One Little Box

5

May 30, 2007 by multiracialsky

My father-in-law’s office recently had him fill out a form for the EEOE (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) which included newly defined “race and ethnic categories.” He had to choose one race or ethnicity. The race categories were: (1) White, (2) Black or African American, (3) Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, (4) Asian, (5) American Indian or Alaskan Native (only if you “maintain tribal affiliation or community attachment”) and (6) Two or More Races. You could not choose any of the previous six race categories if you identitfied as (7) Hispanic or Latino (the final ethnic/cultural category). So, a multiracial person had to either pick one race/ethnicity or choose the “other” box (now with a fancy new name).

Where is the option to choose more than one category? What would each of my children choose? What would I choose? I began to weigh personal identification, racial percentages, societal categories, whether I’d want to be counted as generically “Two or More Races” and whether I’d qualify as Cherokee according to this definition if I am still searching the Dawes Rolls for my great-great-grandmother’s name. As a White-appearing multiracial woman, this is not the first (nor the last) time I will have to choose one.

My personal ancestors and my family’s heritage are not the only times I struggle with society’s expectation that everyone should fit neatly into one box.

When I go out with my kids, the commentary never stops. After the seemingly obligatory remarks about our gaggle of small children (if I only had a dollar for every time someone said, you sure have your hands full) come the questions about the origins of our multiracial family, often followed by questions about adoption. When we just had our oldest children, the statement that made me see red was (after a glance at our two toddlers in their stroller) “Isn’t that just how it always happens! You adopt and then you finally get one of your own!” I heard this often enough I could roll off my response without a moment’s pause, “We knew we could have biological children when we decided to adopt.” Of course we didn’t know, we assumed–correctly as it turned out.

We joined a local adoption group three years ago when Rico was one, Jaja was two, and I was pregnant with Gretel. The group’s reception was kind but cool. As the monthly meetings wore on, I realized the issues these families were discussing were not our family’s issues. I was struggling to acclimate to a predominantly White community; these families were entrenched here and were discussing summer camps where their kids would meet other adopted children of color. The choices these families had made (all White parents, almost all internationally adopted Asian children) were largely a product of the parents’ infertility. They were scared of birthparents and open adoption. They had wanted a fast and predictable adoption path. And they were not willing to adopt children with Black American heritage.

We made a few friends in the group. A couple with domestically adopted children, who said they had hoped to adopt in addition to having biological children before they had experienced infertility. A single mom of two children who had lived overseas for ten years in her oldest child’s birth-country. A couple who decided to adopt a toddler from Ethiopia instead of having biological children. These families didn’t find it strange we had chosen adoption as a first choice. In our interactions with the world (our families, our community, the adoption blogosphere) however, these few friends are the exceptions.

Infertility is the overwhelmingly most common reason people adopt: heterosexual couples experiencing infertility, including secondary infertility and age-related infertility. The next largest groups of parents are also adopting for reasons related to traditional fertility: single parents, and gay and lesbian couples. There is a growing number of parents who adopt because of religious or moral beliefs, and a small number of parents who adopt because of concerns about over-population. None of those five major groups of adoptive parents includes us, except maybe the environmental group. (I always wanted at least five children, and I never planned to make more than two of them. At this point I figure I have contributed enough of my genetic heritage to the world–the strong genes and the wild cards.)

After weeks of research looking for other fertile adoptive families, I found a yahoo group for “preferential adopters” (people who adopt unrelated to infertility, also sometimes called “optional adopters”). I was denied membership in this community because I also have biological children.

Obviously, by the choices I’ve made, I don’t mind walking a different path. I love the richness and complexity of a life outside the box. But I have to admit one thing: I’m lonely.

My kids have an enormous and diverse group of friends. (We used to invite everyone we knew with children to our kids’ birthday parties–until we were climbing towards 50 people in our not-so-huge house.) They have friends with African American, Native American, Ethiopian, Japanese, Chinese, Colombian, Korean, Indian, Puerto Rican, Jamaican, Dominican, Jewish American, and European American heritage.

All but one of the mothers of the children of color (whether they became a multiracial family through marriage or adoption) are White. Beyond the where-are-the-role-models-of-color-for-my-daughters issue, I have found few allies among my mother-friends–almost no one who is thinking about or interested in talking about the issues affecting multiracial children and multiracial families. I found myself speechless (a rare occurrence) when an acquaintance seemed casually unconcerned about her child being the only child of color in her entire K-6 school. I am all for different points of view–that’s what makes life interesting–but I am tired of having to spend 20 minutes in racially-historic preamble just to get to why we are probably not sending our children to this town’s public kindergarten in the fall.

I don’t want a clone; I just want a sister. Someone who has made the choice to live out here in the ever-changing impossibly-complicated real world, instead of inside a safe (but boring) imaginary little box.

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5 thoughts on “One Little Box

  1. Such a lovely, poignant post.
    I understand your wish for a sister, as I, too, have no one sharing the sort of space I’ve made for myself and my family, but under far different circumstances.
    I am White, my husband’s family comes in every color possible for humans, and our kids are Cambodian-born. We live in a country where 95% of the population is Black and where almost no children are adopted, and until mine came along none had been adopted internationally.
    Fortunately, families here are overwhelmingly of mixed race, Creole, so any real prejudice is difficult for anyone to pull off for long.
    As for role models for my kids, that’s going to be interesting as they grow. To some extent, they’re going to have to learn to be okay with being unique.

  2. justenjoyhim says:

    I would so love to have a get-together such as one that you described having in your house. Or just to be part of one. We did adopt internationally and from Asia but not because of fear of birthparents or not wanting to adopt an African-American; more because our ages would have made domestic adoption difficult.

    At any rate, I grew up in a university town so there was at least some diversity through the university where my father taught. I live only about 35 miles from there but it’s a completely different place where diversity is hard to come by. It’s not only very white but it’s very conservative, particularly religiously. I miss my hometown.

  3. Kohana says:

    I just found your blog via Anti Racist Parent. You can count me in as an optional adopter with birthchildren…that is, birthchild. 🙂 I have an adopted son and a daughter I birthed myself.

    I look forward to reading your archives and getting to know another face on the internet.

  4. cloudscome says:

    I came from Anti Racist Parent too. What a great post! I feel your pain. My middle son is starting kindergarten next fall too and I have the same struggle. No good answer so far. I look forward to reading more of your blog.

  5. Andrea says:

    Found you via anti-racist parent, and wanted to say that I would gladly be your ‘sister’ 🙂 I’m not a mum yet, but ever since I was nine, I decided that I wanted to adopt some of my children, and, as you put it, “make” the others. People don’t seem to expect a fourth-grader to pull THAT proposal out of her back pocket when they ask if she wants to be a mother! Yet for me, it never seemed like a big deal.

    My extended family is a tapestry of adopted, surrendered and biological children, and the blend always seemed the most natural thing in the world to me. We know what it is to be a family no matter where you were born, or who gave birth to you. While none of these adoptions have yet been transracial (an aunt and uncle did ‘double up’ their waiting lists, and the domestic referral simply came through before their China referral) they have had a tremendous impact on my views on what it means to be family as compared to how other people think of families, and they’ve shaped my decisions about how I want to one day build my own.

    I am sorry that it does seem to be a trend that infertility “begets” adoption; that it seems to be held that adoption is nobody’s first choice (and yes, of course, in a perfect world we wouldn’t need adoption, but the world is far from perfect, and STLL so few people seem to see it as anything but an alternative) and that adoption is somehow “settling” for something less than the ideal. It makes me queasy and it makes me mad, but I am not a confrontational person, and I am so often so very scared that I willl be unable to gracefully handle the issues that do come up.

    Case in point: when I described my plans to a friend last month, she asked “but don’t you want to try to have your own, first?” and I came back with a raging “they WILL be my own!” She, horrified, stammered “you know what I mean!” and yes, it’s true, I knew what she meant, but the way she said it hurt, somehow; like I ought to do it the “normal” way first before I started talking about heading overseas or anything like that.

    They’re not even mine yet and already, whoever they are, wherever they are, whenever they’ll be, they’re standing out. I guess there’s no time like the present to start getting used to it.

    ~Andrea

    (whew, that was longer than I thought it would be! Sorry!)

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© 2007-2014 All rights reserved by Natasha Sky. Posts, essays, photographs, and art may not be republished, reprinted, or repurposed without permission.
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