I was delighted to have had the opportunity to appear on The Tamron Hall Show after HuffPost published my essay on being black in Boulder with a KKK member for a grandfather. As a singer-songwriter, I’ve been crazy fortunate to perform worldwide and have had national air time around Europe. Still, my experience on an American Emmy award-winning daytime talk show was considerably different. . Teatro del Sale Florence photo courtesy of Saviolam.
. Ritmo&Blu Studios photo courtesy of Elena Crisanti
Being invited to perform and say a few words on T.V. as a musician allows the focus to be, primarily, on your music. While getting space on a coveted talk show is gratifying and exciting, it is also a teetering tightrope walk; time is limited to convey whatever one wants to share. To be fair, the producers have many pieces to put together to fit their vision. If you haven’t read that HuffPost essay or seen the show’s shortened clip- have a look and come back. I’ll be right here.
There are many things that there was no opportunity to express during my brief spot on Tamron’s show- too brief to unpack the many nuances in the essay, so I thought I’d address some questions and comments I've seen online.
I knew when I shared my story that the headline would pique interest, and sure I want to reach as many people as possible. We’re all just trying to get a sandwich. As sensationalistic as the headline of a black woman who had a KKK member as a grandfather may be, that experience does not define me. Nor is it quantifiable as being worse than other instances of racism suffered in transracial families or elsewhere. There is no hierarchy of pain. My story is just one among tens of thousands. The impetus behind the writing of the article was not to procure sympathy. When I wrote the HuffPost essay that prompted my invitation to the show, I was, as I often am, trying to connect to the reader using my own personal experiences to speak to larger issues.
The media, in general, are fighting hard for everyone’s eyes. It can get lost that storytelling at its core is not about sensationalism but connection through our stories. Within the essay, I am ruminating on transracial adoption, hidden history, and racism in the hopes that it resonates with others who may have had similar experiences and sheds some light on these realities for those who have never contemplated them before. Sharing our stories creates empathy and can be a catalyst to create meaningful change. I am moved and inspired by others' stories being shared with me around the webiverse regarding their own experiences around racism as well as around privilege. If you'd like to comment or have questions, please come join us at our Facebook group Constructive Conversations about Racial Relations in White Communities, or send me a message through this website.
. Simone Boffa, Cesare Valbusa, Me, Silvia Revello, Matteo Mangiarotti, Marco Cremaschini Christian Codenotti photo courtesy of author
When I write telling someone else’s story, I ask permission. I didn’t inform my adoptive family before co-writing the essay A Black and White Tale of Two Cities with my great friend Lisa Bell for our Facebook group Constructive Conversations about Racial Relations in White Communities. However, it was not for lack of concern for them. As a writer, as an artist in general, I strive to be empathetic. I did not set out to point fingers and assign blame but rather to open a dialogue; hence I wrote speaking to a complicated, nuanced situation with the aim, again, to use my own experiences to address greater issues, in this case: racism in predominately white communities. I sought to be compassionate and to open a thoughtful dialogue, so no, I didn’t then, nor do I ever feel the need to ask permission to tell my story.
Many people are asking about a phrase I said on Tamron's show- That I didn't really know I was black as a small child. Allow me to elaborate. What I intended with that remark is that I did not know what it meant to be black. My point was, before "Roots," I didn't feel consciously different from any of my playmates. I was raised in a culture steeped in whiteness, from the television to my toys to my classmates. It wasn't that I didn't see color. I felt that we were all equal and that those around me felt the same. That they saw in me my nature, the same way I knew that this little girl was kind, this one smart, this one funny. Yes, my adoptive father was black, but he was immersed in the white world of Boulder and did not educate us regarding race. Subconsciously I knew. I tried hard to emulate the standard of what was considered beautiful - what was considered "correct." As I grew, I read more and more, seeking out black authors. I learned about that white gaze from the incomparable Toni Morrison, and I felt it in my bones.
I’ve had many questioning how I maintain my smiley face—both in the photos of my little girl self and in the interview itself. Adoptees, especially those living in an abusive home, develop a defense mechanism. Mine from an early age was to play the clown and to charm. My brother Miles and I spent our childhood doing everything we could to keep the peace, keep everyone happy, avoid conflict. I want to assuage the fears that some of you have expressed that I have repressed memories and am walking wounded. Writing is my balm as is music and if I'm able to share these stories it is because I've been fortunate enough to come out the other side. But also, I’m just that irritatingly cheerful morning person that no one wants to speak to when they first wake up. I’ve got some kinda good blood running through my veins passed to me from my unknown but not unloved ancestors allowing me to gravitate towards the light.
My friend Chris Slawecki, senior editor at All About Jazz, caught the phrase I say at the end of the interview when Tamron asks me what I want people to take away from my music - I quoted my own damn self from something I wrote a while back. It was the first thing that popped into my head. I said, “I want to capture the ephemeral and gift it.” Chris inspired me to hunt for the long-ago blog post I wrote when describing the differences between songwriting, spoken word, and other disciplines. I wrote, “At the end of the day, however, whether I’m writing lyrics, spoken word, short stories, or blog posts, my desires are the same. I am exploring my world and myself. I am seeking to be illuminated and illuminating. I am trying to express what seems to be inexpressible; make sense where there is none. I am straining to capture the ethereal alongside the ephemeral and gift it. I am leaving me “I was here” sign and a “so was she, so was he” sign to boot. I am celebrating. I’m still a little girl enchanted with words.” I wrote that four years ago. It might as well have been 20 years ago or yesterday...
Thank you for reading, watching, and engaging in this important dialogue with me.
Learn more from these Incredible transracial adoptee activists around the world.
Dionne Draper (England) writer, actor, singer - Star of DAWTA (DAR-ta) Dionne’s debut semi-autobiographical musical in which she plays multiple roles.
Lynelle Long (Australia) Lynelle is the founding Director of InterCountry Adoptee Voices (ICAV)
Angela Tucker (USA) Mentor, Speaker, Educator, and advocate for transracial adoptees
Alessia Robin Petrolito (Italy) Artist, Poet, and advocate transracial adoptees
Astrid Castro (USA/Columbia), Independent Adoption Consultant, the co-author of "Adoption in the Movies," developed an innovative, evidence-based, 27-minute training DVD titled, "Adoptive Parent Training: Developing Communication Skills."
Ampersand Families (USA), Minnesota’s only nonprofit adoption agency, focused exclusively on providing permanency services to teens and families who face the greatest barriers in the child welfare system. They help the community’s oldest, longest-waiting youth to move from temporary foster care into permanent, loving families.