Thursday, September 23, 2010

Recognizing Race

Recently we have had many conversations about race in our home. Most of these have been initiated by comments and concerns raised by our five-year old son Owen. Consequently I am very thankful to have as a resource the book Does Anybody Else Look Like Me? A Parent's Guide to Raising Multiracial Children, in which Donna Jackson Nakawaza writes:
At age five, research shows, even children who have shown little interest in skin color or race (whether their own or other people's) suddenly become acutely interested in both. Differences between a child's appearance and that of his or her mom or dad (especially if they have very different skin color and hair texture) may prompt all sorts of observations, questions and comments from our child - and their friends.

The curious thing about these comments by Owen is how they seemingly arise out of the blue. In fact, this is what indicates to me that he is constantly thinking about it these days. The following are just a few examples of conversations that have taken place recently in our home.
- One morning Eva and I were discussing how many other little girls she knows with her name (only two or three, and this used to be a source of disappointment for her.) In the context of this conversation Owen suddenly blurted out, "It's not fair! Eva has other people with her name, but nobody is my color!" As it so happened, later that morning we were down by the beach and saw a man jogging in the distance. Owen leaped in excitement and shouted, "Look! It's one of my people!" and started pretending to jog parallel to the man.

- During the World Cup, Owen was working on a collector's album. We would purchase envelopes for him with stickers of the players, which he would then paste in their respective teams. One team he managed to acquire a lot of stickers for was Nigeria. Once, he came bounding downstairs with his album in hand. Pointing to the team he exclaimed, "Look, Daddy! These are all like me!"

- In the midst of lunch preparations, Owen decided to keep me company in the kitchen. He wanted to draw a picture of me and proceeded to color my hair and face black with a lead pencil. "Your hair is black, Mommy. With a little bit of red. Or brown. And I'm brown, too!"

- Isabel, Owen and I were playing a game making up a "never-ending story" together. Somewhere in the midst of his storytelling Owen suddenly interjected, "And I'm black. Very, very black!"
But the conversation that pierced my heart took place yesterday. I asked Owen if it made him feel bad that not too many people looked like him here. He said no, then added, "But some people think you can't be my Mommy and Daddy." When I questioned him further he added that it was people at his school (I assumed he meant classmates.)

This, too, coincided with examples Nakazawa includes in her book, as she explains that children at this age typically attempt to "create strict categories about racial differences - and to draw meaningful conclusions about what it might mean if a child's skin color is different from his mom's" as well as holding a "very concrete perception that skin color should match between parent and child."

So what is the answer? I loved the comment one mom (who is also a missionary and mom through transracial adoption) shared with me. She wrote, "We reminded our [son] that God creates families that are different colors....look at all the different colors He's adopted as sons (and daughters.)"

In the same vein Nakazawa writes that our children "need to absorb the unequivocal message from us that the power of family life surmounts differences of race or skin color." She adds, "By reassuring children that families do come in all shapes, sizes, textures and combinations, we hope to send the clear message that our own particular family - that first primary "group" to which our child belongs - is normal, 100 percent, no less."

I am so thankful to live in a day and age where so many excellent resources are available to adoptive families, I am especially thankful that my son, at least in this stage of his life, is open and honest about his feelings with us. I hope that will always continue!

But most of all, I am thankful for the best example any parent can have in the person of God, my Heavenly Father. Not my "adoptive" Heavenly Father but my "Abba" Heavenly Father. It is my prayer that our precious sons and daughters will one day find their deepest identity in their relationship with Him above all.

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