I innocently posted on an adoption forum yesterday that my son was talking about the "brown baby" coming into our family. It unexpectedly unleashed a flurry of controversy over whether a parent ought to make race an issue to other siblings when talking about an adopted baby coming into your home. The general consensus was that it is unnecessary and possibly harmful to do so. I found that people misunderstood my use of "brown baby" and thought that I was referring to the coming baby ONLY with that term and that I planned to call her that when she was older as well. Honestly people! I would never do that!!!
But the whole thing was actually really positive in that it got me thinking really seriously about the issue of race and the need to support our future daughter's race as we had learned in the training. The need to articulate my thoughts on this subject forced me to clarify them in a way I might never have had to do were they not challenged.
WARNING: This ended up being really long. I don't blame anyone for not wanting to read the whole thing; I just want to post my thoughts here since I went to the trouble to write them all out.
Here is how the story started...
Curly and I were walking together one day, well, she was in the jogger, and we started talking about Baby Bear. (DH and I call each other Bear and any expectant baby in our family has always been Baby Bear before specifics are known.) So she says, "Baby Bear is coming soon, right, Mommy?"
I said yes, probably not till at least after my birthday.
"And M's mom is getting a baby too, right Mommy?" she persisted. (M is Curly's best buddy and is in our church small group. Her mom, my good friend, was due this week and in fact just had her baby on the 18th.)
"Yeah, M's mom is going to have a baby out of her tummy like I had Little Mister." I answered.
"But Baby Bear isn't in your tummy, Mommy, you have to fly on an airplane to get her." Curly was pondering the differences. We had read "Over the Moon" to her.
"Right. And when we get the babies, our Baby Bear will be brown, probably, and M's baby will be pink and they will both be so pretty." I said, wanting to give her the facts. I had told her Little Mister would be a boy and would be very small and pink, and I thought this was similar.
"We'll have our brown baby and M will have her pink baby," she summed up. I agreed because to me that seemed pretty accurate. No matter what race Baby Bear is, she will most likely be somewhat brown (although our friends have bi-racial AA/White kids who are blonde-haired, blue eyed white-skinned kids, so you never know.) But I figured she wouldn't care what color the baby was, I was just chatting with my daughter.
Later she told her brother about our "brown baby" and I thought that was kind of cute and not a big deal. She had no intention of being racist, she was merely repeating facts. I didn't think much about it, in fact, not even when I posted it in the other thread.
We'd been taught in our Transracial training that to ignore our future daughter's race (and it's a 90% chance that she'll be AA or a mix with AA) is doing her a disservice but we should acknowledge it and celebrate it. I figured that teaching our kids to anticipate her color would be a good beginning to celebrating her race.
When I posted "brown baby" the other day I was surprised to find out that it's actually a no-no to say that because all of our training about TRAs said the opposite. So now I am confused in the extreme. Some experts in adoption say that adopted kids of minority races who were adopted in white families who had families that avoided the issue wish their families would have embraced their race more and supported their racial identity.
Growing up, I had two Cabbage Patch Kids, one was white and one was black. I always proudly pointed out this fact to people because I thought the black one was so pretty and the white one (newborn style) was so cute. I wanted people to agree with me that the beautiful chocolatey color of my doll was beautiful.
So I guess when talking to my daughter about it, I kind of did the same thing, picturing in my head a lovely little creamy brown or chocolatey brown baby I wanted to describe that to her. I was not even thinking about avoiding or promoting race at all until later when I thought, "You know, them thinking that brown babies are pretty is not a bad thing at all".
You remember the scene in "Fried Green Tomatoes" when the kid loses his arm and Idgie calls him "stump"? Ruth asks her why she calls him that and her answer is that everyone else is going to be calling him that so she might as well be the first. To me, it shows a sense of humor and and acceptance of a difference with grace.
"Brown Baby" means nothing negative in our family whatsoever. I see no reason to avoid the skin color issue. I want our child to be aware that she is black and be proud of the fact. I will be proud of her skin color! (I only use the future tense because I have not met her yet.) I am not saying it to draw attention to a difference but to celebrate a fact of her and I think she will understand that as she gets older, as she senses our pride in who she is. It's going to be obvious to everyone we meet that some of my kids are pink and some are brown. The less "weird" we make it the more our kids and others will feel at ease.
Others may disagree and that is okay. After a lot of training on transracial families, a lot of talking to friends of other races, a lot of thinking and a lot of desire to do what will make our daughter the most proud of her race, that is the route I have decided to take for now. I see no reason that "our beautiful brown baby" can't be talked about and celebrated in the same way that we talk about "my brown-eyed girl" and my "red-headed boy". After all that is what she is.
We as humans identify one another by a trait. I was always "the tall girl". But after we meet our daughter I am sure the traits will change. She won't just be "the brown baby" but she will be "her name" or "the one who likes to sing" or whatever. Even now, she is often "our new baby". I hope I am able to explain myself without sounding overly defensive. I just want to share my heart for our baby and my reason for referring to her in that way.
I feel like by avoiding it or dancing around it, it classifies it as a negative. It's not polite to say "the fat girl". People get all weird about "the blind guy" even though blind people themselves have no problem calling themselves that. I call myself "whiter than sour cream" all the time (yep, Weird Al!) We draw attention to the traits in others we think are good or desirous. In that spirit, I want to draw attention to the fact that my baby is brown and I am delighted with it!
Hubby and I were talking some more about this later and another good point came up. Our daughter IS going to hear about her race all the time. It's unavoidable. But if she always hears about it from others because we avoid the issue then all of her connotations will be negative.
BUT if we talk about it all the time in a positive way then hopefully she will have enough positive self-image of herself as a black person to respond to the "why are you black and your parents are white" or "you're black, you're different" that she'll inevitably get from outside. I'd like her to be able to say, "Yeah, I'm black, isn't that cool?"
If you read some of the articles given in the sticky above about transracial adoption (PACT was part of our TRA training...some really thought-provoking articles) you'll find things like this:
To say that "race is not the most important factor in defining who they are or who their friends should be" seems to ignore the realities that in certain circumstances race is the defining factor for people of color.
Our use of her race acknowledges this fact and also shows our determination to do whatever we can to make her race a positive aspect of who she is and her part in fitting into our family.
One other issue we have in our family with regard to race is that we live in Idaho. There isn't a big AA population here. There isn't an "us vs them" mentality here at all. We have a lot of races represented at the university so preschool and play groups have kids of all races, but there isn't really a stigma attached to being another race (that I have seen in children's groups) and a Black child may well be a child of African parents as an AA student's child or a local. I can say I have seen prejudice though, especially against Native Americans and I hate it.
I do see how my son using the term "brown baby" can be misconstrued, especially by people in the South. It's a shame, really, that that is the case but I can see how it could be misunderstood.
In the end I think my innocent comment had simply been misinterpreted. That's fine; it happens. But it's a lesson to me also that I really can't be too careful about what I say. The last thing I want to do is to hurt my daughter and my words can easily do that when combined with the hurtful words of others.
I have been told that this will actually probably be less of an issue once we have our baby. We will be able to talk about her actual traits and attributes rather than splitting hairs over how she "might be". But the reality is that we live in a society where words can wound and it's important to me to try hard to show love and acceptance to my daughter through my words.