Friday, August 26, 2011

On Being Conspicuous

Last week at the mall a little boy lost his mom. We could hear him crying and explaining to the employee that he had lost his mom and he had no idea where she was. Soon enough a few employees were trying to help the distraught boy who happened to be Hispanic. And I watched as the employees were looking through the people in the store, looking through all the white people, the black people and turned with questioning eyes to the Hispanic people. When they didn't appear to be have lost a son, the employees moved on. Finally an equally hysterical mother found her son and the reunion made my kids and myself look at each other through tears in our eyes.

It occurred to me that my kids would need to be specific about just who they lost in the store. By that I mean specifically, it would help if my Ethiopian boys told the employees/helpful citizens that their mama was white.

Claudia sounded the AM (adoptive mama) alarm to blog about being conspicuous. Since Claudia is rather amazing I do as she says. And since there are many more AMs that are just as amazing, you need to read the other blogs linked to hers. It's worth it. Claudia's alone...worth the time. Whether you are an adoptive parent or not, this is information you need to know. So you aren't one of "those guys" who say inappropriate things. Or stare with mouths agape as we more conspicuous families make our way through this world.

When I think about our 3 years as a family that has a mix of different races/cultures I realize we are pretty blessed to live in a community where I never really feel super conspicuous. I really believe I get more comments about just how many kids I have rather than the fact that some of those kids happen to be black. This could definitely be because it's easier to comment on size rather than, say, blackness, but either way those are the comments I get most often.

That said one time we were walking in our downtown (when it was just Tariku) and a (black) man pointed at Tariku and asked simply, "Where'd you get that one?" There was no malice or ill intent with his comment, that was just the way he decided he wanted to ask his question. Which is crazy. Just so we're clear.

During that same walk downtown, interestingly enough, a (black) man looked at Tariku, looked at me, smiled and yelled, "The juice is loose!" Though his comment was sexual in nature I did feel like Tariku being there gave him the necessary ammo to shoot his pick up line off with abandon.

Truly, those are the only memories I have of people just coming right out and questioning the make up of our family. Of course we get the "are all of these yours" comments from time to time that I'm sure those adoptive mamas with adoptive kiddos of the same race do not get, but that's it.

Here's the thing: we knew this would happen. It helps that both Zach and myself are fairly extroverted people, it helps that we live in a community that has any number of multi racial/multi cultural families. All of that helps.

But I think what helps the most is that we talk about it as a family. After the boy in the mall was reunited with his family I asked my kids what they would tell the store employee. When none of them mentioned my whiteness I told them it'd be a really good idea to tell them that. Just because we are used to me being white and them being black does not mean the rest of the world is. So I'm trying to teach them that they can't control the way people react to us but they can control how they react to the people who question it and/or have a problem with it.

I think the nature of our conspicuousness will grow and change as our kids grow and change. Right now they are cute little black boys. When they grow up to be black teenagers, our society develops their own ugly stereotypes of that and I think our conspicuousness will become uglier in nature.

I loathe the day that happens. I just hope all of this practice enables us to react in a way that celebrates families like ours whether we are forced to react now or in the coming years.

Claudia said it best: "I would rather be conspicuous with my kids than anonymous without them."

That is my reality. I just hope one day my kids can say the same about life with me.

6 comments:

Momma C said...

D walked away from me in a store and when the store employee asked about her I began to describe the clothes she was wearing (she reappeared at that point so she was gone less than 60 seconds) It occurred to me that I had forgotten to mention as I described her that she is Chinese.

Cindy said...

Great post Tesi!

il panettiere... said...

Great post, Tesi... certainly not something I would have thought about mentioning to my son to include in his cries for help if he ever gets lost (fingers crossed this never happens)- but MOST CERTAINLY important!

semiferalmama said...

I posted about this exact thing when I lost Little Dude at the library http://semiferalmama.wordpress.com/2011/03/29/the-partially-color-blind-librarian/

terre said...

"the juice is loose" ? seriously?

Claudia said...

Tesi, I loved this post! I think about the same thing you mentioned - when is it going to happen that my children stop being those adorable children that people fawn over? Sometimes the fawning feels hard, but ugh, I'm guessing it's going to be hardqer when they are teenagers for TOTALLY different reasons. Thanks so much for linking up, so many thing to think about!