Bus People, Flesh Colored Crayons, and Privilege: Some Thoughts on Race and Adoption (plus a book giveaway)

The Grant Family: Theo 16, Ian 14, Isabel 12, and Mia 10

This guest post was written by my friend and colleague Jennifer Grant in commemoration of National Adoption Month. 

Huddled on the bleachers with other parents, thoughts dart around in my mind. What inning is this? Why didn’t I bring gloves? Could I be getting frostbite through my coat pockets? I stomp my feet and cheer for strong hits, for a fly ball that is caught, for a perfect pitch. Mostly, I shiver.

A red-winged blackbird swoops down into the long grass behind the bleachers, and a melody lands in my mind:

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise
.

The game draws on, and a conversation between the two women sitting behind me begins. The women speak loudly; there is no way to escape overhearing them.

One tells the other about her parents’ recent stay. The elderly parents, it seems, are averse to flying, so they traveled by bus to visit her family.

“I had to pick them up at the bus station,” one woman says. “I’d never been in there. I mean, this is a place full of . . . bus people. You know what I mean?”

“Not the kind of people who fly,” the other woman says, starting to laugh. “I know exactly what you mean.”

“I could not get out of there fast enough.”

“You just want to home and bathe after something like that, right?”

“Precisely.”

When my daughter runs to the bleachers to tell me something, the women’s laughter stops short. I tuck a strand of her hair behind her ear and pull her hood up over her head. The women behind me now speak in hushed voices, and I can’t help wondering what they see in my daughter’s black hair and dark brown skin. She is the only person of color at this park.

Is she what “bus people” look like?

-

Decades ago, in graduate school, a professor and I chatted as we prepared for a holiday party in the English department. I made decorations, digging around in a box that was loaded with miscellaneous art supplies – colored pencils, dried out markers, and broken old crayons

“Nice crayon,” my professor said as I colored a poster.

“What?”

“What color is it?”

I turned the crayon around in my hand and read: “Flesh.”

“Got a problem with that?”

I was stumped. “With what?”

“Miss Grant, I think you’ve had just about enough gender studies courses,” he said. “How about giving a little more thought to race?”

I almost dropped the crayon. (That Crayola color name, by the way, was changed decades ago; it’s now called “peach.”)

-

Another chilly autumn afternoon and I pull over in front of the coffee shop to pick up my son and his girlfriend. Their faces are flushed pink after spending the afternoon walking around town in the cold.

“Did you find anything interesting?” I ask.

“Not really,” my son says. “Just some racist ladies who were talking about how minorities are taking over the country. They told us it’s too bad we aren’t Mexican or we’d be given a free ride to college.”

Really?”

“Yeah, they were complaining about all the benefits ‘colored people’ get.”

Nice, right?” the girlfriend said.

Driving home, I talk to my son about the countless, unearned benefits those of us in the dominant culture receive. Among other things, it is white, typical, heterosexual people who are mirrored back appealingly from television shows and advertisements. People tend to assume the best of us and, a hundred times a day, affirm our public presence. Can I help you with anything? Thanks so much for stopping in! Oh, that’s a good choice!

Had my son worn a tattered sweatshirt or low-sitting, baggy jeans that day walking around town with his girlfriend, would shopkeepers have eyed him suspiciously? Would they have followed him around stores to make sure he didn’t put anything in his pockets? Likely not; he’s white. Would they have responded differently if he were African-American or Hispanic? We were agreed that some would, certainly those two women in the candle shop.

Issues around race and privilege are exceedingly complex and certainly affect transracial family and adoption. I’m aware that my daughter is a racial minority growing up in a white home. Like other children who have a parent or parents of a different race than their own, she will have to navigate her racial identity in a manner more complicated than will my other children.

I can’t help thinking, though, that transracial families like my own are, inadvertently, helping to change the culture. My older children are allergic to racist language and undertones. They have grown up knowing that people of color aren’t “other” or “them,” but “us.”

When people in the dominant culture see a different picture of what family looks like – one comprised of whites and non-whites – are their unspoken and often even unconscious assumptions about race disrupted?

I hope so.

UPDATE: Kbrtmyr is the winner of the Love You More book giveaway.

Jennifer Grant is the author of Love You More: The Divine Surprise of Adopting My Daughter, a memoir that tells Grant’s story of adopting a child and explores the complexities of international adoption. Her second book, MOMumental: Adventures in the Messy Art of Raising a Family is a light-hearted look at imperfect parenting and ways to create authentic connections with our children.

Find her online at www.jennifergrant.com.

To be entered to win a copy of Love You More, in commemoration of National Adoption Month, post a comment below:

About Amy Julia Becker

Amy Julia Becker writes and speaks about family, faith, disability, and culture. A graduate of Princeton University and Princeton Theological Seminary, she is the author of Penelope Ayers: A Memoir, A Good and Perfect Gift (Bethany House), and Why I Am Both Spiritual and Religious (Patheos Press).

Comments

  1. Great reminders. I love small children, they do not know but to love and accept.

  2. Jessica O'Dwyer says:

    Wonderful observations and conclusion, Jennifer.

  3. Lovely post!

  4. Disrupting people’s notions about race. Great concept, Jen. Speaking as one in a transracial family myself, this whole article spoke deeply to my experiences. Nicely done.

  5. As a transracial family, our joys and worries are mirrored in your stories

  6. I’ve been praying for years about international adoption. I’m putting your book on my wishlist as it sounds like a helpful resource in preparing and praying. Thank you.

  7. I want to make my kids allergic to racism too!!!

    • The more I thought about this I just had to say how much I love this image – Allergic. Not immune (which would imply passively ignoring) but Allergic – which shows a strong outward reaction against racism. I’ve never heard it put a better way!

  8. We have a child with autism. I don’t think he’s “allergic to racism” — he has no idea that racism exists. He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. For all of our challenges with him, I think we are blessed to have him.

  9. My wife and I plan to adopt in a few years. This could be a great read before then.

  10. My stomach turned when reading the “bus people” incident. Oh my. Thanks for allowing us to crawl into your shoes as a mom to diverse children navigating the world. Thank you for leading a family that has a powerful witness. “Love You More” has been on my wish list for a while now. I’m looking forward to reading it!


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