside...working through the course about multi-cultural families definitely made me pause for a moment (actually many moments...) to reflect upon what it might be like if we were to bring a child of another race/ethnicity into our family. I realize that there is so much more to consider when creating a multi-racial family...

We live in a very white community.

As far as I know, there is just one African American family in our neighborhood.

The schools in our community are not terribly diverse.

Would we be doing this child a disservice by raising her in a community where she wouldn't see many faces that look like hers?

If we did adopt a child of another race/ethnicity, should we consider moving from our very lovely, but very non-diverse neighborhood to a neighborhood that reflects the diversity of our state?

Will we be able to handle with grace the intrusive and/or insensitive comments and questions thrown at us?

It's a lot to consider.

When we first started the adoption process my usual comment to people about the baby's race, "We don't really care about race. Ten fingers, ten toes and healthy...that's what's important."

But is it?

Is that what's most important?

As much as I think that I don't need to care about race...I should care about it.

And as much as I might like to think that race doesn't matter...it does.

So, after taking this course, do I only want to consider bringing a white baby into our family?

While I'm still open to the idea of welcoming a baby of any race into our family, I now know much better than before we took this course that we will certainly encounter challenges as a "conspicuous" family that we likely would not encounter if we adopt a child that looks like us.

It's definitely something to take into very serious consideration.

1 comment:

  1. This is such an important question. A good book on the subject is the short and easy-to-read: "Mothering Without a Compass: White Mother's Love, Black Son's Courage" by Becky W. Thompson.

    Publisher's Weekly said, "This memoir will strongly appeal to anyone interested in the complications and pleasures of raising children in a culture of increasingly different and contested family values'."

    Also, have you heard about the new TV show "Modern Family"? It might be interesting in light of what you're talking about here. Two other books I found while looking this one up are:

    ~ Adoption Parenting: Creating a Toolbox, Building Connections
    ~ Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew

    Above all, what I have heard and seen working best is not necessarily to move your home, but instead to involve yourself in meaningful and ongoing ways with a community that shares ancestry with your child. This could mean a community/cultural center or an organization for people of that ethnicity. Don't expect it to be easy right away, but don't be afraid either. White parents report that sometimes the community may be a bit standoffish because they need to see if you are genuine and will have staying power. However, over time and you show your stayng power and genuine love and care for your child, this will mellow and in the end gift you and Chris with wonderful new friends and community as well as give your child a community that connects her with her ethnicity. Just as you and Chris will give this girl and array of wonderful new experiences and connections, she will do the same for you! ~G2