“Ian wants to know when I’m going to turn white, like my parents.”
Just how do you answer that?
Well, we answered it the way we have handled many things in our time together. First we talked. Then we laughed.
We’re thinking Ian had just discovered a famous fairy tale involving ducklings and swans.
Mama Agnes, our other neighbor used to tell us “If you feed her she’ll start looking like you.”
And although we don’t “match” we have heard many people say that they see a resemblance between the three of us. I think it has to do with expressions and mannerisms, and maybe a touch of feeding.
Larry has light skin and brown eyes. I have light skin and blue eyes, and our Alli has beautiful bronze skin and dark brown eyes. Her birthmother is Caucasian. Her birthfather is African-American, and we’re a transracial adoptive family.
When she was in middle school, not matching worked in our pre-teen’s favor. When I delivered Alli and a carload of her friends to the movie or the mall it looked like I was someone else’s mom.
And of course, since we’re all into humor we like to play mind games with our situation…
Alli’s friend Gisele who is very dark-skinned, and their friend Jean who is lily-white both also call me “Mom” when we’re out in public together.
Once, while on a trip, we had a fun time referring to Alli and her friend Grace as “the twins.” Grace and Alli do not look remotely like each other, and neither of them look like either of us. The confused looks were hilarious.
We knew from early on that how we handled things would greatly affect how Alli would feel about our family and herself.
For instance, Alli once asked me why this lady was staring at her. I told her it was because she was beautiful. Alli smiled at her. The lady smiled back, quit staring and Alli felt good about herself. It was a win-win thing.
If we were to be defensive or hateful, it would teach Alli the same or lead her to wrongly think that there was something unacceptable with our situation.
When Alli was a baby, ladies would come up to me in the grocery and say things like, “Her daddy must have curly hair” or “Her father must be tall” When Larry was out alone with Alli, people would say things like, “Her mother must be tall” or “Her mother must have curly hair”.
We got so tickled knowing that these were not their real questions. To them we didn’t match and we were a curiosity. They wanted to know the story, but were too afraid to come out and ask.
Sometimes we have felt that the people who ask questions may have a similar situation or may be a birthparent. We can only hope that the way we handle their curiosity is helpful to them.
During our pre-placement adoption and fostering classes, and also during both of our home studies we were counseled and quizzed about the race issue.
We felt that an interracial adoption would not be a problem. Still, just to make sure we were doing the right thing for our child we did a lot of research, read a lot of books, and did some major soul-searching on our own.
Our main concern was about living in the south. Would old ways of thinking cause our child to have a miserable life? Could we give this child everything they needed to feel good about their heritage?
We contacted several friends who have multiracial families and asked for input.
The very best words of wisdom came from Ann who is Caucasian and married to Stan who is African American. They have two children. Her words were, “Love them and give them self esteem and they can deal with anything.”
The books we read suggested that our child would need to be around people of her same heritage. Larry and I agreed, but also felt that she needed to be around people not only of different races, but also varied religious and economic backgrounds.
Indeed, Alli has attended school with children from every walk of life. We have friends from many backgrounds. However, this has never been our focus. Mostly we wanted Alli to be around interesting and respectable people, no matter what.
With our situation, everything is a learning experience for all three of us, and we have many comical moments.
I took Alli to the dance recital of a neighbor friend when she was about 9. It was held in a large college auditorium. After getting settled into our seats Alli leaned over and whispered, “Mom, you are the only white person here.” One scan of the room proved it true. We both got the worst case of giggles, and I have to say I think that night held the record for the most stares. Alli had her humor with her. The stares didn’t faze her, and it was good for me to experience being the minority in a large group of people.
Kristal, my friend, called one day and said, “I don’t know how to say this except just to say it.” (Pause) “I am your black girl friend. If you need help with Allison’s hair, I am here.”
Silly white girl that I am, I wondered why she did this.
Then the hair just kept growing and getting thicker. I never knew how hair care was a daily ordeal with some African-American women. I took up Kristal’s offer of help and she showed me how to flat-iron hair and I may add, laughed at my naivety.
I took Alli to an African American hair salon a few times. People would arrive for their appointments and sit in the waiting area near me. I could see their eyes scanning the line of chairs trying to figure whom I was there with if anyone, and if I was alone what in the world I was having done to my blah, straight hair at this salon. Every time I looked at Alli in the mirror, we both got the giggles. She especially thought it was hilarious.
On any forms where Alli needed to fill out the Race section, we always let her choose what she wanted. Sometimes she would choose African-American, sometimes African-American and Caucasian, and sometimes Other with either no explanation or with Mixed or Bi-Racial. Once, after learning of her French heritage she wrote in French African.
Mixed and bi-racial are interesting labels. For instance our child, since she has dark skin is usually considered mixed or bi-racial. Although I’m considered white, like many Americans I too have a technically mixed background. My heritage is British, Irish, Native American and possibly Portuguese or African. My great-grandfather had very dark skin.
I told Alli I was writing this post and asked if she had anything to contribute about being mixed and being raised in a white family.
She shrugged and chuckled as she said, “It is what it is.”
As soon as Alli came into our life we knew that things would be okay. Even as an infant, we saw her melt a few cold hearts. People whom we were concerned would have an issue with our child’s background, were suddenly changed. We began calling her our little peacemaker. I have no doubt that she will continue to bring peace wherever she goes.
There is so much more to all of us than skin color.
As my grandmother, Momma Doye always said, “Life is what you make it.”
Make yours color blind, and keep your mind open. It makes for a much more peaceful world.