I probably glow in the dark. Seriously, I am a very white person. During the summer time, I buy the products with the highest number SPF on them. When I am driving down the street, I work hard to keep that one arm near the window out of the sun.
My son, on the other hand, has skin like creamy coffee. I love looking at his skin and studying how the pigment changes over time. He is just so beautiful.
During adoption training, the counselor talked about being a family of second or even third looks. When someone from one race adopts another person from a different race, people notice. People do a double or triple takes. I know because I have been on the other side of those looks already. When I am in public, I am very aware that our skin tones don’t match by the looks people give me. Right now, my son is only 14 months old and he is completely unaware of those looks. I will have to prepare him for them in the near future.
I worry about my reaction to race when it comes to others. I want to face every situation like that with grace and humor, but sometimes the reactions of people conjures a rage in me. You see, we live in very different times with different generations that speak differently about race. My mother’s generation lived through civil rights where white people and black people could not use the same water fountain. Then there was my generation, the “bused generation” where we say on school buses for 45 minutes to go to schools with many different races.
I work at a local college surrounded by eighteen, nineteen and twenty year olds. When I hear them talking about race, it almost sounds like flavors at an ice cream shop. People freely use made-up terms like “bla-sian” for someone who is biracial of both African American and Asian descent. They talk about someone’s skin tone with phrases like “mixed with” or lighter skinned black person.
I know have to find a humorous and graceful way to operate in a society that consists of different perspectives. One side of the spectrum is someone who experienced civil rights firsthand. Another side of the spectrum is someone feeling so at ease with race that they create a new words to describe them.
People assume immediately that since my son is with me that he is biracial and he is not. Most of the time, I do not correct them because really their knowledge of this difference does not matter. My son comes from two African American parents and one glow-in-the-dark adoptive mother.
People also assume that since we are different races that he comes from a country outside of the United States. At least once a month, a service worker will come up to me and ask what country he is from. Everyone is always surprised when I tell them that he is from the United States born only one hour east of my town of residence.
I knew from the beginning of my adoption journey that I was willing to adopt any child from any race. Race was never a concern for me. Sitting in adoption training surrounded by couples, I remember hearing the tense conversations between husbands and wives as they discussed how to answer the race question. It wasn’t a simple form to fill out. They gave us options of specific races and combinations of races. Are you willing to adopt someone who is biracial? Are you willing to adopt someone who is tri-racial? Are you willing to adopt someone who is both African American and Asian? There was always one partner willing to do everything and another that wanted to talk about it more later. Awkward.
Children are likely to be the first to have the nerve to ask you about race face to face. His friends at daycare often look at him and then look at me and then look at him when I come to pick him up. I love their honesty. Our first verbal questions though came at the playground near my house.
A little girl about 8-years-old was being ignored by her teenage sister and her friend while playing at the park. I walked up to the jungle gym with my son who was just learning how to walk and wanted to weeble around on the mulch. This little girl became transfixed on us. Everywhere we went, she followed. Finally, she came up to me and said, “He is very brown.” I kept my response simple, “Yeah, I know. “And you are very not brown.” “Yeah, I know. That was it. Done. Relief, I survived.
Her teenage sister was not as easy. “What, he is your son?” I replied,”Yes, this is my son.” “Oh my god, he is so cute. What is he mixed with?” Pause. Think. I so dislike “mixed with”. My son is not a cake flavored for the masses. He is a person with a rich history behind his genes. I said the first thing that came to mind, “He’s mixed with sugar.” It’s true. My son is extra sweet.
I have a lot to learn about raising a strong, black man. We will encounter interactions tinged in racism and hatred and I will have to demonstrate to my son how to stand tall with grace and humility. It will take every muscle in my body to hold myself back and calm myself down, but in a way, I feel like that is one of the reasons why my son was introduced in my life. Yes, I am have my father’s temper at times, but deep down I am a kind person by nature. Having my son by my side will remind me of the importance of being kind over anything else.