August 12th, 2011
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four kids holland state park 2011

I’ve been answering tricky questions about race lately. And, for the record, I’ve not been as prepared or eloquent about them as I’d like. With the release of my book, Love You More: The Divine Surprise of Adopting My Daughter this past week, I’ve been surprised at how often my daughter’s race is what grabs people’s attention.

When my husband and I were going through the process of adopting her, we gave careful thought to the fact that her race would be different from ours. We’re Caucasian; she’s Latina. We talked with friends who had “mixed” families themselves about the challenges and issues that difference presented. We read books, examined our own feelings, and looked around the community to see how many examples of families we could see that looked anything like ours would after our daughter’s homecoming.


And, in the end, we determined that adopting transracially was the right choice for us.

What I was more concerned about was her age. Could a toddler attach to her mother after spending the first almost year and a half of her life somewhere else?  Didn’t everyone write about the importance of breastfeeding (she wasn’t breastfed), that birth to three years old is the most important time in a person’s life (I’d missed half of it), and that the very architecture of the brain was pretty much mapped out and walled up by the time a child is three (Yipes!).

Her race was important, but not the most important issue I felt we were to face.

When asked about it, I’m able to talk about what made us decide to create a multiethnic family. But I was less prepared for another question that keeps surfacing:

“How do your other children feel about having a child of another race in the family?”

That’s when I begin to fumble.  “Fine,” I answer, cheerfully. But then I don’t know what else to say. One word answers do not make for a good interview. As a person who has spent much more time on the other side of the questions – that is, as the journalist asking them – I want to give more.

“They, um, like it.”

Like it?

“Well, they love her, so they love her race. ‘Cause, you know, that’s a part of who she is.”

I find myself sounding superficial, saccharine-sweet. The truth is, I have rather chatty and confessional kids, two of whom are teenagers, and they’ve never brought this up to me.  I think, if it were on their radars at all, we’d have spent hours by now dissecting it.

A few days ago after taking a call from a radio program and again fielding that question, again, I walk into my son’s room and flop down on the bed next to him.

“Can I ask you something?”

“Sure,” he says, barely looking up from his book. He’s thirteen and on summer days can often be found stretched across his bed, reading. This week it’s The Da Vinci Code, loaned to him by our babysitter.

“I keep getting asked in interviews how you older three kids feel about Mia being a different race than you.”

“What?” He says, closing the book slowly, keeping his right hand on the page he was reading, a make-shift bookmark, a message that this conversation, he hopes, will be a brief one.

“That Mia’s Latina. What do you think about that? Does it affect you in any way? ” I ask. “I mean, because you’re Caucasian.”

“What?  Really?  Weird question,” He says, losing interest and beginning to open the book again. “Of course it doesn’t.  I never even thought about that.”

And then he turns back onto his side and begins reading again.

“Anything else?” I ask, trying to keep the conversation open.

“Yeah, actually,” he looks over his shoulder at me. “Can you tell me how you’d pronounce this? ‘O-P-U-S  D-E-I.’ It’s from the book.”

I say the phrase. “It’s Latin. Means ‘book of God.’”

“Oh,” he turns back to reading.

“No, I’m sorry. That would be ‘work of God,’” I correct myself. “I think.”

“Whatever,” he mumbles.

Later, I’m driving home from the grocery store with my 11-year old daughter Isabel. “Do you ever think about Mia’s race? That she’s a different race than you are?”

“No. Why?” she answers.

“I keep getting asked about that. I mean about how you older three feel about Mia being a different race than you are.”

“Geez!” She exclaims. “What a question!  Of course not.  She’s my sister!  What difference does it make what color she is?  Do I sit around thinking about what race the boys are?  I gotta tell you Mom,” she says, a bit scoldingly. “I don’t know who it is asking you about that, but you can tell them that it’s a very strange and very inappropriate question.”

For the moment, I consider the case closed and decide that a one-word answer in interviews, for future reference, will be sufficient.

Jennifer Grant is the author of the recently-released memoir Love You More: The Divine Surprise of Adopting My Daughter.

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Grant

One Response to “Your Sister’s Race”

  1. ipatch says:

    I have read and re-read this a few times. I am an adult adoptee of a transracial adoption. What strikes me about this article is your complete focus on how your other children are reacting to their sisters “race” and perhaps you have written other blog entries that are more focused on your daughter. I look at the photo of her with her brothers and I see her complexion among all of you and I am reminded of my own experience.

    Like I said, perhaps the focus of this blog entry was for one purpose and you have written other entries . . I hope. I haven’t been on this site long enough to check if you have.

    First . . . you made mention that her race is not the most important thing. While this may be true for a little while .. and I hope a lot of you mothers out there who have chosen this experience for your children who are not of the same race, READ THIS.

    In the beginning of course every child just needs love. And of course your child is NOT going to face race ISSUES under YOUR wings. Or even around YOUR friends. After all, who would openly treat your daughter any different in front of you? See that’s just it. Your total acceptance of her is great. But it’s a double edged sword. Because one day, whether you want to believe this or not. ONE DAY . . she won’t be under your wings, she won’t be JUST around your friends or the ones she grew up with, who because she was still part of your family . . . and her other friends see that her family is WHITE . . .so whoever she is . . IS OK.
    ONE DAY . . she’ll get out there and it will hit her like a ton of bricks. That when you are out there . . no one KNOWS squat about you. They don’t know your family is white, they don’t know that you have all the same mannerisms, you don’t have the accent of your birth country. They see only the complexion of your face. And this ILLUSION that the rest of the world is going to treat you equal . . . IS A LIE.
    Transracial adoptees grow up in loving homes. I LOVE my family, but they did not prepare me for what I was going to face as an adult. You can go to all the heritage camps you want. But my only advice to you and any white person who thinks that love can conquer all . . .take YOUR BLINDERS OFF. When your sons or daughters . . .grow up and you can’t protect them from the racism that exists in the world. LISTEN TO THEM. YOU CAN NEVER understand what it is to walk in their shoes. You are white. You do not know what kind of burden it eventually becomes for a transracial adoptee to grow up completely americanized and not “quite” fit in anywhere. To have to walk in TWO worlds. One of which is their “caucasian” upbringing, and one where they know they are something else but have no foundation . . .and it creates an identity crisis. I have spent the last five years searching for other adult adoptees . . . and I can with 100% certainty tell you that there is not one person I have met in my search that isn’t angry as hell at the position they have been put in.
    We are an entire generation who has been raising awareness of this issue. We are the ones who even hear from our parents, and our siblings . .. “we only see you, not the color of your skin”. A saying with great intention but so blind and so insulting at the same time. Again I mention the double edged sword. It feels great to be accepted, but that statement also leaves a strange feeling that none of you really do SEE ALL of who WE are.
    Because our skin is different, we have a lineage that is seperate from yours and needs acknowledging. Maybe not as young children . . . .but when we get older, say in our teens .. . and we are all thumbing through YOUR family albums of grandma and great grandma and great great great grandma and great great grandpa who is in world war whatever and earned a purple heart . . whatever YOUR family tree stories are . . . one day as an older child, whether he or she says it outloud . . on some level they will know, looking at all your family members some who may be in flapper dresses or during the fifties, pill box hats and jackio o dresses . . .that those people are not their relatives. And it hurts.
    The desire to believe that these strangers are our family too . . its a wish, but in school, when they start learning about american history and how minorities are treated in this country, something happens. An awareness of “otherness” occurs.
    And when they leave your nest . . . and that horrid quote “I just see you not the color of your skin” and worse, “jeez I never thought about it” will have been said to them so many times it will make them sick. Color blindness is NOT kind.
    I’m not writing any of this to be mean. I’m writing this because it needs to be known. You as parents who have chosen this path for your kids . . . have a responsibility to HEAR them, to LISTEN with open minds when THEY are ready and acknowledge that they can never be the same as you because you do not and will not walk in “thier” world or experience.
    An example of this will be when they go off to college and experience for the first time, the world that does not see them as equal. It won’t be their entire experience but for many of us who have been talking . . it usually REALLY hit when we went out searching for our first jobs and realized we got more interviews and chances when we “called first” to set up an interview with our perfect american accents, and the job recruiters were not expecting a minority to show up.
    Even getting an interview with a pizza joint at age 17 for a summer job was easier to get with a phone call first.
    Racism is alive and well in this country. And parent’s believe when they adopt these kids who are of a different race, you really believe it doesn’t matter. Short term it doesn’t long term . . . it will.
    It’s not enough to have all the love in the world. Something you and all these parents need to start seeing is that, even exposing your child to their lineage by way of heritage camps is not enough. Somehow . . . you have to, when they get older, you have to arm them with responses or rather help them build an armor against dealing with racist people, comments and treatment. That is the missing piece.

    If my siblings had any clue what I go through every day (as an adult). . . that would have been nice too.
    Right now your child lives in a controlled environment, where intolerance is not tolerated. It’s not your family and it’s not your friends that you need to ready your children for. Its the rest of the world when it’s time for them to leave the protection of your nest, your controlled safe world, that they need your help with.
    Just because we have Obama in office has not made this a more tolerant world. It’s actually worsened it for us who are out here listening to the garbage about “all these minorities”.
    And when you daughters or sons . . . are lumped together with the “rest of the illegals” and when people blatenly say racist remarks and assume that they can’t understand english . . . well, the anger begins to rise.

    I come from central america. I deal with this all the time. ANd I wish my parents had, had a clue what I’d be dealing with. This isn’t just my story. This is the story of any adult adoptee who is helping their grandmother or even just going to the store with their adoptive mother, and the check out person asks the “white parent” in the situation, “mam’ are you ok? is she with you”. Or the horrid and demeaning experience when these ignorant folk assume that your own adult child is the “hired maid”. OMGOSH!

    My mom refused to believe that I go through all what I go through. And you may react the same way. And I have gotten, “well their just ignorant racists, oh never mind them”. NO! When this is your experience day after day and your family turns a blind eye to what you experience and they do not .. oh and my all time favorite . . “well I never see anyone treat you this way”. well . . DUH.
    I get better treatment in doctors offices, at the dentist, or especially in a clothing store, if my “white mom or dad” is with me.
    Again, this is not my isolated experience. A lot of people I have met, their answer was to finally move away from their adoptive families, marry into a minority family, not because they don’t love and ADORE their adoptive families, but because the pain of being in the presence of people who can’t understand you becomes to great.
    We eventually surround ourselves with familiar faces.
    As much I as I denied and fought this idea for YEARS . . . and as close as I am to my mom. And trust me, I talk to my mom like three times a day over the phone! I too have, like others before me, finally married into a family that looks more like me and my long term plan as I am in the middle of adopting a child of my own who is the same race as me, have finally found peace, strength and identity in being with a family who faces the same things I do on a daily basis.
    Don’t get me wrong, there may be others out there who actually do the exact opposite in an effort to PROVE they are equal and I’m not saying that I am not equal, but the whichever way a person goes … the bottom line is the wound we carry with us having grown up in a white family who can not ever know what we go through.
    You can empathize, you can attend heritage camps which are GREAT! But as she gets older, please be careful with those expressions, “you are just my child, you are no different”. Because evetually thanks to american history classes, an awareness awakens that we know differently.

    I’ll leave you with one other thought. One that many adult adoptees cant even admit because it is PAINFUL.

    We have all these memories of flipping through family albums and looking at all these old people and a family tree that does not belong to us. No matter what you say. And as we grow older and say our siblings have kids, and as adults when we are going through the albums again, and a niece or nephew asks of a distant relative, “who is that?” and because we’ve been given all the names, all the background, we can say, “oh that’s your great great great grandma, look you have her nose!” another frightening thought occurs . . .
    that one day, someone will ask, “who is that? and why do they look different?” Or “who is that and why are they standing next to so and so?” or even a worse thought . . that someday some generation is going to look at our different complexion and nobody is going to know who we are or figure we’re just a neighbor . . . I know you wouldn’t think that a kid or teen would think these things . . .but think again.

    it sucks doing family trees for school projects. It sucks realizng your own . . differentness . . . when you take that first history class that talks about the holocost, and black history month and what happened to the native americans . . . and how people feel about illegal immigrants. . .

    all these books and stories, at some point will hit your kids. So while you are doing a GREAT job now. And you are! Please . . think about the future and help your kids who are “OTHER” build a thick armor for the world they will step out into one day.
    You can be optomistic and hope for the best and the world changes, but in case it doesn’t, it’s better to be safe than sorry and when they do come to you whether its as a teen or a young adult or a thirty something yr old . . . LISTEN and acknowledge their journey, not yours.
    Thank you.

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