Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Race Card

I don't know if you've noticed, but Meg is black. Or African American if you prefer. Whatever you want to call it, Meg has a very different skin tone, and very different hair than Ryan and me. I would love to say that it doesn't matter, and that no one really questions it, or says anything, but that would be a lie. In fact, the first thing most people ask (after commenting on how Meg is the most beautiful baby in the world, of course), is to ask the ethnicity of her birth parents. When I say they are black, sometimes they ask how dark they are, and how dark we expect Meg to be.

Yeah, I know. It's 2009.

It isn't that I think people are being racist. Well, maybe some of them are, I don't know, and in this case I want to give people the benefit of the doubt. I think people are actually trying to be complimentary when they say that "black babies are always the most beautiful," or that she has a perfect "Nubian head."And it could just be that I am being overly sensitive, expecting people to be racist, and so looking for it in any comment. After all, they can't make comments about how much she looks like me or Ryan, and they have to say something, so the race question is an easy one. Also, I think that we have spent so many years trying to pretend that race is not an issue, that we are all "colorblind" that people are not aware of when a line is crossed or something inappropriate is said.

Like it or not, race is still the central dividing line in this country. Being Caucasian, Ryan and I have had years to not have to really address the issue, or say we are involved in the fight for civil rights without actually having a stake in it (well, we've always had a stake in the the fight for equality, after all, who wants to live in a world with racism). All of that changed the day Meg was born. Now we have a big stake. Well, actually, she's only six pounds nine ounces right now.

Ryan and I are handling the race issue in our typical ways. Ryan is approaching it cerebrally, reading articles and books, and talking about how to introduce Meg to the discussion on race, and how various prejudices will impact her life, and ours. I, on the other hand, am taking a simpler approach: I am focusing on the day to day aspects of Meg's ethnicity, worrying about her hair and skin. Oh, and if anyone tries to hurt my daughter, or tell her anyone is better or worse because of her because of her race, I plan to punch them, hard. Ryan says that will teach Meg that differences can be solved with violence, and so I told him that will make sure she is out of sight before the punching begins.

Actually, I don't know how I am going to handle the race issue, which is probably why I am so full of rambling bravado about it. All I know is that right now I look at my perfect daughter, and I couldn't care less what color she is, as long as she doesn't turn purple because that means she isn't breathing. However, I know that I am going to have to care about what color she is, because it is part of who she is, and because, like it or not, it is a big part of how others will see her. To try to ignore it, to not realize her hair and skin are different, and must be treated differently, would be a disservice. So would not preparing her to face ignorant bullies trying to bring her down using arguments that have been disproved hundreds of times before.

I know I am up to the task. I have already ordered books galore to help her understand, and every hair product under the sun to make sure she is well kept. Oh, and we might as well get stock in Cetaphil lotion for the amount we use on her skin. These will be the first tools in my arsenal, which I am sure will get bigger as Meg gets older. For now though, I figure the best defense is a good offense. I just answer people's questions directly and honestly, and hold my baby tight.


Susan said...

I was reading along, thinking "dang, what DO you do?" and then I got to the last line and wondered why I hadn't thought of answering directly and honestly. Perfect in every way.

And she is the most beautiful baby, for the record.

*Akilah Sakai* said...

Asking the ethnicity of Meg's parents is one thing (hey, they could be even be Latin as I'm sure many have seen Latin people have many different skin tones), but in my opinion, asking how dark they are isn't cool at all.

What the hell does Meg's skin tone matter? She is African-American and we come in many tones. Dark parents can have a lighter toned child and viceversa. What does it matter if she's caramel or mocha? At the end of the day she is obviously a child of color ... Black in this case. It makes me think about how some used to feel the lighter the flesh tone, the prettier.

*Akilah Sakai* said...


Not only the lighter the prettier, but also the lighter the more accepted.

I've heard more than one person say that Barack would not have won if he were as dark as say ... Wesley Snipes. That the "acceptance" will be a slow progression.

It's sad ...

Sandi said...

As a mom to black children and VERY proud of it, I find the mother bear in me ALWAYS ready to fight the battle. But believe it or not, I have yet to find one. I am thrilled beyond belief how accepting and cool the people in my world have been and are for that matter.

I know we have a long way to go and I am as prepared as I can be with what comes our way, but until that day comes, I find myself, like you, wondering if I am missing something in a question, or jumping to defense at unnecessary times.

Only when my own Grandmother called my baby girl "the cutest little cotton picker she had ever seen" and I chocked on my diet coke and told her to NEVER use that language in my home again. She looked mortified and hurt and insisted she meant nothing by it. And I can guarantee she will never say anything like that to me again. Poor Grandma, I honestly believed her, but I had to stop that kind of talk then and there.
I am sure there will be other innocent slips by people over 80 but in my house, in my family, we tolerate ZERO!

and for the record, you do have the most beautiful baby EVER!!!

Chief said...

I have a very dear friend who adopted a little girl who happens to be black. She struggled for months with the same issues I have read about in your post. Just reading your thoughts brought back so many memories of us learning how to handle her hair and skin (I am a cosmetologist), and listening to her struggle with the comments that were made by strangers.

After the first several months, things seem to get easier for her, she stopped anticipating the questions or worrying if she was answering them correctly and justly for her daughter's sake.

Meg IS beautiful and it isn't because of her skin tone, it is because she had a birth mother who loved her, and two amazing parents who think she hung the moon. She is beautiful because she will grow up with a love for people that does not see skin tone, or hair color, or height or weight for that matter. She is loved and therefore she will love.

Enjoy motherhood, you are doing a great job!

Summer said...

Hells Bells. Asking about her possible skin tone? Wow. I'm sure people don't mean to be hurtful, but it's rude to be that nosy. Although being a mother of three biracial boys, you can only imagine the questions I've been asked by complete strangers. It always leaves me wondering, are mothers not teaching manners anymore?

*Akilah Sakai* said...

True, Summer.

Manners are out the window and the go-to reply is, Oh, I didn't mean anything by it." Suuure....

It doesn't take much sense to know what kind of comments and questions are inappropriate. It's 2009 for freak's sake! People aren't as ignorant as they pretend to be.

I can tell, Libby. You will instill some great values in her.

Megan said...

People will always ask dumb questions & say stupid things. Most of the time their heart is in the right place. They are just curious & sadly enough don't know when they say something inappropriate. When people ask how dark you think she will be - respond with "Does it matter?" Put it back on them. Make them think & realize how silly their question is. Being black & adopted with white parents and raised in the state of Utah, here is my 2 cents. Let Meg know she is accepted & unconditionally loved by her family. Be open with her about adoption and let her own her adoption story. I think the key is to have color blindness within YOUR family. If she feels comfortable & safe with you guys she will be able to conquer the world. If she feels that race is an issue within the family, race will be an issue within her.

Scribe said...

It's amazing what people think they can say, even without meaning anything by it. I have friends who adopted two little girls from China. I wonder if they get asked the same type of questions. I would imagine not.

I think all children are beautiful, black, white, asian, whatever, and it's the values you instill in them not to accept such comments. By your actions and your intent for the future, Libby, your little girl will be well prepared, thanks to your love and acceptance, to face any situation.

I concur with everyone on here. Meg is a beautiful, beautiful baby who will grow into a beautiful human being. Period.

Kristine said...

I don't even know what "Nubian" means.


Does that mean I'm colorblind? Or just an idiot?

erin said...

Who says that, 'how dark are they?'?

I was really surprised when I read that.

Actually, I had this one horrible commenter once ask me if me daughters had the same fathers cause they all have different hair colors. What?

Badass Geek said...

It is difficult to know that race still plays a big role in this country, but I don't know if that will ever change. I mean, one can hope for that, but people still will have their opinions.

Anonymous said...

Wow. People's stupidity again scares me. I had a biracial child in my class a couple of years ago. On the standardized test where it asks for ethnicity, one of the "circles" said, "Biracial." She raised her hand and motioned me over. I went over and she asked, "Is this what I am?"

My best friend's son is biracial and he didn't even REALIZE this until last year (5th grade) and his grandfather is very dark.

And another friend adopted a Chinese baby. She NEVER gets asked these kinds of questions.

I'd be like you. I'd want to make sure I'm CARING for her properly and that I'm prepared for kids who make fun of her, etc. (But as a teacher, I have to tell you, it's usually not the kids who make fun of each other for skin color these days.....a good thing!!).

Gina said...

People are assholes. I understand that people are curious - and having a child of a different race piques curiosity. But once they have their answer - she's adopted - it's time to move on to how beautiful, smart, talented, articulate, she is, and not "how dark are her biological parents." WTF?

It's sad that racism is still alive and well.

Frybaby said...

Libby, I think you articulated so very well what Amber, Kimball and David and I have felt for the last 4 months. It is a very complex issue, this is, and we too are taking it day at a time. Amber has already "bared the claws" when it comes to insensitive comments regarding her precious wee one. Thanks for your honesty and candor.

kendall said...

I'm proud of you for not ignoring the race question--sticking your head in the sand and pretending it's not an issue will only come back to bite you later. I think between the two of you, you have every angle covered and you'll do right by your daughter because you love her and you're good parents and good people. I have every confidence in you. :)

Rassles said...

So...how dark are they?

Kidding, of course.

Know what? You should be fine. Be prepared. But you should be fine.

Anonymous said...

You know Libby, as a total stranger to you I can only say that my assessment of your daughter is that she already looks like your mother.

Yellow Trash Diaries said...

I've come back to this post a few times, trying to decide what I want to write. Basically Libby, people are assholes. As you know, I was adopted by people of a different color, and the outcome did not turn out well. I've struggled all of my life with my identity and been hurt by stupid comments. In the end I had to figure it out on my own. But Meg has an advantage over me in that she has very loving, supportive parents. And I don't worry about her hair so much as what you may dress her in later....

Yellow Trash Diaries said...

Fortunately, crocs are acceptable on children.

Aunt Juicebox said...

You will handle it all with courage and grace, and because you do, your daughter will as well. People maybe are curious about her, especially if they haven't been exposed to other races a lot. I remember when my daughter came home from school one day and told me about a conversation she had with several of her black friends that day. They were talking about their hair, and they wanted to feel my daughter's hair and were surprised to find out that she has to brush it, and so on. So that kind of curiosity is going to run both ways. I think it's great. If people weren't so afraid to ask questions and find out more about each other, I think there would be less racism and hatred in the world.

MomZombie said...

As the mother of a Chinese daughter, whom I adopted almost three years ago, let me say that the questions will continue. There are not as many now as in the beginning when she was a baby, but they come out of left field and some are really ballsy.
While the inquiries are not about skin tone, they often are about such things as how she came to be available for adoption, how "Chinese" she looks, how "smart" she is and other racial stereotypes. I've found that by throwing the very same questions back at the rude questioners, it often shuts them up.

Anonymous said...

I was sort of shocked by the "how dark will she get" thing. Did someone really ask you that? My snark-o-meter would have FLARED!

Cindy said...

I was told before we had a referral of our Ethiopian daughter " I hope she isn't too dark" and " I hope she is not tribal looking"...totally awesome.
I think you do get less sensitive with time.
Looking forward to reading more of your blog. It is great!

Karin said...

Gorgeous daughter - great blog, this is my first visit.

I have been wanting to address this very topic on my blog, as of yet my posts consist enraptured babble about my amazing son who we were joined with through a completely surprise adoption.

My son is biracial, however it is not exactly apparent. His appearance could land him in a bunch of racial categories. His heritage reads like ingredients for a granola bar.

Like you I try to answer peoples questions openly and honestly. Now I have the most beautiful baby boy and people tell me so. When people learn he is adopted they sometimes inquire after his ethnic heritage. I run through the list, when I get to "African American" many people say, "Well, that is ok" with an apologetic tone in their voice. My brain silently screams, "like hell it is ok this baby is the love of my life and he is perfect in every way". He is a true All-American boy.

My husband and I are used to the curiosity of other since we are and Asian/Caucasian couple, and I truly believe that responding matter-of-factly just helps educate people. But really, it really is no one's business. I don't want my son to feel like he has to explain his existence.

Anyway, thanks for the post, I'll be referencing this post in an upcoming post on my own blog.

Leslie said...

You sound like a wonderful parent. You and your baby girl are going to be okay. I used to work in a dr's office and there was a caucasian family that had just adopted a black baby. When they came up to check out, I looked at her and told them she was beautiful and started cooing over how she had these long elegant legs and she was going to be a ballet dancer for sure. The mom came around and gave me a hug. Living in Indiana the first thing people commented on about her baby was her race. I was the first person just to comment about her as a baby. She melted my heart. In the two years I worked at that office I got to see that beautiful girl grow. I miss her lots.