I had the opportunity to go to dinner with a friend and fellow adoptive mama last week. Her family, like ours, is transracial, and we often discuss the dynamics of being a transracial family. She's a counselor, so she always has thoughtful and honest insight. In fact, she and her husband were a fabulous resource as we were considering being open to a transracial placement.
One of the questions that popped into my mind during our conversation was this: Is it possible to gear my child too much toward her race?
I'm obsessed with buying books featuring black characters. My heart rate speeds up when I flip through a book and find brown faces and story lines featuring black history. I was on a mission this past Christmas season to find cards, angels, ornaments, etc. that were "brown" like my baby girl. I dig past all the white babies on store shelves hoping to find a sweet brown face somewhere in the midst of whiteness. I recently discovered a Hallmark store that still carries the Mahogany line of cards----and I nearly let out a WOOP. I do more research on black hair care than on nearly anything else.
In March, we went to Gulf Shores, Alabama to visit relatives. There I found two fabulous bookstores that sold hardcovers for $5 and paperbacks for $2 and $3. I bought books on black history that were labeled as appropriate for eight year olds. I couldn't help it. I was reading the story of Ruby Bridges to my daughter the other day---including the "whites only" water fountains.
When we were waiting to adopt, I read several books on transracial adoption. We talked to transracial families. Actually, we GRILLED them. (Thankfully, they were kind enough to allow our interrogations). I observed transracial families everywhere I went (and tried to do so discreetly so they didn't think I was staring them down). I pointed out every black child who had "good" hair.
During that time, I learned how important it is to incorporate the child's racial identity into the child's life---and not just during Kwanzaa or Black History Month. Books told me that my child would really miss out on a full and good life if I didn't constantly seek out ways to affirm and enhance my child's blackness. Some authors suggested that we should find a black pediatrician, dentist, etc., make black friends, go to a more diverse church, etc. We should do this even if the doctor was an hour away. If our neighborhood wasn't diverse, we should move. If our local community was mostly white, move.
We were feeling a lot of pressure. We wanted to be the best parents possible, and like any good parents, we didn't want to screw up our kid. I mean, being adopted is already a unique journey, and then add race into the mix, and that unique journey gets more complicated.
But as I settled down, got those books back to the library, and really thought about it, I decided a few things. One, I was going to get the best doctor for our family----no matter his or her race. (Ours, by the way, is a white female). Two, I wasn't going to seek out people to befriend based on their race. I mean, how unnatural is that? "Hi! I'm so glad you are black! Will you be my friend? Oh, and be a racial role model for my child forever and ever?!?" (We do, by the way, have friends who are black, and white, and Hispanic, and other races). Third, we weren't moving simply because everyone who lives on our street is white. (We live on a street where you can see from one end to the other, and there are only ten houses).
When I was in my panic-mode, I got great advice from a friend. TAKE THE BOOKS BACK. Stop reading them. I'm not sure why I thought someone else's opinion, a stranger's, of my life was better than my own instincts. Yes, I gained insight and had some fabulous thinking sessions, but at the end of the day, it's OUR family.
So am I over the top? I don't know. I mean, I'm intentionally and always seeking out material things (books, toys, music, etc.) that I think will help affirm my child's racial identity. But the truth of the matter is that we are two white people raising a black kid, and our family isn't really white, and we aren't really black....
So what are we?
"Transracial" is a pretty word that means to me that our family is made up of more than one race and that race transcends us into something else that we weren't before.
All I know is that I'm trying. I want my daughter to feel beautiful in her brown skin and know that we are crazy about her, believe in her, and are so proud of her. We want her to know that when we look at her, we don't see our BLACK baby, but just our baby. Yet, I want her to know we love and celebrate her race, and that even though we aren't black, we will provide her with whatever she needs to feel and be black.
I have no idea if what we're doing is right, wrong, indifferent, damaging, helpful, or something else. I'm just doing the best I can right now and hope that it's enough.