Responding to Race Ignorance in Adoption: Silence is Golden

Portrait Of Happy Young Boy At Home

Let’s get this out of the way:  Offensive (assuming, annoying, ignorant) things happen to my family often.

Just a few weeks ago, I was in a doctor’s office waiting room with my children. An elderly couple was exiting and noticed my middle daughter’s beaded cornrows. The couple smiled, and the woman turned to the Black couple in the waiting room and said about my daughter, “She’s so beautiful!”  The Black couple looked confused, and I just laughed to myself.

Then just this past week, I was at our local YMCA waiting for my daughter to exit gymnastics class.  I was sitting with a friend, who is from Ghana, and her two children, along with my two younger children. A woman approached my friend, recognizing her from church, and then asked her what all her children’s names were, gesturing at the four children between us.  My friend said, “Just these two are mine. The other two are Rachel’s.”

We’ve been asked all sorts of questions:  Are the kids “real” siblings? Were their birth parents on drugs? Why didn’t we adopt internationally? Isn’t adoption really expensive? Does it take a long time to do the girls’ hair? Aren’t we afraid their birth parents will try to take the children back? Isn’t open adoption weird considering it has just got to confuse the children on who their real parents are? Am I going to have “my own” children now that I’ve adopted?

We’ve encountered all sorts of responses and reactions. There was the waitress who, when learning we were our daughter’s parents and not her babysitters, exclaimed, “THAT’S SOOOO COOL! THAT’S SOOOO COOL!” very loudly. There was the woman in front of us in line at the grocery store who looked at my girls, frowned, and asked me, “Are they real sisters?” and when I said yes, she said, “But are they REALLY real sisters?” There was the elderly Black man at the gym who asked me, “Why didn’t you adopt a White baby?” There was the sports’ coordinator who cornered me and asked if my kids are or aren’t biological siblings.

People can be many things: curious, ignorant, naïve, inappropriate, interested, uncertain. And they express these things in a myriad of ways.

Recently, we decided to switch cable companies. After a two-hour installation, the technician asked me if I had any questions about how the system worked. I asked about the DVR he had set up in our basement, and he said, “Technically, there is only one DVR, the one that’s upstairs.  The one is your basement works for the main DVR, and it’s called a slave box.”

Dead silence.

Then, he quickly said, “I don’t know why it’s called that…”

I didn’t reply to him, not saying one of the twenty things I was thinking, because beside me sat three little ones, eating their lunch and completely entranced by the colorful cartoon on the television. And because my lack of speaking was teaching him far more than my words ever would. And because I’m my children’s first teacher, always demonstrating them how and when to respond.

I’ve learned that being defensive and angry to race ignorance eventually takes root in my heart. I’ve found that then it becomes the norm. Instead of pointing out injustices, one might begin to purposefully create or seek out injustices, only to “fuel the fire” and become more angry. It’s not a happy existence. It’s personally burdensome to walk around with a chip on my shoulder, always on the lookout for the next transgression.

Sometimes silence is the best teacher. Silence says, “Did you just hear yourself say that? Do you really think you should have asked that question or made that statement?” Silence says, “I don’t agree with you.” Silence can say, “That was really wrong and hurtful and offensive.” Silence also says, “That is such an ignorant thing to say that you don’t even deserve a response from me.”

Of course, there are degrees of injustice and ignorance. Some questions and comments have affected me and my family much more than others. But for the sake of our family’s heart health, we are leaning more and more toward choosing peace, grace, and sometimes, silence. We won’t let the other person’s ugliness determine how our day will go, our level of happiness, or our confidence.

We are better than that.

This month, Black History Month, reminds us of some of the greatest leaders who chose to “turn the other cheek.” Refusing to change bus seats. Sitting on a restaurant barstool. Marching. Singing empowering spirituals. Hand holding.

These were risky choices, at times, but they are the images, the moments, that stand out most in my mind, images of strength, peace, and change. I lean on these moments today, as I raise my children to be independent, empathetic, open-minded, and open-hearted.

Silence is for the strong. It has been for decades, and it continues to be.  We’re choosing it.