She is My Daughter: Race and Family

One of my aunts told me at the reunion in May that a transracial adoption such as ours was not possible for her family many years ago.  Even though we’ve come along way as a nation in regards to racial equality since then, we still felt a lot of racial tension from strangers, ironically, that weekend.

I have not wanted to turn this blog into one that is adoption themed so I haven’t talked much about that aspect of my life lately.  The reason for that is simply this: I do not want to qualify my relationship to my daughter.  She is my daughter, and I love her – period.

I think that there are enough good blogs out there that curious people can access about transracial adoption.  I just want my blog to be about our life.  The fact is, though, our family is interracial.  We shouldn’t easily dismiss racial tension so I am posting our encounter as an acknowledgment of its existence.

The last morning of the reunion in Texas, a lot of my family met up at a Denny’s.  I needed to make a bottle for Wren.  Rather than flagging down our waitress, I went to the bar to request water.  A woman sitting there asked to hold my daughter. I replied with a smile, “No, I do not know you.”

She asked again.

“No, I do not know you,” I said.

She pointed to her dark skin right above her wrist, “She needs a little brown sugar in her life.”

She was implying that my white husband and I (with our processed sugar complexion) were somehow inferior. I glanced to where my extended family was and told the stranger, “They are only part of my family.”

I wanted to add so much more, but I was uncomfortable.

She clarified her position, “I am a nurse.  It is okay for me to hold your daughter.”

“No, I do not know you.”

“It’s okay. Just sit here next to me.”

Again, “I do not know you.”

She asked if I lived in the area, and I was glad to say “No.”

She asked to see Wren’s face, I reluctantly complied before I returned to the table to make Wren’s bottle.

The encounter was strange.  I did not feel physically threatened, but I was on edge because it was our first encounter like it.  Plus, I didn’t know her.

She kept her eye on and circled around us a few times before she made her next approach with a friend. By this time we had moved to the front of the restaurant, and I was surrounded by my family. The women worked their way through the group and started to question me again.

I remained sitting as I was feeding Wren, but I was vigilant.  I remained calm and gave brief answers.  She wanted to know how old she was, what her name was and also how it was spelled.  She seemed to approve.  At last, she wished us a safe trip.

Those two women at the restaurant weren’t the only ones concerned about our family’s composition.  I overheard one caucasian man say to another, “Does that baby belong to that woman?”

God must have granted me extra patience that day.

Back in April, I commissioned a friend to draw a portrait of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.  I finally got around to framing it.  I printed out an excerpt of the famous “I have a dream” speech on some textured cardstock and used that as a matte.  The whole speech is powerful, but it’s the dream part that gets to me.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day, this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning “My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my father’s died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!”

My family owes a lot to the civil rights movement and especially to one of its most loved leaders.  We also owe a lot to the families who opened the door for adoptions like ours.  My husband and I are not the first to adopt outside our race, and we certainly won’t be the last.  We have learned a lot from other families’ experiences, and I hope that families down the road can learn from our experiences as our society continues to change.

So what is it that I have learned?

As parents, we need to show how our child to respond to situations appropriately. It would have been easy to get riled up or wish you would have thought of a sassy answer, but that wouldn’t have been right.  It’s best to remain calm and answer questions politely (when appropriate).  We need to remember that our family is uncommon, and our reactions will shape what people think of transracial adoption.  We’re going to stand out; let’s not look like a sore thumb while we’re at it.

Also, that even though Wren and I look nothing alike, people still identify me as her mother and her as my daughter.


6 thoughts on “She is My Daughter: Race and Family

    • Growing up with a mentally handicapped brother, I’m not unaccustomed to strangers approaching my family as we’re out and about. That being said, this situation was strange.

  1. I think that you handled this very well. Where I have faced some prejudice in twelve years of inter-racial marriage, and also in the five years of being Mea’s Momma, but for the most part, I find that people are simply curious. They just don’t know, or can’t imagine, or are just busy bodies who need to interject.

    • Kelly, I agree that there are different motives! Not knowing hers for sure, I tried to remain as polite and civil as I could despite her repeated dismissal of my parental decision to not let a stranger hold my daughter. I’ve learned that it’s best to remove all interpretation of emotion when reading an email. Similarly, I was in a state I’ve never been to before and that I might not understand where she was coming from. Still…

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