Tag Archives: transracial adoption

Student Council, third grade

This post is introduction.  Or it is not introduction, but it is a first try at what might really be a longer essay– a group of essays, a book of poems that I would like to write sometime.  But to start, let me just tell this part.

I have been struggling lately, watching my daughter struggle with racism.  It is painful.  I understood from the start, from the moment we decided that we would adopt transracially, and then from the moment I learned she was born at 4 days old, and from the moment she was put into my arms at 12 days old, that it would happen.  Racism that is.  Not actually that it would happen, but that it was happening all around us; that the world she was born into had this in it and it was coming at her.  And that it was mine to join together with other mothers and fathers and young people and other adults and stop it.  Racism that is.  To end it.

Along with lunches and medical appointments, permission slips, play dates and summer camp registration, I am trying to figure out where I can throw the weight of my mind and heart and conviction to end racism.  I don’t say this to distinguish myself from your average parent, I think we all grapple with these things– more or less effectively, which is defintely my track record.  Sometimes more and sometimes less.

Racism didn’t become a pressing issue to me for the first time when my daughter came into my life.  Far from it.  But all that is another story for another time.  But from the start of our lives together as a family, I knew racism was happening , and I knew I would do my part to do the emotional work I needed to do.  Things I knew were that I had to keep facing it, to clean up as much as possible of my piece of it, to have courage to stand up for my daughter and for people of color, especially other young people of color, especially parents of color.  I knew I would do the work  I needed to do to be able to talk about it and also to be able to listen.  A lot.  To people of color and to white people struggling with their own racism, struggling to figure it out.

But the concrete– watching it come at my daughter like a train rolling on down the track, that’s a tall order some days.  Last year and then this year again, there have been some things she has wanted to do– one of which is to be on the student council at her school.  And it so happens that in her class of mostly young people of color, it is only white children who have been chosen.  Last year and again this year.  I like those girls a lot— the white girls who are the student council reps.  I like them, and they are good kids; they aren’t the problem here.  They are utterly worthy.  But they are definitely and utterly not more worthy.   So there is a problem.

My daughter talks about this and what she describes is racism– external and internalized.  Without using the words or talking about skin color, she describes the racism that we white people are all unwittingly handed and asked/ demanded to agree with– the notion that we are somehow better or smarter or more deserving.  And without using the words or talking about skin color, she talks about the internalized oppression– the collusion, of other young people of color and her own growing internalized oppression.  Which is what I can hardly bear.

What she actually talks about, is an exasperation,  a longing, that she wants to do this thing, that she tries to get people to vote for her, but that in the end, what they say basically– is that she isn’t the right kind of person to get to do that.  That some other kind of person gets to do this, but not her.   And the hardest part is watching her grapple with the question in her own mind, about whether perhaps she is not, in fact, the right kind of person to do the things she wants to do.

Some days when we talk about this, it is almost as though I can see the inside of her mind.  Teetering on the fine edge between outrage and disbelief and captitulation.  I see her struggling with whether to resign herself to this or whether to maintain her indignation about it all.  Whether to go for it again or whether to give up.   I do not yet know what to do.  I have some ideas, and most of all I am determined to try.  Something.

What I can figure out now is this.  I want to keep her hopeful.  I want to to keep her wanting to be the student council representative, while I try to figure out how to help her go for it.  I want to keep her indignant and puzzled rather than resigned.  I am taking some time to cry privately about the big disappointments of grade school so I carry as little of my own baggage or low expectations into my conversations with her.  And we keep talking.  While I try to figure out what to do next.

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Skin

Skin.  We all have it.   It’s one of the things you see right away about someone when you meet them.  It is, by common sense and according to various books on the human body, a very significant organ.  It has also been the excuse for racism, for many hundreds of years now, and oddly, and heartbreakingly, we are, in this world, quite strangely and rigidly organized in certain ways, around skin.  

I have fair skin– as a child I burned but didn’t tan much, I got freckles, and stayed freckled all summer.  Now I don’t really do sunbathing anymore, even with sunscreen.  I am a white woman; an Ashkenazi Jew with origins in Hungary, Russia.  As a younger woman my hair was dark brown and now it is, well, brown with a lot of gray in it.  Or maybe you would say, gray with some dark brown remaining.  Or maybe you would just say that I have gray hair– I don’t know exactly what you would say.  But my skin is– well beige or pinkish or some color that we call white.   A little over two weeks ago, at the very beginning of January 2010, I was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma.  A skin cancer.  This is not very serious in the scheme of things, but it is, after all, a cancer and I got on the phone and called some of my friends and sent emails back and forth and found a wonderful woman dermatologist who spent what seemed a long time looking over every spot, freckle, mole and blotch on my skin, noting them, measuring them, studying and pondering them.  She will see me again in three months to check on my skin.  She sent me to a surgeon to cut out (they say excise) the skin around the spot that was diagnosed as cancer and now I have roughly a 2 and 1/2 inch incision on my forearm and some stitches and I expect that will be the end of it when this all heals. 

I have a daughter, well we have a daughter who came to our family by adoption and who is by birth heritage and appearance, Chicana.  She is beautiful.  Really, she just is– in every possible way– inside and out.  Her skin is definitely brown and our adoption of her made us a transracial family.  She is brown and we are both white.  I thought a lot about race and racism before she was born and before she came into our family, but I sure think about it a whole lot now.  We all do.  We talk about it quite a bit and I think about it a lot. 

I think about racism in her school, in our neighborhood, on tv and  just so much everywhere.  I think about how racism has done terrible things to people of color.  I have also been thinking for quite a few years now about what it has done to us white people to have been set up to play the role we play in this system that divides people by skin/ race (as well as class and many other divisions).  My life, my perspective on race and racism is certainly  different — and more acute since I became my daughter’s mom.  

I knew that adopting her meant that I never could and never would turn back on challenging racism, looking as honestly as I could figure out how to at what it is, and where it lodged in me and in white people I love.  This is not only a human responsibility, but now, it is even more clearly my responsibility as a mother. 

I am ever watchful, but I know she experiences things every day that I am still stretching to understand and to pay attention to.   

And then there is this incision, so I am really thinking about skin.   

It is also the weekend of the holiday commemorating the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.   We went to two wonderful MLK events this weekend. 

One, a Shabbat service at our synagogue– where two predominantly black choirs came and joined with our adult synagogue choir and our synagogue youth choir and the whole service was just beautiful, beautiful music sung by young people of color and young  Jews of color (our synagogue has quite a few Jewish young people of color– many adopted into their families–though fewer adults of color) as well as the adult Jewish choir.  It was very hopeful to be there in a synagogue with so many people of color with my beautiful daughter by my side.   Our rabbi said the theme was “standing up for ourselves and standing up for others”– he said it over and over.

And then yesterday we went to hear the amazing Sweet Honey in the Rock perform their annual MLK weekend youth concert which was gorgeous and hopeful.  Listening to them sing is glorious but there is something else, more, deeper, bigger about who they are and what they give to an audience.  I don’t know what to say about the women and the work of Sweet Honey in the Rock, but they create a powerful glimpse of a world without racism.