Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Token Diversity Family

Shortly after Isaac came home, a friend – a white friend – said to us, “This is great! Our child doesn’t have any black friends.” Immediately, the phrase ‘token black child’ rang in my ears. I was struck by visions of social events in which people fixated on what made our family stand out. As a multiracial family, Laurie and I both recognize that we stand out. In almost any crowd, we are treated like a novelty.

We know that as the parents of these kids we have signed up for a lifetime of explaining and educating people, and we try to approach new people with optimism, and hope they will use discretion and tact when asking questions or making comments. We’ve learned that inappropriate questions and comments typically catch us off guard because they can come at anytime and from anyone – strangers in the grocery store, acquaintances, and friends and family with whom we thought we’d be safe.

We recognize the importance of giving people the benefit of the doubt but only up to a certain point. Often times, the oddest comments have come from people who seemed uncomfortable and didn’t know what to say. When someone at work found out I adopted my son, he offered that his Japanese teacher had adopted a newborn but the birth father was contesting the adoption. I failed to see the relevance, so all I could think of to respond was “Okay.”

To be honest, I had a really hard time in the beginning with all the blatant staring and attention. I had to remind myself that if I saw a white man chasing a small black child through a crowded restaurant who was crying and screaming “I want my Mommy!” I’d stare too. But as his parent, the staring made me want to claim him all the more. “I love you, Son” or “Hold Daddy’s hand,” I’d announce. My wife and I don’t suffer the same kind of inappropriate conversations. My lot is to endure blunt questions like “Why did you adopt? Do you shoot blanks, or something?” and “Is your wife barren?” A lady once asked me, “Do you wear boxers or briefs? I’ve heard briefs can really mess up your count.”

Meanwhile Laurie gets asked, “How much did it cost?” and “What if their ‘real’ mother comes back for them?” Then, after she discretely avoids answering the questions, someone says, “I’d love to adopt. I don’t think I can handle another pregnancy.” Then Laurie gets to listen as the group discusses baby showers, breast feeding, and many other aspects of parenting we’ve yet to experience.

While Laurie and I prefer to be accepted as normal parents, as time has passed, we’ve accepted the attention that comes with having such an interesting family. At parties, hosts who know our kids nonchalantly introduce us, adding, “They have the cutest family,” ultimately forcing us to whip out pictures of the kids. For a while, it felt like we were being labeled; the couple who just got back from a trip, the couple who sells real estate together, and us, the couple who adopted. Inevitably, we became the center of attention, and I felt the eyes of the entire room on us as we talked about the same mundane things everyone else’s kids do.

Just a few weeks ago, Laurie and I attended a wedding shower where we knew only the groom and his immediate family. The mother has known Laurie for years and took great pride in introducing us to the other guests. “Come on, Laurie,” she said to a group of couples, “I know you keep a little photo album in your purse. Let’s see those little darlings.” It’s hard to feign modesty when you keep a small photo album handy for just such an occasion. But the guests genuinely perked up with interest: “Oh. My. Gosh.” “Aren’t they precious?” “You all are just a bunch of saints. Saint Billy and Saint Laurie.”

It might have been too over the top, but this was nothing we haven’t heard before, even the “Saint” part. Years ago, we might have felt awkward pretending to be humble. We’d feebly thank them, but we usually made them feel embarrassed rather than encouraging. But I’d like to think we’ve grown past that, to a point where I can humbly accept their adulations, where I can reach out and hold Laurie’s hand, put my other hand on my heart, nod my head, and say, “You’re right. We are terrific people.”


Mom of the Fab 4!! said...

We are in the same boat!!! You really explained what we have been feeling since we adopted our oldest two!!! Thank you for putting a voice to this as I have been trying to think of ways to introduce this subject on m blog!!

Elisabeth O'Toole said...

On the other end of the "token" spectrum: Have you ever had anyone tell you that your family/children isn't authentic in its diversity because you (like we) are Caucasian parents raising children of color? As in, "Well, you're not 'real' diversity." Tell that to my son who experiences the world as a young Latino male...

Jennifer Zilliac said...

I found your blog after it was listed as one of the top 20 adoption blogs. Congratulations!

I really relate to the discomfort you mentioned with people making comments about what a good person I am. I always find myself catching my breath in horror. "No! I'm not any better than any other mom or dad who does the best they can raising their kids. I'm just another parent!" It's so awkward.

I am just getting back to blogging, after a long absence, and I posted yesterday about the transracial parenting controversy. If you are so inclined, you can check it out at http://fivesquirrels.blogspot.com/2011/02/were-all-good-getting-real-about-racism.html. I'd love to get your feedback -- even if you completely disagree with me.

Thanks for your post! I'll keep following your blog.

Becky said...

As a white woman , married to a black man, who has adopted black children, and Puerto rican children, we have been asked some very strange questions. Once when I was alone, and buying hair product for my daughter I had a woman tell me I was buying the wrong stuff for my hair. I told her it was for my daughter. She kept insisting I was still buying the wrong stuff because white people don't use what I was buying. I finally told her that my daughter had darker skin than she did. I have decided that we need to educate people.

This mom. said...

OK, ok, you've calmed me down a bit and relaxed my irritation with the stares and stupid comments. My husband and I have adopted 4 (yes, brown) children out of foster care, and I hate the labeling, the dumb questions, the references to sainthood...but, alas, maybe they're right. We are terrific people, aren't we???

Sharon from Mom at Last said...

Your story is truly amazing and inspiring. I commend you for your courage! Visit http://www.MomAtLast.com to connect with other women and couples who are also going through their journey to finally become a Mom, at Last!

Fortunes Full said...

I'm really enjoying reading your blog. We're waiting on an open, domestic, biracial adoption now and the odd questions have already started pouring in to us. We're still trying to find our voice when answering them. So thanks for the insight.

Rebecca Reece said...

So glad you're here... Cheers, ~RR