Friday, July 1, 2011

He's not very dark, is he?

"He's not very dark, is he," an elderly relative asks me, each time we visit.  No, he's really not any darker than my husband, who is Italian.  "He could almost pass for white," an acquaintance says when she meets him for the first time.  "No one would know that he's half black," I've heard from numerous people.  My son Teddy is bi-racial, caucasian and black.  Everyone seems to feel the need to comment about this to me,  from store clerks to teachers to neighbors.

I wonder if it would be the same if I had adopted an Asian child.   I think it would not be.  I wonder if this is just an issue that Americans have with bi-racial children.  I can't say that the people who make these comments are racist, in every case.  But I wonder why Teddy's skin color seems an acceptable topic of conversation, for them to introduce.  I wonder why they seem so pleased that he is "not very dark," and how they can feel that it is an appropriate thing to express to me, and to Teddy.

Between our house and the local elementary school there are two flags hanging in yards as visible reminders of bigotry, hate and discrimination.  If Teddy rode the school bus he would see them out the window twice each day.  I was at a party in our small town, and the spouse of a very high-ranking person in the school system told the absolute most sickening racial joke I have ever heard.   I should add that I live in the northern midwest. 

I wonder if I would feel this way if I myself were black.  Because I am white and I have never felt this type of bigotry against myself, I might be more sensitive and protective of my child.  It seems impossible that I could allow my child to suffer from prejudice, ignorance and meanness at five years old.  Perhaps if I were black I would have learned that it's impossible to protect my child from this hurt.  I think that is the most tragic thing of all.


  1. You have done such a beautiful job of telling this story, I can feel the pain in your heart....

    A couple of thoughts, you may or may not find encouraging.

    First - the good news for YOUR son is that while older generations may not be "used" to multi-racial individuals, HIS generation is and will be! I think he will experience many fewer of these sorts of comments/incidents from his peers.

    Second - while not to excuse your older relative, she is a function of her "times". I'm sure she had very little experience in her life, especially her more formative years in her young life, with people of color, multi-racial households, or even adoption for that matter! My grandma used to always ask/inquire about someone's surname. "What kind of name is that? Is that English"? I always found that so odd, because OUR generation didn't focus nearly as much on that (and were much more likely to be a "mix"). But in HER time --- the Irish lived in one neighborhood, the Italians in another, etc. She didn't say it to be bigoted -- it was just a way she still thought about and characterized the world. So your aunt is maybe, in part, trying to figure out in her OWN head how Teddy will "fit in" to your family given the way she sees the world - and may not mean for it to seem the way it sounds.

    Finally, for the neighbors and other "passers-by" who feel inclined to comment, perhaps you could look back at them, with your sweetest face, and ask "I'm not sure what you mean by that?". Or "Tell me what makes you say that?". By feigning ignorance....perhaps it will help to point out to them the ignorance of their OWN statement....and create a learning moment for them.

    Alternatively - call them out on it, but again, in a way that fits your personality. My dad once was in a deli where the waitress made a disparaging comment about Jewish people and he looked right at her and said "I'm Jewish". She apologized profusely, then said something bad about Blacks instead to which he said "I'm Black". It got his point across (as he is neither....). Maybe you and your entire family could deliver some brownies or strawberry jam to the "flag flyers" in your neighborhood -- and then as you are leaving, inquire as to the meaning of those flags to them, to see what they say. Never know -- maybe they will realize the insensitivity - and take them down?? Can't hurt to try! :-)

    Keep up the great parenting - and blogging. Very enjoyable reading!

  2. I am so sad and sorry for your community if they are truly that racist.
    I would like to share my experience in hopes that not everyone you are encountering is so ignorant.
    My husband and I are in the process of adopting twins that are biracial. We have had them for 16 months and have heard a similar comment to the ones you wrote almost daily. I have always perceived the comments as just a curious fascination. In all honesty, I am fascinated with how my babies look and how there are so many variations of white/aa children. People comment about how they may not be able to guess what race they are, how light there skin is, how you would never know they were AA except for their hair. Even their Bio Mom commented about how light they were, and how they did not look like her children.

    Now, I will say that it is totally inappropriate to make these comments in front of a 5yr old, and anyone who does needs to be smacked in the head. My typical response to people's comments is "I know, aren't they beautiful!!"

    I guess my hope for you is that many of the people who comment to you are like the ones that I have spoken with and are not racist, just curious and fascinated and maybe not thinking before they speak.

    I can tell that you love your son dearly, and am sure you feel as blessed as I do to have such a beautiful child in your family.

  3. No, in my experience it isn't that way with Asian children. We have 3 adopted Asian children and we have never experienced the extent of rudeness that you have. It is amazing what people will say!!!!

  4. We adopted our fourth daughter. She is bi-racial. Usually the conversation with strangers goes something like this.
    "Are they all yours?"
    "Yes!" with a happy smile.
    "Even the little one? Is she adopted?"
    "Yes! We are so thankful to God for bringing us another daughter!"

    That usually ends it right there.

    Sometimes they will then say, "Is she Asian or Hispanic?"
    "No, she is bi-racial. Isn't her skin a beautiful color!"
    Usually they say yes. I had one man just nod.
    Then I usually smile and say, "But I like all the different skin colors!"

    I have to admit that when we first had her during the adoption process I felt very self conscious about how she looked different from our other three girls and me. I felt like everyone we passed must be making judgements about us or wondering why she was with us.

    I actually had one cashier, who was black, question me twice and make the comment that "she looks just like my cousin's baby." She was looking at me very suspiciously. Strange, huh? I would also say that when we are receiving stares it is just as likely to be a black person as a white person staring at us, but I have never had a black person ask us about adoption, except this one cashier.

    Now, I hardly even think about it. I rarely pay attention to stares anymore. We were at dinner the other day with some friends. Later, my friend asked if I noticed the couple watching us. I responded that I didn't, but they were probably just amazed to see four kids in one family or the fact that our children were very well behaved (that dinner at least!) My friend said, "They seemed to stare a lot at Lydia. I wondered if it was because she looks different from your other children." "It could be, or it could be she is the youngest, therefore the cutest. LOL

    I am thankful to say that we have had very few people say negative things and we live in Virginia and yes there are many people around here who fly those flags.

    Praying for you as you witness by example that God loves all people and gave us each our skin as He saw fit! ;)

    1. Thank you for sharing your experiences Eva. It seems to get a bit easier for me as time goes on. I don't dwell on the comments for long now. I just kind of brush it off. And very rarely are they mean spirited, thank goodness.

  5. You know, people say all kinds of wacky things. I am certain that I have put my own foot in my mouth more times than I can count. I have a friend who has adopted several children from Central Europe, and has 3 biological children. When I first met her, I assumed her bio kids were the adopted ones, because her husband is Filipino and I had never met him. I never commented on it to her, but after I knew her better, we had a conversation about it and laughed. She is very gracious.

    I love babies and I love all the beautiful colors in which they come. I hope I would never say anything about the depth of his skin tone - but I might have to comment on those liquid brown eyes that are so stunning. :-)

    I'm sorry you're dealing with racism directed at your beautiful son, even from your own family. I would bet they have no idea how what they say affects you, or even that what they are saying is inappropriate. Hugs to you and your handsome little boy!