Wednesday, November 17, 2010

More Thoughts on Cross-Racial Adoption

In my last post, I shared some of my thoughts on adopting children of a different race. I admit that when I first got my two girls (both African American) I really downplayed the race issue and hardly thought about it. I was twenty-two years old and I had grown up in New York and New Jersey, where racial relations are different from how they are here in the south. At the time, I wasn't aware of any cultural differences between blacks and whites and really didn't learn that there WERE cultural differences until I moved to GA in 1996. The only thing I was aware of needing to learn was how to do my girls' hair so that it looked just as good as all the other African American little girls' hair. I rarely talked to my girls about race and they didn't bring it up either, so I guess I just assumed that it wasn't a significant factor in our lives.

But, I was unaware that sometimes my girls felt like they didn't fit it. We lived in a white neighborhood, they went to a white school, and had tons of white cousins. Sometimes a person just wants to blend in with the crowd. It's no fun going to Wal Mart and feeling like, "everyone knows I'm adopted" because you are a different race than your parents. Sometimes you feel rejection from your birth parents because they didn't do all they needed to do to take care of you properly, and so, when in public with your white parents, you may feel like "everyone knows I was rejected by my mother." Even though my girls were loved and accepted by all our relatives, and treated the same as the other cousins, at times there was just a little pang of "I'm not a real cousin" "I'm not a real grandchild" etc. Adopted children of the same race as their parents probably go through the same thing, but when you are the only children of your race in the whole family, I think you feel that way more frequently.  I really wish I would have realized this at the time so I could have tried to help them work through those feelings.

Overall, my girls had tons of friends and lots of fun growing up. When they were 10 and 11 years old, we decided to follow my sister down to Atlanta. We loved the idea of being near her and her kids, but also loved the fact that Atlanta had the highest middle class African American population in the country. We moved to a very racially mixed area and went to a large, racially mixed church. We felt it would be great for our girls to finally have some black friends as well as white, and for us to get to know more black families so our girls wouldn't always stand out.

But we were in for a bit of a surprise. I had never lived in the South and I had no idea how much more of an issue race is down here than up in the northeast. When living in PA, my girls were friends with everyone and liked by everyone. But now they were experiencing racial tensions they hadn't experienced before. For the most part, they were still accepted by their white peers. But many of the black kids rejected them or teased them for being too "white." The favorite name to call them was "oreo cookie" (you're black on the outside, but you're white on the inside!) Or even "Double Stuffed Oreo Cookie!" Now, it didn't help when Shannyn, my oldest, would say something like "I don't eat processed meat," when being offered a piece of a ham sandwich; or that they were home schooled, etc. The one-half of a year that my daughters went to the public elementary school, I volunteered weekly in their classes and I was shocked to see that at free time, in Elizabeth's class, all the little white girls would congregate together, and all the little black girls would stick together. And Elizabeth would be in the little white group every time, fluttering around like she just belonged there. At home I asked her, "Elizabeth, why don't you hang around any of the black girls in your class? Why do you only stick with the white girls?" And she answered with a little wave of her hand, "because the black girls have attitudes." I started thinking, "my gosh--what have I done by moving here?"

As my girls got a little bit older and started going to the youth group at our church, they started to assimilate better with all their peers--black, white, hispanic. Race, thankfully, became less important of an issue, and they were adjusting to their new life in the South. Teen years were sometimes tough between mom and daughters, but I had friends with daughters who weren't adopted, and they were having many of the same issues, so I can't say that our tensions were race related--just simply girls growing close to adulthood, wanting to make their own decisions, and a mom still wanting to make the decisions for them. But it's easy, when you are having conflicts, to think "Is this because my girls are adopted?" And it's easy for them to think, "Is she treating me this way because I'm adopted?" All I can say is Thank God that those teen years are over! :) Like my own mother and I got along much better after I was grown and out of the house, it's the same for me and my girls. They are two of my best friends--I love hanging out with them and talking to them on the phone. I love hearing their insight and opinions on issues--especially the really controversial ones. Sometimes we get into debates (friendly ones) where one of us ends up standing on the table and we're all yelling at the top of our lungs to be heard (usually instigated by my sister, of course--who's always on Shannyn's side!) But it's all in good fun.

Today, both of my girls would say that they are happy to have been adopted by white parents, even though they may have experienced some adversities that they wouldn't have experienced if adopted by a black family. They like that they can fit into both cultures and identify with both groups of people. They had some rocky periods finding their identity, but who doesn't? Should more Christian African American families step up to adopt the many African American children out there waiting for a permanent home? Definitely. And should Christian white families not be apprehensive about adopting children of a different race--even here in the South? No, they shouldn't be apprehensive. When God adopted us into his family, he did so even though we looked and acted quite different from him and his son Jesus. But the more we experience God's love and come to know him, the more we are united with his spirit. The Bible says we are "joint heirs" with Christ Jesus, seated together with him in Heavenly places. That is quite an honor for a mere human being. Knowing what God has done for us, can we really see the need of thousands of orphaned children out there and not have our hearts crying out to take them in?

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