People do not naturally assume that my family is a family.
March 4, 2015 11:19 AM   Subscribe

Friends often try to assure me that people mean well, urging me to go easy on them, to be gracious, to give people the benefit of the doubt. "People don't mean to be offensive," they tell me. "They just don't know how to say it without coming across that way."

What these friends don't understand is that when the act of defining your family structure becomes an expected part of every day of your entire life, you grow tired of being gracious. It's exhausting to have strangers view your life as an up-for-grabs educational experience. For my kid, it's to constantly hear the underlying message: "Your life, your family, doesn't make sense to me. Someone needs to explain it to me. You owe me an explanation."

It's the people who live comfortably inside majorities who tend to discount any sort of commentary from minorities as being "overly sensitive." And I imagine that it's hard to step back and grasp the fact that when the world you occupy is built to accommodate you, you fit inside the boxes. You make sense. You are expected.
Nishta Mehra writes about her family's experience with learning how to navigate the landscape of interracial adoption in a "post-racial" America: Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair.
posted by divined by radio (51 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
 
Thanks for posting it, I needed to read this.
posted by lydhre at 11:39 AM on March 4, 2015


That essay is a structural mess-- each paragraph contains decent prose and makes sense as a standalone element, but a coherent thought narrative gets harder to identify the longer you read. It's kind of hypnotic-- I lost my sense of the point, though I was sure I was getting it at one point.

This is what I took away from it: the author is seething about other people. Other people should just avoid interacting with her, because they're very likely to soil that interaction with a remark and irritate her. Even if the remark if entirely well-meaning, or indeed rather innocuous, you will be bothering the author.
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:40 AM on March 4, 2015 [8 favorites]


What these friends don't understand is that when the act of defining your family structure becomes an expected part of every day of your entire life, you grow tired of being gracious. It's exhausting to have strangers view your life as an up-for-grabs educational experience. For my kid, it's to constantly hear the underlying message: "Your life, your family, doesn't make sense to me. Someone needs to explain it to me. You owe me an explanation."

It's the people who live comfortably inside majorities who tend to discount any sort of commentary from minorities as being "overly sensitive." And I imagine that it's hard to step back and grasp the fact that when the world you occupy is built to accommodate you, you fit inside the boxes. You make sense. You are expected.
This is what an entire life as an out queer person is like, whether you have a family unit that requires description or not. "It's exhausting to have strangers view your life as an up-for-grabs educational experience." Yes. It's exhausting to have to decide all the time, do I take that innocuous comment from that cashier clerk that obviously assumes heteronormity and talk to her about how my life really is, or do I just smile and nod and let it go because I'VE BEEN HAVING THIS SAME DECISION POINT WITH STRANGERS DAILY FOR THE PAST 25 YEARS AND IT'S FUCKING EXHAUSTING.

The thing about being on the queer spectrum is, I don't have an obviously non-genetically-spawned child with me so I'm not telegraphing anything, so I can easily just smile and walk away if I choose. If the conversation is so wearisome that I don't want to have it again. If I choose to let the stranger live on with their ignorant assumptions. I GET TO MAKE THE CHOICE.

The situation in this article, however... That luxury is not allowed. And I bet it's 100x more exhausting than what I live with. And what I live with is stupid and hellish every day. Every single fucking day.

I want to give Mehra a giant hug, because while I relate I don't fully understand. Because I can just fade into a silent background of assumed heterosexual assimilation if I so choose when interacting with strangers.
posted by hippybear at 11:41 AM on March 4, 2015 [18 favorites]


Every child in the world knows exactly what a real family is when they're lucky enough to have one; it's only the adults that suffer from confusion about these matters.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:42 AM on March 4, 2015 [3 favorites]




After awhile, innocuously meant by the person on the other end or not, it's paper cut on paper cut (and sometimes worse than paper cuts), and it adds up. You stab me in the same place 20 times, it's going to hurt after awhile, even if it's the first time you've stabbed me. It'll make for some seething.
posted by joycehealy at 11:48 AM on March 4, 2015 [6 favorites]


This is what I took away from it: the author is seething about other people. Other people should just avoid interacting with her, because they're very likely to soil that interaction with a remark and irritate her. Even if the remark if entirely well-meaning, or indeed rather innocuous, you will be bothering the author.

Come now, that's not really fair. She's exhausted and annoyed by the unending obligation to render herself, her family, and the nature of their intimacies legible to other people. Most people want to be able to just look at others and understand, more or less right away, what sex/gender those being looked at are, their ethnic origin, their sexual orientation, and their relationships with one another. Within heteronormative society, this legibility becomes increasingly important as non-"traditional" identities and relationships become more openly lived, so people become more anxious when they can't easily "read" others. I think this need that many people have to feel like everyone else should be legible to them is a significant aspect of bigotry.
posted by clockzero at 11:49 AM on March 4, 2015 [27 favorites]


This is what I took away from it: the author is seething about other people. Other people should just avoid interacting with her, because they're very likely to soil that interaction with a remark and irritate her. Even if the remark if entirely well-meaning, or indeed rather innocuous, you will be bothering the author.

I didn't really think this was unclear; I think the message was "you might think your remark is well-meaning or innocuous, but when my family is constantly called into question it is exhausting and it makes it very clear to my wife and me that many people do not believe we count as a family. I am afraid that someday this will affect my son too. It is very disheartening and discouraging to receive from strangers, over and over again, the message that our family is not good enough. Please stop saying things that imply this even if you mean well."

I might be misinterpreting but that's how I read it and it seemed very clear and very reasonable to me.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:51 AM on March 4, 2015 [21 favorites]


Friends often try to assure me that people mean well, urging me to go easy on them, to be gracious, to give people the benefit of the doubt. “People don’t mean to be offensive,” they tell me. “They just don’t know how to say it without coming across that way.”

People just need to shut up, is what. There are a lot of ways to say things without being offensive: He's so cute! How old is he? I love his onesie! etc.

> Even if the remark if entirely well-meaning, or indeed rather innocuous, you will be bothering the author.

If you are a person who can't tell the difference between nosey-parker none-of-your-business questions and actual innocuous comments, then yes, you should not speak to strangers. Excellent advice.
posted by rtha at 11:53 AM on March 4, 2015 [31 favorites]


This is what I took away from it: the author is seething about other people. Other people should just avoid interacting with her, because they're very likely to soil that interaction with a remark and irritate her. Even if the remark if entirely well-meaning, or indeed rather innocuous, you will be bothering the author.

This is remarkably similar to the take-away many guys get from threads on sexual harassment. Yes, it is unsettling to realize you have been unintentionally irritating people. If you can't handle that, then yes, you should stop ever trying to interact with others. Yes, you may end up in a hole in the ground alone and unable to talk to anyone if you react like this. Yes, society is ok with you never interacting with anyone else ever again. Any other questions?
posted by the agents of KAOS at 11:53 AM on March 4, 2015 [49 favorites]


Oh, and if someone insists that their question isn't offensive or tiresome and you can't possibly be offended or tired of it, then they also should stop speaking to strangers.
posted by rtha at 11:54 AM on March 4, 2015 [11 favorites]


This is what I took away from it: the author is seething about other people. Other people should just avoid interacting with her, because they're very likely to soil that interaction with a remark and irritate her. Even if the remark if entirely well-meaning, or indeed rather innocuous, you will be bothering the author.

I pass for white. My opposite-sex spouse is white. Our kids all pass for white. I have never, in a dozen years of parenthood, been asked any questions like "Is that your child?" or "Does he look like your spouse?" or anything else that's clearly "You and that child do not look 'correct' together, and that gives me the right to ask an intensely personal question." As far as I know, neither has my spouse. None of our children is genetically related to both of us, and yet, neither of us is ever asked whether those are our children or whether they look like their other parent.

I can only imagine what having to deal with that must be like, especially since you can't just go off on some nice old lady who never had to deal with interracial children (or same-sex relationships), but microaggressions are a very real thing, and dismissing them as just some author being snarky or oversensitive is not at all helpful to making ours a better society.
posted by Etrigan at 11:54 AM on March 4, 2015 [14 favorites]


This is what I took away from it: the author is seething about other people.

...and we can all learn something from that fact. If it weren't for essays like this, many of us would never know these things, and might go on unwittingly annoying other people.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 11:56 AM on March 4, 2015 [18 favorites]


This is a really great article - thank you for posting it.
posted by insectosaurus at 12:03 PM on March 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


I found this piece about being inter-racial rather touching after seeing it recently posted in the Leonard Nimoy thread by Athanassiel. NPR has more of the 1968 piece Spock: Teenage Outcast.
posted by exogenous at 12:07 PM on March 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


We have lots of interracial adoption in my family (both my siblings and various cousins and uncles.) Of course, strangers have said lots of stupid things over the years, but I mostly came in here to recount something interesting that happened when my mom moved to a poorer neighborhood after getting divorced from my dad. In the wealthier neighborhood, people generally guessed (correctly) that my white mom had adopted my two siblings and that I was her biological child. In the poorer neighborhood, our neighbors assumed that we were all three her biological children by three different fathers of varying ethnicities. In some ways, that was better. There was none of the nonsense about whether we were all truly her children.

Another odd thing I remember from my childhood is how common it was for people to stop us when were out and about and rave to my parents about how beautiful my sister was. Now, she was a good looking kid, but I remember it being over the top. Like a certain type of white person had interrupt us when we were at the park or the zoo (or wherever) and say that just to let us and everyone else know that they understood that brown and black could be beautiful. (Her stuff about people over-praising pictures of her son seemed very familiar, as did lots of the stuff she discussed.)

Oh, one other thing: my family used to get hate mail! Creepy and vaguely threatening hate mail all about the mongrelization of the races. Some of it directly addressed to my little sister (I think she was less than 10.) It freaked my parents out.
posted by Area Man at 12:08 PM on March 4, 2015 [24 favorites]


I recently had to interact with a large number of children who were at an event with parents, uncles, aunts, grandparents, friends, etc. I took to refering to the adult with them as "the tall person", as in "you can have some chips so long as it's okay with the tall person with you".

But yeah, it's rude to make assumptions. We all do it, we can't help it, but we don't need to share them and we should be aware of our own assumptions and the biases they reveal.
posted by jb at 12:09 PM on March 4, 2015 [8 favorites]


Yes, it is unsettling to realize you have been unintentionally irritating people. If you can't handle that, then yes, you should stop ever trying to interact with others.

I would prefer a colonoscopy to making small talk with strangers, no matter the color of their children.
posted by Mayor Curley at 12:09 PM on March 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


My mom used to tell me about how when I was a newborn, she would take me out in the stroller around our neighborhood and when people stopped to remark about what a pretty baby I was, they were surprised she was my actual mother and not a nanny my white parents had hired. Having grown up a minority all her life (she learned English as a second language as a child), it didn't surprise her but it didn't hurt any less.

Thank you for posting this.
posted by Kitteh at 12:12 PM on March 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


I would prefer a colonoscopy to making small talk with strangers, no matter the color of their children.

Now imagine that strangers make small talk with you on a frequent basis while couching it in benign curiosity, the undertone of which is constantly "You are different. You are other."
posted by Etrigan at 12:14 PM on March 4, 2015 [29 favorites]


My wife and I have two little girls who are pretty obviously not biologically ours (through adoption), but ours in every sense of the way that matters when it comes to defining family and community identity. It feels weird that people ever feel the need to pick at that to figure out what is going on.

We have found that in general, people are pretty cool. But we have come up with some funny one-liners to cope with the nosey questions. Our favorite one is when we are out with the three girls, and someone asks if they are all ours (yes) and why they all look different (!). My wife likes to reply that they all have different fathers. (Different birth moms, too, but we let that one hang a bit.) Usually people don't anticipate such a personal and direct response, and it can cause some sputtering. (Our girls aren't old enough to understand the implications of this response, and I suspect we'll change it once the are.)

The reason I think we like this answer is not because there is anything wrong if they had different dads (and she was the only mom), but people should assume, from the get-go, that asking about questions of this nature could very well have intensely personal answers that aren't appropriate for public discussion and could feel a bit shaming. I don't think this is always what people are trying to suss out (they are often just curious in a clumsy way, like a dog in china shop with a broom tied to its tail), but I think this lack of imagination that doesn't allow for social politeness just in case is what can irritate me. I like to help protect people if I can and give them the space to have meaning and belong, and that sometimes requires a lot more forward thinking these days than people are willing to give the effort.
posted by SpacemanStix at 12:16 PM on March 4, 2015 [17 favorites]


Why does my mom feel compelled to tell them? What does it matter if strangers assume she is someone other than who she is?

Maybe her mother wants everyone to know she is his grandmother because she is so happy about it. My father-in-law has pictures of his first grandchild as the background on his phone, and all his computers.
posted by jb at 12:19 PM on March 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


I was reading the first part of the post, and thought "gosh, I should send this to Nishta and Jill!" and then got to the end.

They're awesome people. I'm glad to see them on the Blue.
posted by uberchet at 12:23 PM on March 4, 2015 [9 favorites]


It's somehow natural to think that people in front of you have come the same way. The road to adoption is a long and winding one, and I have given up on trying to explain people what road I've travelled. I really choose when to make an effort. Often it is not to change other people's perceptions, but mine, those of my wife, parents, of my friends. It is difficult to act and speak in a way that doesn't add insult to injury to an adopted person, even if it's your own child.
Anyway, people ignorant of your special snowflaky personal details often have some surprising ones you're not even aware of.
posted by nicolin at 12:25 PM on March 4, 2015


Thanks for posting this article. I'm mixed race and some of the essay resonated quite painfully for me. I picked up on the othering aspect of the "Is that really your mom?" questions by the time I was eight or so, (I didn't have the words for it, but I knew that I was being singled out for special questioning, and being treated as if I were only an interesting problem for strangers to solve.).

It's exhausting, and to this day I absolutely loathe interacting with strangers; I'm always waiting for the "let me figure out what box to put you in" questions to start. I'm guessing it's way more frustrating as a parent and want your kid to feel like he belongs in the world.
posted by creepygirl at 12:34 PM on March 4, 2015 [6 favorites]


Genuine question: Is there a point at which a reaction to this type of daily barrage of microaggressions becomes an overreaction?

I'm sympathetic to the author of this piece as it seems like she is constantly stressed out by these interactions. I also aspire to the goal of infinite patience in responding to shitheels and thus not "throwing fuel on the fire". This isn't a reasonable goal and I, and everyone, falls short of it. On the other hand I don't know how many allies you can make if you start handing out "'fuck off' note cards", which the author has considered but not done. No one should have to tamp down their irritation to take advantage of teaching opportunities, but what other option is there?
posted by andorphin at 12:35 PM on March 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


No one should have to tamp down their irritation to take advantage of teaching opportunities, but what other option is there?

Being reasonably polite in the moment, but subsequently writing articles to educate wider audiences -- that strikes me as a pretty good option.
posted by joyceanmachine at 12:40 PM on March 4, 2015 [30 favorites]


>No one should have to tamp down their irritation to take advantage of teaching opportunities, but what other option is there?

Anyone considering inter-racial adoption should have thick skin, loads of patience, a quick wit, and a lot of grace. Otherwise you're going to let the world make you miserable.
posted by BurntHombre at 12:48 PM on March 4, 2015 [6 favorites]


>Being reasonably polite in the moment, but subsequently writing articles to educate wider audiences -- that strikes me as a pretty good option.

That seems like a good outlet and a way to stay sane, but not a way to change how folks in your community feel on an issue. I like the piece quite a bit, but I'd be astounded if 2% of the people the author is irritated with read anything like a magazine called Guernica. I guess this depends on whether you believe that building momentum in the choir is going to change minds across the street at the other church.
posted by andorphin at 12:54 PM on March 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


but I'd be astounded if 2% of the people the author is irritated with read anything like a magazine called Guernica

But here we are talking about it on a different site, and I bet other people post it on fb and tweet it and so on. She's doing what she feels she can; you can do other things, as well, that raise the issue in your circles.
posted by rtha at 12:57 PM on March 4, 2015 [8 favorites]


That seems like a good outlet and a way to stay sane, but not a way to change how folks in your community feel on an issue.

For me, hearing (in person) people vent about this stuff is immensely valuable. While your immediate reaction might be negative, it sticks with you and with several similar experiences you learn to consider that it might be you that has the problem. But -- and this cannot be said enough -- people have no responsibility to educate me or anyone else. But if the education happens as a side-effect of them getting something of their chest, all the better.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 1:00 PM on March 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


Why would you assume that the people making these comments wouldn't read Guernica? Mehra's own friends tell her she makes too big a deal of the comments.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:02 PM on March 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


She's doing what she feels she can; you can do other things, as well, that raise the issue in your circles.

Fair point, my hand-wringing over maximum efficacy doesn't mean the effort that went into this piece is a waste. I guess the question still stands about, "What is the best thing to be done in this instance?", but whether or not it is a relevant question is up in the air when any useful action is still, well, useful.

But if the education happens as a side-effect of them getting something of their chest, all the better.

Ha, I love this! Complaining as education is a great way of looking at the utility of a complaint. Thanks!
posted by andorphin at 1:08 PM on March 4, 2015


I find that "I don't feel the need to answer your question " in as flat a tone as possible works fine for this kind of nosy strangers.
posted by signal at 1:12 PM on March 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


I originally read this via Twitter and am now seeing it here, and I *know* I've been one of those annoying, blinded-by-my-own-privilege small-talk-making people.

As a blinded-by-my-own-privilege person, I initially read this as she has such a chip on her shoulder. But rereading and considering the comments above have helped me see it better. Hopefully, when I'm feeling the urge to small-talk to a stranger, I'll have a better handle on what topics are more appropriate to bring up. The weather is good, right? We can all be irritated by the weather.
posted by jillithd at 1:37 PM on March 4, 2015 [7 favorites]


I find that "I don't feel the need to answer your question " in as flat a tone as possible works fine for this kind of nosy strangers.

I can see how that's appealing. Personally, as someone who gets somewhat similar stuff in public (for other things), I don't always feel safe being that blunt. Like, I already feel unsafe in public because of the way I'm clearly and visibly Other. What if I step outside the smiley response the other person clearly expects, and they get offended and make a scene that draws more attention to the fact that I don't belong, or that I'm vulnerable?

I imagine it would be even more intense if I was out and about with a kid who (like the son shown in the picture) looks old enough to pick up on tone, but not understand microaggressions or why his parental figure has suddenly started sounding upset.
posted by joyceanmachine at 1:40 PM on March 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


Personally, I have found that raising my eyebrows and making the other person uncomfortable (in a similar way to the method SpacemanStix mentioned) works for me with respect to non-race related stuff where people seem entitled to ask me intensely personal stuff about my life. I've done things like turn an over-personal question back at the inquirer and behave as if I expect them to answer, give more detail than is comfortable, etc. I find that tends to make people pause, a bit taken aback, and rethink what they're telling me.

On the other hand, that's something I mostly do if I'm tired and cranky and I'm entirely out of patience for this bullshit, and I think it's worth it/I feel safe being less than super polite, because the person who is being rude to me has equal or lesser social power or has shown themselves to care my feelings. If I'm not in that particular situation, I'm much more likely to either sidestep the question entirely if I can, answer it in whatever way is least likely to continue the interaction, or generally just write the interaction off as background irritation. It's way, way more about the risk/reward ratio to me and my own energy and patience level than it is about the person who is being cluelessly rude to me.

Of course, that's not actually race stuff, and as hippybear notes I have a much easier time sidestepping this kind of thing than, say, my mixed-race friends do. But the question of how do you balance "educational opportunities" and just trying to go about your day? That shit is freaking hard when people are confused by your reality. I'm not really inclined to think there's a real way to do it "wrong," to be honest--in a lot of ways, it's more about survival than it is education per se.
posted by sciatrix at 1:52 PM on March 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


Genuine question: Is there a point at which a reaction to this type of daily barrage of microaggressions becomes an overreaction?

I try to think of microaggressions like this as people people repeatedly stepping on your foot. Sometimes a person is really trying to hurt you, smashing your toes by grinding with their heel, but most of the time it's just someone stepping on you briefly in passing when they're not paying attention. But people again keep stepping on your foot. Your foot starts throbbing. People step on your foot in exactly the same spot over and over and over. It's painful to walk. Little bones in your toes get stress-fractured and don't have time to heal because people are still stepping on your foot. You start to preemptively wince whenever people step too close to you, because your foot is a tender sore spot that blossoms into agony at the slightest touch. People continue to step on your foot. Forever.

It is really hard, though not impossible, to have a patient teaching moment about painful feet with someone who is currently standing on your broken foot. "I'm really sorry, but I didn't mean to step on your foot, you don't have to be so rude, it wasn't deliberate." Fine, great, can we please have this apology/discussion after you GET OFF MY FOOT AAGH.

If I stepped glancingly on a person's foot by accident and they immediately shrieked and collapsed to the floor, clutching their leg and sobbing, I would be shocked and embarrassed by the intensity of their reaction. I am trying to become the kind of person who would respond to this by saying, "Oh my god, is your foot okay, I'm so sorry," and not "Wow, I barely touched you, you are really overreacting."
posted by nicebookrack at 2:17 PM on March 4, 2015 [27 favorites]


People can be awful, and it's worse when they don't mean it, maybe. I think that's why we have some stock phrases you can trot out when you're in a situation that might be a bit tricky, stuff about the weather, or the handknit someone is wearing, because sometimes you do find yourself inclined to make some small talk, and how terrible if the only thing you can find to say is some crass comment about someone's sexuality, or race when those things are none of your business! So maybe we all need manners classes or something, or flash cards (omg, that would be an awesome project) with things like "My, what a beautiful baby!" and "Your scarf is beautiful, did you make it?" and "Isn't it lovely to see some sunshine?" instead of "Is he yours?" and "Your hair looks weird."

I am white, but I don't look anglo at all, and when my oldest son was little he had very white blond hair, and I was asked more than once if I was "his nanny"!
posted by mythical anthropomorphic amphibian at 2:35 PM on March 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is what an entire life as an out queer person is like, whether you have a family unit that requires description or not.

That has not been my experience as an out queer person.
posted by layceepee at 2:50 PM on March 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


Sometimes I think there is a law of the conservation of bigotry in the universe. As was said up-thread, greater "toleration" for non-normative (non-white, non-straight, non-cisgender) identities seems to have provoked reaction. I don't mean just overt culture warriordom, but almost unconscious shifts. Young straight cis women never wear short hair anymore, for ex, and if both sexes wear skinny jeans, women's clothes must become more feminine. These are trivial examples, but they add up to cultural norms, and giving the stink eye to people who don't fit.
posted by bad grammar at 2:53 PM on March 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well I've been dealing with this for, what... 25 years? God, I'm old.

Specifics are listed below. That way you don't have to coax out my situation.

Me: white. Really white. All-white, small-town white.
Wife: black. Inner city. Next door to projects black.
Kids: 1 boy, 1 girl. Blackish / mixed looking. 1 teen and 1 tween.

Things really have changed over the past three decades. When my wife and I first started seeing each other, we got a lot of double-takes and once-overs. White guy and black chick pairings were VERY rare.

In all honesty and modesty, I was kind of handsome, and she was hot.

The most visceral reactions came from young black men. Primarily two camps: pissed off at us (mostly at her) or admiration (all to me). Black women acted mostly perplexed. "She really loves that white boy!"

I used to get a lot of curiosity from white guys about "what it's like", but that's calmed down over the years, whether because of age or familiarity or both.

These days, when we're out with the kids, we don't get much confusion or many questions. It's pretty obvious what and who we are. There is the occasional "Are you together?" at the checkout line, but who cares about that, really? It's when one of us is alone with either our son or daughter that the head-tilts are directed our way.

"She black?"

I've received this question maybe half a dozen times over the years when my daughter and I venture out in public. Always from black women. Nobody has ever asked a similar question about my son, and it's very obvious that both my kids are, at least, mixed.

My wife has been asked if she is the nanny when out shopping, particularly when she was accompanied by a white woman. The question is always asked by a woman, usually foreign.

Yes, we get the random eye-roll and whispering behind our backs. Older people are sometimes too enthusiastic about our family or are deliberately uncommunicative, and younger people can be too enthusiastic about how beautiful mixed kids are or how brave we were. It's been years and years since anybody was overtly hostile.

I can't speak for my wife, and I'm sure she has a vastly different perspective.

My thoughts, though, are these. Every family has its own misperceptions and misconceptions. We're not politicians. We're not famous. We don't have the extra, intrusive attention that some folks have to deal with. We have a happy, imperfect life. If some others have to stop and doublethink about who we are, it could be a lot, lot worse. Yeah, it can be tiring. So is the world.
posted by nedpwolf at 3:37 PM on March 4, 2015 [10 favorites]


"You and that child do not look 'correct' together, and that gives me the right to ask an intensely personal question."

I'm reading this and I'm having two really different reactions. The first is - yes, who has the right to ask where your babies come from? How rude! But the other place my mind cannot help but take me to is my conflicted feelings about the spate of white, or passing-for-white, ladies adopting other-race children and feeling good about themselves for it. And I don't know that that can be separated out - even if they chose their son because he was less expensive rather than deliberately to make a point about race. On the one hand, it's good that children of color are getting adopted, but on the other hand, I feel like the kids are missing out on cultural stuff that no amount of well-meaning parenting will be able to overcome. And the author herself said that she knows her feelings are not uncomplicated when she takes out her phone to show yes, she has a black son.

And there's something there that's...not great.
posted by corb at 4:24 PM on March 4, 2015


Maybe you'd feel less conflicted if you remembered that those parents already often take plenty of shit for daring to adopt across the racial line. If they are smug, as you fear, they are already paying the price.

Should my parents have made a strenuous effort to get a white kid when there were non white kids who needed families?
posted by Area Man at 4:59 PM on March 4, 2015 [10 favorites]


The first several years of school for me involved a classmate/friend -- often the only black girl in class, come to think of it -- who was adopted by white parents. Because of this I grew up thinking it was totally normal.
posted by Peregrine Pickle at 5:07 PM on March 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


On the one hand, it's good that children of color are getting adopted, but on the other hand, I feel like the kids are missing out on cultural stuff that no amount of well-meaning parenting will be able to overcome.

There are so many children languishing and miserable in foster care and adoptive systems right now that will never, ever get adopted that it is a significantly more troubling barrier to having a meaningful cultural experience. In terms of foster care in the U.S., more than 20,000 age out of the system each year without ever being adopted, often having been passed around between numerous foster and group homes. If you pass up on a child who needs help because of ethnicity, it's not like there are families of the same ethnicity waiting to step up.
posted by SpacemanStix at 5:08 PM on March 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


Man, I would not adopt a black kid and name him "Shiv". That's just thoughtless. Yes I know it's probably a variant on "Shiva" and comes from the Indian mom, but when he's a black teenager growing up in the South, the wrong people are going to assume it's a nickname, and a dubious one at that.
posted by w0mbat at 6:13 PM on March 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


Oh, cool, I knew the author in college, and I met her little boy at a mutual friend's party about a year and a half ago.

After reading this, I'm pretty sure that I did the awkward overpraising she describes when I met him. (To be fair, he was extremely adorable.) I remember feeling awkward because I hadn't kept up with her after college, didn't know her situation, and didn't want to say or ask anything that had the potential to offend. So I defaulted to the "safe" topic of how cute her son was.

I had no idea that "Is he/she yours?" was problematic. I have used it in the past, but not to pry or say that a family confuses me, but rather to try to avoid the situation she describes later, where strangers mistake her friends who are holding her son as the kid's parents. I use it in situations where everyone is the same race as well. I am just trying to figure out whether to break out the "fellow parent" small talk or the "aunt/ uncle/ friend/ babysitter" small talk. Is there a better way to phrase this without just assuming?

Overall, good and thought provoking article. Some of us, including me, really are trying to do better, and articles like this (and the conversations we have here on Metafilter) do help with these efforts.
posted by pallas14 at 6:25 PM on March 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


As a transracial adoptee, corb, I strongly feel the concerns you're raising about it are best left for those with skin in the game to bring up.
posted by ifjuly at 4:42 AM on March 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


I am just trying to figure out whether to break out the "fellow parent" small talk or the "aunt/ uncle/ friend/ babysitter" small talk. Is there a better way to phrase this without just assuming?

I'd say just come up with some combined "fellow adult looking after a kid" small talk that doesn't rely on you finding out or correctly guessing the exact relationship.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:39 AM on March 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


Probably best to use parent-to-parent small talk until directed otherwise, since grandparent/uncle/friend/babysitter is unlikely to be offended if mistaken for the parent, whereas a parent is more likely to be offended if mistaken for a nonparent.
posted by milk white peacock at 7:24 AM on March 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


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