White Parents, Black Child: A Transracial Adoptee's Two Cents
Once again too much time has passed since the last blog, sorry ‘bout that. I should stop making promises I can’t keep about how much I’m gonna write. I’m on a train that keeps speeding up; looking out at the landscape rushing by in one long blur as I frantically respond to emails on my phone while listening to the songs I gotta learn for the next gig in my earbuds whilst attempting to write bon mots for Twitter and whistling a little baby idea of a melody. In other words, it’s summer gigging madness time up in here!
Marco and I were in Austria last week and we had a splendiferous time, we took three extra days so as to turn it into a work-cation and cooled off in those glorious mountains. At dinner before a show one evening a family of three were seated next to us. They were two white Italian parents with their little adopted Belgian girl, who is black.
I had my usual conflict when coming across such a combination. As I sat making polite conversation with these truly pleasant people while simultaneously trying to engage the child; on the inside, I started fussing and my brain went into overdrive wondering how quickly I could bring up my own experiences without being rude, or if I even ought to.
My left brain says reasonably, “It’s pretty damn nosy, nay…,” because Lefty just speaks that way, “…downright rude to poke your nose into the lives of a family you’ve just met with no invitation.” Then the right brain has just gotta have her say with, “But, don’t you owe it to that baby girl?” and coyly continues with “You know you should give her parents at least some food for thought, what they then do with it is outta your hands.” Lefty calmly interjects, “None of your business, besides which, we live in different times now; there is all kinds of information available. Interacial adoptions are taken much more seriously today, progress has been made in assuring that the children are properly looked after.” Righty responds, “Ha! Sure! Just look at her hair, doesn’t look to me like the mother is availing herself of all that available information! Humph!” Lefty admonishes, “Those butterfly clips she’s put in it are tots adorbs, just stop it.” Righty responds, “Yes, but uh, have you seen HER HAIR?????”
As is so often the case when debating with myself within my inner landscape, the result is... I choke and say nothing. Lefty rejoices, yet I feel like it’s unresolved, like I haven’t done my best. But what are you going to do? Five minutes after meeting them stress the importance of the extra responsibility these parents must face having adopted a child of color? Encourage them in a few seconds to be vigilant in helping that beautiful baby to know, to really know that she is beautiful? Prevail upon them to celebrate her color and compel them to help her to install a fierce, strong, stable, sense of self? Warn them of the arduous road ahead raising a black girl in a predominately white society? Slip them the link to this article What White Parents Should Know About Adopting Black Children on Huffington Post perhaps?? Or the Times' thoughtful article on the subject ?? Er, no- out of the question. Dinner is over and it’s time to begin. So off we go to the piano in the bar.
The girl and her family come to listen, along with a remarkable number of other children. I can’t remember another gig, ever, with so many teeny tykes in attendance. Mom and her baby start dancing gleefully and before you know it the floor is covered with little kids flinging their bodies about. Marco and I have a wonderful time entertaining them and both sides of my brain are in agreement that this is the best thing to do. Encourage joy, spread love, be present and give freely and joyfully of everything I have to give.
Despite the happiness of that moment, and the obvious pleasure all around of that performance, the second we are done my brain is back at it. Righty, sobbing inconsolably, remonstrates Lefty telling her that a teachable moment was within her grasp and she just let it disappear, like the unfeeling, relentlessly logical creature that she is.
After a restless night spent thinking of what acceptable manner I might have used to broach the topic with her parents…what that might have looked like, Marco said, “Give them a CD and your email at breakfast. ” I looked at him and said brilliantly, "Oh... uh, oh yeah...There's an idea!" So simple- my entire brain agrees, we are finally of one mind, (sorry, couldn't resist) why had I been fretting so?
As soon as we stepped into the dining room we met the family on their way out. I handed over the CD and told the mother that I was adopted and that my adoptive mother is white as well. She was lovely, thanking me profusely and said she had been told to seek out successful transracial adoptees (“Yikes!” screamed Righty inside “I dunno how successful our adoption was, but yeah whatever…” while Lefty hissed “Don’t listen to Righty, keep smiling!”) and that the hair was standing up on her arms, (which would be the Italian equivalent of the hairs on the back of your neck...) . My relief was absolute and now we’re buddies on Facebook. I’m thinking I gotta send her my poem Hair soon!
When I was a girl I was desperate to have
Long long straight straight hair
There are pictures of me dancing with myself and I around the yard with strings of yarn pulled through my short kinky hair, pretending to be a princess, or a face from a magazine, a teacher a newscaster, an actress, wonder woman with my wonderful protective bullet deflecting bracelets
Woosh woosh and my wonderful protective flip flick
Long long straight straight hair
My white adoptive mother in our white bread town could never satisfy that longing for
Long long straight straight hair.
She’d bring me, we running optimistically to the beauty salon after they’d special ordered a hair straightener for my tightly packed curly frizzy nappy curls.
Ah the optimism of those boxes, cheerfully colored with an inevitable picture of a cheerfully colored girl grinning with her long long straight straight hair and I just knew, just knew that this time I’d come out looking like the rest of my friends at school. All those white girls with their beautiful fine hair, now that was beauty; at least that’s what the media was telling me.
One day I came home from school to a magazine for girls of Seventeen and there was, what ?? There must be some mistake is that… I rubbed my eyes blinked and rubbed again, is it… could it be a black girl ?? Shari Belafonte with short short kinky kinky hair and she was beautiful, I didn’t need the media to see, so I cut off my impossible spiky standing out never tame imitation hair, that had me crying every time I tried to force it to conform, frustrating all attempts at long long straight straight, coming out more like
the wet and angry head of hair on a bird after a bath.
And that was that.