Wednesday, July 15, 2009

WTH: Nice People

1) Lily, my 13.5 year old, belongs to our church youth group. She recently went through an intense, year-long Rites of Passage Experience (ROPE) with thirteen of her 8th grade cohorts - culminating in a wonderful trip to Boston. Great kids, great parents, exceptionally liberal church. One of Lily's ROPE friends, Emma, is a Korean adoptee - the only other girl of color in this small church group. Lily was born in China and (I must say this), the two girls look nothing alike.

I bumped into one of the other church parents and her ROPE daughter at Blue Lake Music Camp last weekend. Lily was in the orchestra, and the mom and daughter were at the camp performance to see a relative. "We didn't expect to see you here! Is Emma in the concert?" the mom asked. "Is Emma here?!" the daughter enthused.

"Well, I don't know if Emma is here, but LILY is in the orchestra" I answered. This went over as you might imagine. I watched nice people visibly deflate and fumble for words, and so I automatically did what I've been culturally molded to do: I tossed them a conversational lifeline.

"It's okay," I said. But it wasn't.

It diminished my daughter. It stripped her of her individuality. It was hurtful.

2) A couple of weeks ago I sat with another ROPE family at a graduation party. I really like the mom and dad, and their red-haired son, Grant, attends both church and school with Lily. Lily was disgusted with Grant, however. She told me that he was friends with her at church, but that he ignored her at school. Grant was apparently 'cooler' than Lily's group of largely Asian-American friends, and simply wouldn't hang with her when popularity was at stake. This was my white mom take, initially, BUT (and this is huge) I was looking at the situation via MY OWN high school pecking order perspective.

Big mistake. I tend to forget (still!) that RACE MATTERS.

Lily got what was going on, and set me straight. She was angry, and had every right to be.

At the grad party, Grant's mom asked me who Lily had gone to the 8th grade dance with. I mentioned a boy with an obviously Chinese name, and the dad nonchalantly interjected, "They all like to hang together, don't they?"

"THEY all like to hang together because little racist a*holes like your son treat 'them' like shit at school" is what I said.

In my head. About two hours later.

I am able to confront the haters and the skinheads, but I am obviously needing to learn how to better deal with the clueless 'nice people' - people I usually really like, people who have chosen to live in a diverse community, and who attend a liberal church alongside my own family. This is where transracial adoption leaves a's tough to educate a child on the actual, real-life mechanics of living as a child of color when you are a white parent on your own learning curve. It's not like I didn't know this - I've read the books and listened to the speakers and have even written the articles - but I am seeing COLOR DEFINE more as my daughter from China grows into teenhood and high school. It affects her peer group, her socialization, her dating.

I'm sure Lily has had her own What-The-Hell moments over the last school year. She is a popular and savvy child, but she has an Asian face and white girl 'insides'. So far, this double helix has given her a 360 understanding...which is 180 degrees more than what I currently possess.

So... I listen to my daughter, I validate her, and I learn.



  1. brilliant! i love what you said to Grant's mother. And the bottom "...she has an asian face and white girl'insides'" is so true, i tell people "think about a yellow marshmallow peep. It doesn't taste different than the others, it just looks a different colour." most people give me a very odd look. i am just referring to myself..

  2. Great post! I look forward to reading more. I've read countless books and will continue to do so as I prepare to adopt a child from Ethiopia. However, no amount of reading will give me the same perspective that my future child will have. Although the reading, conferences, and most importantly the willingness to look deep inside myself, are so critical, it's the real-life, in-the-moment stories and reflection that I find the most valuable.

  3. My adopted daughters are still very young. I have experienced a little of what you describe and I know there is more to come as my girls get older. Thank you for helping to mentor those of us coming up along the trail you have already trod.

  4. thank you Jean,
    this is very helpful.
    My daughter from China is almost 14. I am looking forward to read more of your very insightful writings. It is great to know that other AP's are still learning too.

  5. Thank you for sharing your insights. I'm always left speechless when I hear these things but I know I'm coming up to i need to be prepared

  6. I really appreciate your blog - it helps me to parent my two young children who were adopted transracially. One small comment though. I DID that same thing as the mom at the music camp - and in my case, there was no racial profiling going on - both "switched identity women" are caucasian. It was simply two casual friends who both had brown hair. Now that I know them better, I would of course never mistake one for the other. Extremely embarassing and I'm so glad they were gracious about my goof.

    The other incident you mention with the boy at school is enraging! argh!

  7. Jean, I can already tell that I am going to learn so much from your blog, just as I have learned so much from Sheena MacRae, your co-editor of Adoption Parenting through the Shenzhen Kids group. My daughter and son, both adopted from China, are only in Kindergarten and I can imagine the road ahead and what they'll go through and realize that what I can think of preparing for pales in comparison to what reality will be. Thank you for sharing your btdt perspective.