Making Me a Liar


August 9, 2007 by multiracialsky

I hear one question from strangers more often than any other: “Are they all yours?” The second most common question goes something like this, “Are some of your children adopted?” Long ago I stopped feeling that these types of questions are innocuous–they are the most common and some of the most intrusive. The first question’s more frequent, and easier to answer (“Yep”) and walk away. The second one is more problematic.

To begin with, it belies the illusion the first question offers, that the questioner is simply curious because of the number of children I have. The second question also lets me know that the asker is focused on the skin-tone variations in my children, because if it were anything else the visual variety between the kids is too mixed to distinguish (3 pairs of brown eyes & 1 pair of hazel; straight hair, wavy hair, wavy hair, & curly hair; black hair, dark brown hair, light brown hair, & dark blonde hair). None of my four children physically resemble in the face, including the two who are biological siblings. Each of the children has their own unique hair, skin, and eye colors; hair texture; face shape; eye, nose and mouth shapes. (Jaja and Rico have the same foot shape (wide), and Gretel and Jaja have very similar body shapes, which makes hand-me-downs a dream at this point.)

But back to my point. Asking if some of my children are adopted tells me the asker already has in their mind which of my children are adopted, and they have made this judgment based on skin-color alone. I have more than enough friends who are currently (or formerly) interracially partnered and have biracial and multiracial children to know this question does not just come to me–it often comes to them as well. The “are they adopted” question comes more often to my White and White-appearing friends; none of us are spared the “are they yours” version.

Here’s where I’ve started to falter with my answer to the adoption-status question. I don’t want my kids to be ashamed of being adopted, to feel it is something to hide–but I also want them to to know it is not everyone’s business. (I never want to say or do anything to dishonor my children’s birthparents or their places in my children’s hearts and lives.) But that question, “Are some of your children adopted?” is just the tip of the iceberg. What most of those questioners are really asking is this, “Are some of your children adopted or is your husband/boyfriend Black?” They’re asking the half of the question that is polite enough to get out of their mouths (so they think) but think again–I hear the rest of the question continuing on in the background.

And this is where we come to the lying. I don’t lie nearly as often as I should, even to just to give myself and my family and friends a little more wiggle room. I rarely lie. Lying is a slippery slope; even a little lie leads to bigger lies to cover the tracks you didn’t think you were leaving. But when those overly-curious busy-bodies start in on the genetic origins of my children, ooh! I want to lie.

I’ve actually done it once, that I can remember, and that was just a little lie of omission. I was in the airport, traveling alone with Jaja and Rico, who were both under two at the time. We were on our layover and they were strapped into the double stroller. As I stood in line at the counter to get a gate-check tag, this 60ish (White) woman leans over my children, looks back and forth at them and then at me. She asked the million dollar question, “Do they have the same father?” I thought for a moment about my husband who was coming to pick us up at the airport in just a few hours.

“Yep,” I answered.

“Aren’t genetics amazing?” she said.

And they are, because there are countless families that look like ours, families where all the children are genetically related.

There are so many scenarios that could create a family picture like ours: interracial marriage, one or two multiracial parents, full biological siblings, half biological siblings, blended family, step siblings, adoption, foster care, mother with her children fathered by four different men out with her new boyfriend, boyfriend and girlfriend out together with their kids from prior relationships . . . why does it matter?

Why does anyone think it is their right, their business, to question somebody else about the origins of their family–usually in front of their family? Have we lost all pretense of courtesy and consideration in this day and age?

Then there is the opposite. The families who announce loudly (and repeatedly) at the beach that this is their Fresh Air child, just visiting from the city. The White adoptive parents who put clothing on their adopted child of color that announces he/she was adopted, that preemptively clarifies the underlying miscegenation question above. (WARNING: I find this blogger insightful and hilarious, but they use some stronger language.) It is becoming more common in the world of transracial adoption to hear this all-too-appropriate comparison: If you wouldn’t marry someone who is Black, Asian, Latino, African American, Haitian, Chinese, or Guatemalan (for example), then you certainly should not adopt a child with that ancestry either.

But back to the lying. The way people ask this question. The different set of assumptions and the treatment and looks our family gets when I am (a) out alone with all of the kids, and (b) out with my husband with the kids. These not-so-hidden guesses and beliefs, and how they affect the environment of my children–and the children of interracially partnered couples across our nation. These are the crazy-making false-notions that almost make me lie. Lie, lie, lie like a rug. Because the simplest answer (which should make it the most likely conclusion) to that second question, “Are some of your children adopted?” is “No”. Except that if I said it, it would be a lie.

I’ve done at least one thing I wanted to do as a parent: my kids automatically think groups of people where the adults appear to be caring for the children in any way (one or more adults, either gender, and any number of kids), my children view this group of people as a family. We’ll be back in the car and they’ll still be trying to puzzle out who the teenage girl was, and where her room in the family house must be (even when it was clear to me she was a babysitter).

If only we could all make our family viewfinder this broad.


7 thoughts on “Making Me a Liar

  1. chughes says:

    My mother, who is Brazilian but looks white, had to deal with this rude question and so do i, as my older daughter is darker than my younger daughter, has curlier hair and i think you are absolutely right.

    i feel that this question and questions like it are rude and i answer with a question of my own. “Why?” Once a woman asked me straigh out if they had different fathers. “Why do you need to know?” i asked. She was embarrassed and rightfully so. Her racist attitudes were expressed in that question, i think.

  2. stillamomma says:

    I also say…why would you ask a question like that…and if they go into the why…I’d say…it’s none of your business. I am African American with an African American adopted daughter who happens to resemble me in some ways.

  3. Kohana says:

    I agree that the attention I receive when I am alone with my children is different than the attention I receive when I am out with my husband and our children. I’ve had a person in the grocery store ask me if my husband was dark skinned like my (honey colored) son. I simply answered “no”. She can try to figure that out on her own. If people ask me if my son’s father is African American, the answer is yes and if people ask if his father is white (my husband) the answer is also yes. I am careful to answer in such a way that I affirm my son’s relationship with the father he lives with. And most of the time, a blank or incredulous look towards the asker does the job just fine.

  4. Great writeup. I am black and have a child that is very light in complexion. Her father is white. She resembles Mariah Carey. I have been taunted by teachers and doctors when I take her places because they have a hard time dealing with the fact that a black woman can have such a bright complected child. But the reality is that out of the black womb came all colors and what we now call white or european was once considered albinism. The bottom line is that we are all from the HUMAN RACE!
    At my site you can see a beautiful black baby boy who has blue eyes and both of his parents are black.

  5. foreverloyal says:

    I used to get asked if I was the nanny. I rarely get anyone asking me anything anymore about their ethnic/racial/whatever heritage.

  6. Anonymous says:

    My husband is Hispanic. Our daughter is hispanic and looks just like him. I am Caucasian. Our son is caucasian and looks just like me. And yes they are both ours, biological siblings. And do we sometimes get stares. I often get told, oh you have one of each!

  7. Denise says:

    I get asked the same questions. But sometimes it’s hard to tell if the asker is genuinely curious. Is there a polite/appropriate way to ask? If you see a mom at the park and notice she has a family that resembles your own, how do you bring it up if you are looking to make a connection?

    Some people are just clueless and ignorant in their wording… like “which ones are ‘real’ ” or “how many are your own?”

    The one that has bugged me lately and been common is “What does he call you?”, referring to my obviously adopted son. Uhmmm… he calls me mom, like the rest of my kids… what the heck else would he call me?

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