Friday, December 14, 2007

Why I don't write about being a transracial family

even though we are one.

First, this is not going to be an insightful piece of writing, or if it is that will be surprising. Nothing I am going to write here is going to impress you with how smart or skilled I am. It is just that I had an odd experience. I just read this post by Deesha Philyaw post on Anti-Racist Parent, "FUNNY...I DON'T FEEL LIKE AN ADOPTIVE MOTHER." It's an interesting read and I recommend it to you. At one point she says, "Maybe it’s because the adoptive parents on the panel had adopted transnationally and/or transracially, and I did not. Maybe I felt this way because no one simply looks at my family and questions whether we belong together, or verbalizes assumptions steeped in race- and class-based stereotypes about my adopted child’s birth parents." Dawn wrote about the article too. In her post she also discusses what adopting transracially has meant for her and her family.

And I read them both and thought, "Funny...I don't feel like a member of a transracial family." See...I think of myself as a mom, as a foster mom, and as a PFLAG mom, but I don't think of myself as the mother of a child with a different racial identity than mine.

And I am not going to tell you that "I don't see race" because that is a crock. I see it as much as any one else. I live in the US and race matters here. I teach classes in which I ask students to think about race and privilege. I don't think I do it particularly well. I should be no one's example. I mean...I am a white privileged mom living in a town with over-crowded schools that are more than 50% Mexican American. I can talk the talk about being anti-racist. I can even do it while I am driving my son and three other white kids to the charter arts school in the next town, where all the students are privileged and almost all of them are white. None of them have parents or even grandparents who were migrant farm workers.

So yeah, nothing to brag about here.

But back to the point.

Carl is multiracial. It is difficult for me to write because it feels like I am sharing something that I shouldn't share -- and I guess that is because Carl hasn't really talked to me about it. It just hasn't been something he wants to address. And it is difficult to talk about because I try here not to talk about my children's parents very much, but if I am going to write about this I have to tell you something.'s what I know. Carl knows a little bit about his father. There is every reason to think his dad would be greatly distressed to learn that Carl's mother died and Carl ended up in foster care. But even though people contacted the embassy of his country with the information they had, no one could find him. They just didn't know enough. His name is too common. The city where he used to live is too big.

So Carl has a photograph, his name, the name of a city in a foreign country, and a letter written to him when he was nine. And he knows that our concept of race does not really translate well into his father's country, where most of the population has ancestors from a several continents and people care more about ethnicity than race. He knows that his father probably identifies with one of the ethnic groups and that his father's ethnic identity cannot be discovered by looking at his photograph.

So Carl just grew up as a brown-skinned boy in a loving white family, and what he thinks about that is unclear to me.

When Carl moved in with me he was just beginning to come out. I was learning what it meant to be the mother of a teenage gay son. I thought it wasn't going to be a big deal because, you know, I had gay friends. It turned out that that was not true. It turned out that I had a lot more growing and figuring out to do than I had expected I would have to do.

It also put me in a relationship to a community. Before I was Carl's mom anti-gay comments irritated me. When children or my students said things that were offensive I responded. When adults said them I responded far less than I should have. I was angered that I lived in a world that could be so intolerant. After I became Carl's mom it was different. I did not hear politically offensive comments -- I heard people attacking my son. When I heard someone say that gays were a threat to families I thought and sometimes even found the courage to say, "How the hell would the security of MY family make YOUR family less safe?"

I wasn't just someone who cared about civil liberties and equality and fairness. I was Carl's mom. I was a PFLAG mom.

But that switch, that personalization never happened to me with race.

That Carl is brown meant that people would wonder about us as a family. It meant that people assumed he was adopted, or that he was born (probably to me) before Roland and I met. Surprisingly (to me anyway) it meant that the more liberal people were the more they wanted to ask exactly how it was that he became our son. And I did notice that.

And I noticed that apparently because he doesn't fit into any of the boxes that people seem to have available ("Black" "Mexican American" "Asian" "American Indian") he seems to get a sort of guest pass to white society. It's like people decide that since he isn't really one of them, he gets to be one of us...sort of. I notice, with shame, that I do it too.

So I notice these things. I think more about race in America than I did before. I care more about it than I did before.

But I haven't found myself in relationship to some community. Race did not get personalized for me in the way that sexuality has. When I hear racist slurs I think that it is wrong; sometimes I say something. But I do not have to hold back the rage of the mother who feels her child is attacked.

I feel like in this journey I have learned a lot about what it means to be the mother of gay sons. I have learned a lot of what it means to be the mother of a child who has been traumatized, or the mother of children who have very different needs. I think about these things. I sometimes write about them.

But I have not learned nearly as much about what it means to be the white mother of a child who is not white. I don't think about it very much, at least not until I read an article like the one posted above.

I mean, I even find myself wondering what it would be like to parent a child who does not share my racial identity.

And then I remember, and it surprises me.

And I don't know why I wanted to write this. Perhaps a compulsion to confess? It feels like it...except I am not sure what I am confessing, and I suspect that is part of the problem.

I think there is a part of me that wishes that Carl had a clear racial identity. There is part of me that wishes whatever it was that happened when I became a PFLAG mom and happened in other areas as well.

And yet ... I don't know.


  1. Very interesting and thoughtful post. Race is hard to deal with it because it's so paradoxical and multi-dimensional. When you think about it on a logical level it's hard to think about it on an emotional level, and vice versa. And then on one social layer there is a clear-cut grid of rules and expectations and then underneath it and only semi-visible another layer of rules and expectations and then under that yet another layer and another...

  2. you do know that in this one blog entry is the basis of a really article that one could get published. The ethics issues that float around this issue could fill a few books. I'm trying to motivate here, go for it!

  3. At least you are aware. The ones who make me want to pull my hair out are the ones who are totally clueless. thanks for your honesty.


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