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Seeing Color

January 31, 2010

Another favorite post on transracial adoption, this time by “Tonggu Mamma” (who authors a wonderful blog about her experiences pre-and post-China adoption):

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Seeing Color

I grew up in several diverse communities, among people of all races and faiths. My parents taught me from a very young age to do as Martin Luther King, Jr. advocated: to judge a person by the content of her character rather than by the color of her skin.

I always tried to do that.

When the Husband and I began discussing growing our family through adoption in 2003, we quickly turned to international adoption. Our reasons were complicated and many. Both the Husband and I expressed great interest in the global community. We’d previously lived as minorities within predominantly Asian and Pacific Islander communities – I in Japan and Hawaii and the Husband in Guam, South Korea and Japan. Also, between the two of us, we grew up with four cousins adopted from Asia. Most importantly, the Husband and I prided ourselves on being people who “didn’t see” color.

After researching various countries’ adoption programs, we selected China because of its highly ethical reputation.

We heard many comments from people during our adoption paperchase and wait. Most everyone offered an opinion about our decision. Some (bless them!) simply gave their support and offered congratulations. Some people applauded our open-mindedness for adopting a child not of our race. Some people, with great spiritual pride, stated that God called us to adopt these poor orphan children who needed to be saved by Christian families. Some asked us why we didn’t “adopt American.” And a few simply stopped asking us anything because they wished to avoid our soon-to-be multicultural family.

Very rarely did we feel comfortable with any of these conversations.

I experienced my first moment of overt racism just months before our adoption referral. The wife of an elder at our then-church and I joyously discussed the upcoming domestic adoption of dear friends of ours, SongOfSixpence and the King (although this time the baby was Blackbird rather than ThePie). Wife-of-the-Elder patted me on the shoulder, believing she consoled me, saying, “And they got a white baby.”

Remembering her words still brings tears to my eyes.

We’ve been home over three years now. We still face racism on a regular basis. Over the summer, we heard a relative comment on our daughter’s almond- shaped eyes and then say, “well, we think you’re beautiful anyway.” Last spring, the mother of a child in my daughter’s preschool class discussed the surprisingly sudden closure of a local African-American bookstore. The woman commented, “well, maybe it’s just because those people don’t read.” I can’t tell you how many people have cooed over my daughter, calling her a little China doll.

While y’all may not know this, the term China doll carries with it a history of meaning that causes me to blush in embarrassment and rage. Don’t use the term in reference to my daughter. Never.

Not. Ever.

The husband and I see little things as well… things that don’t feel so little when they are directed at our daughter or another person of her same race. Most Caucasian-Americans don’t label these “small” things as racist, but I disagree. Most wish to gloss over an event such as this because it doesn’t appear overtly horrible, but I’ve learned to trust my instincts about prejudice in all of its forms. I think the vast majority of white America is where I was five years ago: proud of the fact that I “didn’t see” color.

But it’s a lie. It’s also wrong.

To avoid seeing color is to avoid seeing the entire person. There exists a vast difference between acknowledging someone’s race and judging her because of it. Race and culture intertwine so, so closely that most times to deny race is to deny culture altogether. This is why so many adult transracial adoptees find themselves adrift in their late teens and early twenties – the world expects them to be one way and they simply don’t know how. They look Asian-American or Hispanic-American or African-American, but Caucasian-American parents raised them.

How confusing it must feel to many.

Most among our family and friends feel the Husband and I place too much emphasis on race and culture when it comes to raising our daughter. It’s not that we judge other parents for doing things differently… this is simply what feels right for our family. We find ourselves wondering why our attendance at a weekly Mandarin language class makes others feel so uncomfortable. Why do we feel bombarded with subtly disapproving comments about our choice of church (a local Chinese-American church) or our family traditions surrounding Chinese cultural holidays? We do nothing that contradicts our personal faith nor our family values, so why does it bother others so, so much? Some family members tell us that our daughter is a member of God’s family and THAT alone should be our emphasis. They disapprove of our decisions.

Fortunately, we realize that God chose us alone to be our daughter’s parents.

And, after three plus years raising my daughter, I do know one thing: people see color. My husband and I plan to do our best to help our little Tongginator navigate this truth. We also hope to help others learn that race matters in our family. I don’t want people to consider our daughter a pseudo-white person simply because my husband and I are her parents. She isn’t, nor will she ever be, someone other than who she is. A large part of her identity centers around the fact that she is a Chinese-American adoptee. To deny that is to deny her.

Ignoring her race won’t make it disappear. We’ve read the words of and spoken with too many transracial adoptees, now adults, who believe that the single largest area where their parents failed them involved forming a healthy racial and cultural identity. Seeing color, but not judging it, matters. That’s what I’d like for my daughter to experience.

I want others to see her color, but I want them to judge her character.

Wouldn’t you want the same?

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One Comment
  1. I can’t seem to be able to reach this site from my droid!!!

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