1. Bettina Vaello says:

    September 16, 2013 at 4:35 pm

    As a multiracial woman married to a white man, mother to an adopted child (who looks much more like my husband even though he is related to me) and three biological children (only one of whom looks the slightest bit like me), I would like to comment on a couple of things.

    I have been asked if “all of these children” are mine (questioning the number greater than 2 or the different appearances, I presume), if I am their nanny, and “do they look like their Daddy?”.

    I choose to presume that folks are not racist unless they give me further reason as this conserves my energy for things I really care about. I feel that my kids are more interested in (and affected by) how I respond to racism rather than whether a person *is being* racist. I don’t have any problem responding with snark if presented with racism, but I don’t go looking for it.

    My other comment is that the offense taken at a question about whether a child is adopted seems to equate adopted with lesser. (“No she’s not adopted? Is your child adopted?”) I suspect that this belief is unconscious or unquestioned and thought that it deserved discussion. Since kids tend to look like their parents, it is equally plausible that a child is adopted as it is that a family is biracial so I would not find one question more offensive than the other (Is she adopted? Is her Daddy white/black?).

    As the mother of both adopted and biological children, I can say that there is no difference for me. However, I did not adopt because of infertility and I have known those who felt more connected to their biological children when one came along unexpectedly after adoption. Loss and trauma and our cultural bias toward biological children can make a mother feel less-than-whole when she can’t give birth to a child.

    Being 100% sensitive to all kinds of mothers and all kinds of children is probably impossible. I think that missteps should be presumed innocent and corrected as gently as possible but as firmly as necessary when boundaries are crossed.


    • Martha says:

      September 16, 2013 at 8:15 pm

      Interesting, no where in this post did I say that I (or anyone else) thought these questions were racist. Boundary-crossing, and inappropriate, I believe, were the descriptors.

      I appreciate all your thoughts on this post.

      I agree that there could be something negative read into the question of adoption being labeled as “lesser.” However, on my case, it’s simply that I’m just kinda tired of the disbelieving looks and vague comments, which don’t really allow for any valuable or productive discussion. I will elaborate on this in my next post.

      • Melek says:

        September 16, 2013 at 8:53 pm

        Briefly, the “adoption being lesser” implication doesn’t apply in this instance IMHO. Bettina, I’m not sure if you got to read the original exchange, but first, the daughter asked whether she was Martha’s daughter. The mother then asked about whether she was adopted. Regardless of whether or not she were, in fact, adopted, Martha would be no less her daughter. So I don’t feel that point is applicable here. And I still feel like it’s boundary crossing to ask, in any event.

  2. Jamie says:

    September 16, 2013 at 7:52 pm

    I agree with Bettina’s comment above. Martha, I also liked your description of some questions being “clumsy.” I feel like I’ve often been guilty of asking clumsy questions. I once asked a friend who is white and is married to an African American if it was difficult to take care of her kids hair (she has 2 kids who have hair like their dad’s). She’s my friend and her kids weren’t there. I was honestly just curious one of those things if always wondered, and I felt safe asking a friend. That said, I would never ask a stranger or a new acquaintance this. I’m wondering if the people who ask these questions aren’t just rude rather than racists. Do they ask inappropriate questions in general? I know racism exists, but maybe there is more rudeness than racism?

    • Martha says:

      September 16, 2013 at 8:17 pm

      Jamie, I think discussions with a trusted friend do not cross the lines at all. I don’t think it’s a boundary crossing question. I’ve had lots of discussions about my daughter’s hair with white friends, who have white kids.

  3. Bettina Vaello says:

    September 16, 2013 at 8:33 pm

    Maybe it’s semantics or splitting hairs, but isn’t being surprised by biracial couples/children racist, even if not maliciously so? If someone is “not thinking” that the kids belong to the parent because they resemble a different race, then they are thinking that it is wrong, weird, or rare for there to be biracial couples. The first two are racist and the last one is wishful thinking, imo.

    And I totally empathize with the questions being tiresome when the person is not really interested in you or your family as unique, wonderful people, but rather just wanting to put you in a category for themselves or their kids.

    • Martha says:

      September 16, 2013 at 9:02 pm

      No, I don’t think it’s splitting hairs. It is racist to act surprised by a biracial family. Not necessarily malicious, but still, racist, on an often subconscious level. I just wasn’t really going there with this post.

      However, I do appreciate your point of view.

      I do think it’s impossible to be appropriately sensitive with every single type of family. I have offended people myself.

      These posts are just to share, nothing more. I really though that Melek’s and Mei Ling’s comments were very interesting and both had really good points.

      I am glad that it brings about discussion and thought.

  4. Melek says:

    September 16, 2013 at 8:59 pm

    Also, I never mentioned this in the Facebook discussion, but I’ve been thinking about it and I realize that I’ve never been asked whether my children were adopted. It’s only ever been a statement of surprise (such as “that’s your son?!?”) or assuming I was a caretaker. I would venture to guess this is the experience of many brown skinned mothers of lighter skinned children, as opposed to the assumption that the child was adopted that you get, Martha.

    • Martha says:

      September 16, 2013 at 9:06 pm

      Oh yeah, Melek! That IS a whole other discussion for sure! I bet you get sick of being the “nanny” to your own kids. I have only had that implied once maybe, and even then I wasn’t sure if that was what she was asking.

      See, this is why these discussions are important.

      A whole new level of racism, women of color being stereotyped as caregivers to children, rather than mothers.

      I’ve had this discussion with Toyin a few times. I’m a little older and rather middle-classish, I guess, so I think that’s why people think Annika’s adopted.

      You’re young and black = nanny.


  5. Amy says:

    September 16, 2013 at 10:17 pm

    This is all very interesting.

    I do think that a lot of people feel compelled to figure out why kids look the way that they do, and maybe it isn’t always a race issue. I am white, as are my kids and husband. Many times a week someone wants to talk to me about why does my daughter have blond hair and blue eyes when I do not. Total strangers. Constantly. Sometimes they seem nearly confrontational over it. It isn’t offensive, just sort of annoying. It somehow reminds me of having strangers demand info of you when pregnant. People need to know all of those details about gender and how far along are you (“really? You are so big/small”)

    Anyhow- I know that a lot of points that you guys are making go a lot deeper than that, and definitely questions about being a nanny or an adoptive parent usually have racist over/undertones. But I do think there is something else there, too-
    Maybe even to do with evolutionary biology and some obsession with paternity.

  6. Annie says:

    September 17, 2013 at 5:51 am

    I haven’t been asked this question, so I can only guess at what it would be like. I agree that it is about adoption being lesser. It reminds me of people who ask if multiples are natural — they go from being something really special or something to being something they feel sorry for the parents about. For both questions, I think I would answer honestly, but then say, “Why do you ask?” in an attempt to encourage them to think about their motivations and what they’re really getting at.

    • Martha says:

      September 17, 2013 at 9:35 am

      I disagree. I really don’t wish to make this about how I or other parents feel about adoption. This is not about adoption being lesser. This is about getting asked inappropriate questions. How would you feel if someone asked you constantly if you were a “natural” blonde or if you had liposuction because you’re so skinny or if your husband made a ton of money so that you could be a sahm? Assumptions are being made about people’s state of being implying that it can’t be any other way simply because the person asking the question cannot imagine it so happen any other way. Let’s not turn it around on the people being asked the question, making it all about their hang ups.

      • Annie says:

        September 17, 2013 at 10:21 am

        I’m not saying it’s a hang up on the part of the person being asked any more than being asked if you’re carrying “natural” twins is offensive b/c something is wrong with the person being asked. They’re both nosey/rude questions. I think it has to do with wanting to pick apart other people, much like being asked if you are a “natural” blonde, actually. It’s like a Jerry springer society issue. Everything is someone else’s business, esp if it makes someone feel better about themselves by looking down on another. I’m feeling incredibly cynical today, so take that with a grain of salt, but I wanted to clarify that I don’t think it’s a hang up with the person being asked at all.

  7. says:

    September 17, 2013 at 11:01 am

    I am biracial myself and my son is 1/4 black, but doesn’t look it at all. He is white, blonde and green-eyed. I have been mistaken for the nanny (in a very rude way). Growing up with my white mother and black father, only my mother was ever questioned about her children. Either because no one wanted to talk to a big black man or because a white woman with dark children just looks weirder. It disturbed her greatly and she argued with people over the fact we were not adopted. It hurt her to her core.

    Whereas for me, it makes me angry (when it is done in a really ignorant way) but not to my core. I know my child is mine, he has my features even. And if you spend two minutes looking at our features instead of our colours, you’d get your answer without even having to ask.

    So I’m the more feisty type and will respond in kind when you ask me a question in an ignorant/rude way. My job is not here to educate the world on race or change racist attitudes. I’m here living my life, raising my son and going about my day. If you want lessons on race, read my blog, otherwise, leave personal questions out of it when I’m just trying to shop.

  8. Nicole B. says:

    September 23, 2013 at 3:31 pm

    Thanks for this post. I am white and while I can’t imagine asking someone if his or her child is adopted, I can certainly understand both sides.

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