When am I Going to be White?

Heart. Broken.

That’s what we felt when we heard Anna ask this last week.

We have done everything in our power to affirm Anna’s gorgeous brownness. We point out the beauty of black people on television and in books. We talk about how unique God made black hair and just how many different kinds of curly hair there is. It’s not as if we only talk about that in our house, but it is definitely something we talk about. All that I’ve read on transracial adoption has encouraged this as most adult transracial-adoptees say that their parents ignored their melanin and just pretended their child was white… they pretended to be colorblind. They pretended (and this is a stretch, y’all) that the world is colorblind.

We are not perfect and we won’t know for 20 years if our approach is the right one, and it will be up to Anna to tell us some day, but for now we are doing what we have read is the best thing for her: let her know we see her and her color; affirm that part of who she is; encourage her to have pride in both of her ethnicities.

And to go a step further, we never say anything like: ‘You got ‘the good kind of hair’ or ‘You’re not too dark…’. Think about what those messages, which are engrained in our culture, send. Those messages shout, “The whiter you are, the better.” When a very dark-skinned woman is on the television screen we point out, “Wow! Look at (insert whatever we think is lovely… her hair, smile, eyes, skin), isn’t she so pretty/lovely?!?”  Don’t get me wrong… we are honest. Kids aren’t stupid. Anna, for sure isn’t going to buy ‘fakeness’ from us. So when we see beauty in any shade we compliment it. And sometimes it’s not even a visible thing… the lovely thing we compliment may be the person’s kindness, ability to be a good friend, empathy when someone is hurting. It may be a male character who has stopped to check on someone who crashed on his bike. Beauty takes on infinite forms.

Even with our efforts to affirm Anna as she is, and with our intentionality to affirm blackness in all its shades, Anna still said four things in a single week that crushed us and made us wonder what is going on in her brilliant little mind.

The first thing she said to me was, “Look mommy, we match.” And she held her arm beside mine to show that we were almost the same color… “The sun’s making me white!”
That was the first gut punch. First, the sun will never make her white and I don’t want it to!  Second, the sun makes me more brown and I tan easily, so what the sun can do for me (change my color to be more like her) it can’t do for her (make her more like me). Finally, as a mother who will never “match” her daughter, I hurt… not because that matters to me, but because it will matter to her. At some point Anna will truly begin to understand what “adopted” means and people, it’s not a rainbows and unicorns word. Adoption always comes with trauma. No way around it. Even with adoptions that were as smooth as ours, with connection to a child’s first-family, trauma is there and Matt and I are voraciously reading about how to best be there for her no matter how her “adoptedness” affects her.

The second gut punch came in the form of a very brief conversation Anna had with Matt after her bath. I was nearby sweeping the floor in the kitchen and overheard, and it came on the heels of the conversation I had with her. Matt, I have to say, handled this so beautifully. Because he’s done the same work I’m doing on race, biases, and adoption trauma, he was ready to affirm Anna and didn’t show any emotion at all. He just answered her questions as if she had asked what we were going to have for dinner. He’s a pro!

Anna: When am I going to be white?
Matt: You’re not going to be white.
Anna: Princesses are white.*
Matt: Not all princesses are white. By this point I was perked and ready to see what in the world was going through her mind. I had set down my broom and was just going to be a voyeur and then she said this:
Anna: “I need to be white so I can be a ballerina.”
Matt: Ballerinas are black, too, You have a book about a black ballerina. (At this point I was right outside her door and went straight to her bookshelf and pulled the book about Michaela DePrince. Not only an accomplished black ballerina but an adoptee, too.) 

Having books that portray children of color in our home matters. Giving mirrors to Anna, matters (‘mirrors’ being images that reflect herself in books and on television). I had that book in her hands before Matt had her dried off. While she was having products applied to her hair and lotion applied to her thirsty, brown skin, she flipped through the book we’ve read dozens of times. We strictly limit the number of white-princess movies she watches, though there really aren’t many brown princess movies out there. I don’t know if we convinced Anna that she doesn’t need to be white, but we at least let her know that she does not need to be white for us to love her. Sadly, that’s not enough in this world, and I know that. She’s going to want to be loved and admired, appreciated and accepted by people outside our circle and I can’t guarantee that she will be. What I can do is try to strengthen her character, her identity as “Anna, bright young lady who is capable, kind, athletic, incredibly smart, black and white, and beloved Child of the King.” And with those pieces of her identity she will have to build her own life and fill it with people who add to her character, not tear it down. She will have to use what tools we give her to deflect what the world will throw at her.

And to take this conversation a step further, to what actually got me on this topic today… she has a privilege that she will need to recognize, not abuse, and she will need to help culture tear this idea down. She is light-skinned and that in itself will “help” her be seen as beautiful and smart, among other positive traits. I want her to see that all shades of black are beautiful and to not internalize what our culture tells her is beautiful.

So, if you’re interested in what light-skinned privilege is, check out this MTV Decoded video.

This. People. THIS.

Can we stop seeing people as good or bad based on their skin tone?

Before we adopted, Matt and I were very much unaware of the issues surrounding the topic of race and ethnicity. We lived in a the comfort of the majority. Because we are white, we fit in everywhere we go and were always given the benefit of the doubt… never looked at as if we were less-than because of our skin color. As we research we are learning more and more about just how deep these issues go. Our country is mostly past the overt racism of slavery and segregation, but we have entered a new phase that is challenging in its own way because it’s subtle and obscure. It’s easy for white people to pretend it doesn’t exist and that makes it very dangerous. The video I linked to explains skin-privilege between members of the black community and I have no intention of sharing that video to educate black people on black issues. My intent is to inform good, well-meaning, non-racist white people that there are ways we unintentionally buy into ideas that our culture has ingrained in us for hundreds of years. Light-skin privilege is something Anna has. White privilege is something I have. I would love for white people, good, kind, loving, non-racist white people to look at these topics. I consider myself in that category. I look back at my life pre-Anna and would have said that I was all of those things and yet, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

 

About Jennifer

"Yes, they're all mine." The answer to the question I hear most often.
This entry was posted in adoption, family, Racism/Race Issues. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to When am I Going to be White?

  1. Maria Currey says:

    Gently, tenderly, tear-spilling poignancy, dear Jennifer. Anna is blessed to have you and Matt for her parents. Thank you for teaching readers what you are learning in the midst of your daughter’s beautifully precious life.

  2. Karen says:

    Keep processing. Keep writing. So many others need to hear the process, acknowledge their own bias and move forward knowing more.

    Be the light. It’s not easy.

    So many more conversations will be had with Anna, your family, and those around you watching your story.

    Keep writing.

  3. Sybil Kee says:

    Thank you fo this enlightenment. It helped me understand so many things I have always taken for granted. Anna is so very blessed to have you and Matt as her parents!!!

  4. Nichole says:

    As a biological mother of interracial children, I can relate to a lot of the points made in your blog. My daughter, who is now 19, almost 20, had always questioned her skin tone, even with having the brown side of her DNA under the same roof. She is much more comfortable now with who she is, and how she views herself, and I know a lot of that comes from ME preparing myself with the “right” answers, much like you and Matt are doing. I pray you continue growing and seeking ways to better understand what she will face, no matter how her skin-tone, or hair changes. She sounds like an intelligent young lady, who is blessed to have you as her family. ❤️🙏🏻

  5. Tia says:

    You are right.. There are so many who still have that blindfold/don’t want to acknowledge with what’s going on in our society… I’m so happy that you and Matt are doing your research on how to handle situations like this that has and will continue to come up. But the other good thing is with the way that Society is she has plenty of brothers that love her that will stand up for her and NO MATTER WHAT THEY WILL make sure she is protected. You have opened,my eyes because have looked at everyone as equals and now it’s making me think if I did do the right things when I was younger. It’s true we do learn something new everyday. Always remeber this GOD put Anna into your guys lives for a reason yes she is a great blessing but as we all know God has his own plan for us. Anna is getting so big and is adorable. You and Matt are doing the best you can and she will always love you guys no matter.

  6. OhPale says:

    Hi,
    Your blog was recommended by WordPress to me for some reason. Disclaimer: I know less than you about parenting because I do not have children. I know less about you about adoption because I am not adopted and the only proximity I have is my adopted brother who is the same skin tone as the rest of us.

    I can’t help but add something I think you know but didn’t write in this blog. I think Anna does not have the vocabulary to express what I hear. She does not only want whiteness, she wants what whiteness means. It’s like her saying she wishes she was a boy, she doesn’t only want the penis, she wants to be fast and strong etc. She gave an example, then j can be a princess. The truth is, black girls don’t get to be princesses (I’m an ex ballet dancer). I have been told my energy is better as a soldier than a lead because I did have more energy than my white peers. But what the director was also not saying which I knew was, black girls don’t dance those roles. Michaela knows all about this. She had to be triple better than her white dancers to be considered for lead roles. If I have not confused you yet, I’m trying to say. Besides her ski. Colour… Your daughter will walk out of your house and learn this herself from other white people. So, unfortunately I think you will have to one day when she’s ready, prepare her mental agility to this type of discrimination. ‘Only white people can be the best parts in this world.’

    I am the only white person in my team… Because I have a white surname and white accent from rubbing shoulders with white people. My boss is not impressed by black people, they express ideas wrong and have too strong the African accent. I blend in. I have what your daughter has, instead of a lighter complexion to enter the white privilege I have to white culture to get me in. Now that I am in, I am overlooked for promotions and opportunities. It requires a specific mindset to not feel depressed in my shoes. I knew before I got in. It would be crushing for your daughter to see the racism from inside the circle so best think of how to help her frame it to survive and thrive in these spaces because that’s the place where princesses are.

    I hope you understand what I mean. I’m happy to clarify any parts that are unclear. For me what makes me persevere is, I have a list of black females who made it to the top that I personally know and see how normal they are. Like me. Which means, I too deserve to climb the corporate ladder without putting more effort into being more white like. Real life princesses who I know personally and don’t worship because I am just like them.

    • Jennifer says:

      Strong words. This is what I mean by wanting to learn from people who have experienced these things. I hope that my readers read your words and absorb them. They are your lived experiences. I’ve read the exact same thoughts you are expressing in other areas, heard them in podcasts. I’m absorbing all of these with a broken heart because it’s new to me. I didn’t know these things were still issues in our world and because of that, I’m trying to shed light on this topic for my friends who are white and are, like I was, unaware. Your voice matters here. Your experiences matter here. I am so sorry that it takes you three times as much effort to achieve the same thing it would for me to achieve. It is unfair. It isn’t right. And I want to help our country right the wrongs. Thank you for writing. ~Jennifer

      • OhPale says:

        Not the response I expected at all. You are truly different as a white person.

        Thank you for listening. xx

      • Jennifer says:

        I will always listen. I have gone through the horrid stages of waking up to the things I didn’t know. I would love to connect with you via email to get your thoughts and suggestions. Is there a way for me to share my email with you privately?

      • OhPale says:

        Unfortunately it is a topic I don’t enjoy discussing because I used to regularly have to explain to my white boyfriend who I think finally understands after 6 years. I hope it is OK if I politely decline?

      • Jennifer says:

        Of course you can. Thank you again for your time and your words.

      • OhPale says:

        It’s a pleasure

  7. Oh friend, so many thoughts, prayers, and feelings reading this. But, for now, I’m just so thankful that Anna has you and you have her! Our Creator makes no mistakes and I’m confident that He is at work in mighty way! Love you all so dearly!

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