I’m not one to make a big deal out of saying everything in a politically correct manner. Most of the time, I try to forgive when people ask innocent-badly-phrased, but well-meaning questions. Mostly I forgive because I do it too. All the freakin’ time.
But when I’m doing it, I like to think that I’m at least aware that I’m doing it badly. So I try to find out enough information in order to not do it badly next time.
As I wrote in my recent post, the whole getting asked whether Annika is adopted, question, or rather, some more vague version of that is getting kind of old for me.
I share these stories, not to complain, but to give people a window into a world that I am a part of that I once was not. I share them to illuminate a life that may be different from your own. And I share for those who are interested in expanding their world views, as I once was, knowing that I was ignorant and wanting to address it in myself. I always appreciated my friends of color who cared enough to overlook my ignorance, see my quest for information and accept my roughness when asking them questions. I also appreciate and recognize my ignorant arguments with them when I’d had enough and felt attacked even though they were just sharing with me what I’d asked of them.
So if we, as liberal whites, want to live in a multicultural world and wish to raise culturally aware children, then we must take on the responsibility of becoming aware of how to address and ultimately befriend people and families of color.
We must become aware.
We can no longer accept or take for granted our comfy cozy white worlds. Because those worlds would be so much better if we have more color in them, not less. The future of our country has been moving forward culturally for several decades now. And so it is our duty to teach our children that this country is filled with families that may not be like or look like our own.
And I’m not just talking about biracial families. I’m talking about gay families. I’m talking about families that are, on the surface, living in a culturally different world. I’m talking about immigrant families. I’m talking about any family that doesn’t represent two white heterosexual protestant parents with 2.4 kids and a dog. That’s not the American life anymore. Shit, hasn’t been for a long time. So it’s time we started teaching our children. I can’t speak for the cultural others, but I can speak to my experiences and the things I’ve learned, living with a biracial family.
The What’s the Big Deal Attitude?
There is this attitude, and I’ll say this right up front, I ONLY get this attitude from other white people, that says, “What’s the big deal if you get asked an uncomfortable question every once in a while?”
Here’s my answer to that. I can handle it. Sure I can. But there’s a part of me that really wishes that I could impart some wisdom on those of you who wish to not offend, but simply don’t know what to say.
And I wish to change some small part of the world mostly for my daughter’s sake.
So that’s what these posts are about. They are for people who want to educate themselves. Nothing more. The rest of the people out there will continue to remain ignorant. I don’t expect to change the world. Only answer some questions for well-meaning, but fearful friends and individuals.
Recently I was asked by a white mother to a white child, if Annika was adopted. She had explained to her daughter that I was, indeed, Annika’s mom, and then went on to tactlessly ask me if Annika was, in fact, adopted.
I have many points to make about this seemingly innocent interaction.
My first and main point of sharing this story is that mostly what bothers me about these interactions are the fact that my daughter could potentially develop some minor neuroses about getting this question. If not a neuroses, possibly just get sick of it, as I have.
As a mother, I want to protect my child. It’s that simple. Is it the worst thing in the world to get questioned about your parentage all your life? On the face of it, at worst you may just become overly sensitive to the question. At best, you may develop a thicker skin and a fuck-it attitude toward the world. (Well, that’s a good thing in my book.)
But the deeper issue is that the message you get sent is that you don’t belong. You don’t fit. You stick out, and not in a good way. You don’t look right. Your parents don’t look right. There is something wrong with you.
Yes, she’ll eventually realize that this is all bullshit, but how much of that will she internalize as a young child and carry with her as she grows up? That’s what I’m trying to protect her from. Because she does fit. She doesn’t or at least, she shouldn’t stick out. She does look right. And her parents are totally normal. (Well, at least on the outside. ;))
My second point to writing about this is that on the flip side of this question is the message the other family is sending to their own children.
The message of: It’s okay to ask inappropriate questions to people who don’t look like you. You are better. You have a right to delve into the personal family life of anyone. You don’t need to ask what is really on your mind. You can ask questions on a need to know basis.
The second point of all of this bothers almost just as intensely as the first point. I want to protect those kids too. I want to teach them that one can easily accept a person of color without any explanation as to how they came to be. I want this because I am that person. I was that child. And it took me years of adulthood to finally get that message.
We are all in this together. We are all part of a community. We are all equal.
We can’t just say those words. We have to act like they mean something. And nosing into someone’s parentage and putting them into an awkward position of answering a superficial and useless question is not helping them gain better access into a multicultural world. All you’ve done at this point is make two people uncomfortable. All you’ve done at this point is to make a child wonder why they don’t fit into your world. And all you’ve done at this point is give your child a sense of entitlement.
What’s the Real Question?
I think in most cases, the child doesn’t actually want to know if Annika is adopted.
Because I get asked some form of this question on a semi-regular basis, I’ve formed an opinion of what I think lies below the surface of this question.
Which is, “How does that work? How does a white mama get a brown child?” It’s a simple enough question and yet, one that most people won’t ask directly. I know this because I have only been asked that once. It was a question from a child and she simply asked me, “Why do you and your daughter have different color skins?”
I loved it. It was the best way to ask what her real question was and was not offensive in the slightest.
So, I think in many cases, this is the real question. I can can see it in their eyes after they say, “Is that your mom?” The ones who didn’t ask the real question they wanted to know are the kids who look slightly perturbed when I simply answer, “yes” I’m her mom. I can see that there is still a question remaining, they simply don’t know how or what to ask.
So when your white child with two white parents asks you, “Is she/he adopted?” when they see a parent/child combo with different skin colors know in your heart that this is likely not the real or only question they have.
So How Do You Approach This Conversation?
I have been asked a number of times by white parents with white children, “How do we go about this? Do we wait until they ask? Do you just approach it with a factual attitude? I don’t want to give my kid a complex about race and skin color. Isn’t it best to just not discuss it unless it comes up? To the last question, I say an emphatic no. It’s not best to not talk about it. Because if you don’t talk about it, your kids will just pick up racist attitudes around them, rather than internalizing all the lessons you’ve learned as an adult.
Talk to your children about all the differences in the world. Have these discussions with them more than once. Talk about the differences you’ve encountered. Regale them with stories of traveling in other countries or other parts of our country. Tell them about the times you stuck out. Tell them about your friends who were not like you on the outside, but also tell them about how they were like you.
Teach them that the world is multi-colored and made up of human beings with lots of different skin colors, cultures, and wonderful differences. Teach them to embrace the differences rather than ignore them or devalue them.
And teach them that it’s okay to be curious. But it’s not okay to ask insensitive and meaningless questions.
I have more thoughts on this, but as of now, I have written way too much. So if you’re still reading. I’ll be writing more on this in Part II, where I share two differing opinions from two biracial mamas with multiracial children. And perhaps there will be a Part III (or more).