Sunday, January 28, 2007

Tokens

During our pre-adoption classes (PAC), we were assembled into small groups to discuss issues such as race, ethnicity, grieving, motives for adopting, and attachment issues. The fourteen people in our small group were all caucasian/white and from largely middle class backgrounds. Some people had biological children, some had none, and others (like us!) named their pets as their first "children".

While thinking about countries to adopt from, Terry and I asked many of our friends of color if they felt comfortable with our decision to raise an African child. We received overwhelming support from our friends who felt that because we had such a unique set of friends from different racial, ethnic, religious and sexual orientation backgrounds, and because we were so willing to discuss these issues openly and honestly, that we would be good parents even if our racial backgrounds did not match those of our child. It had not occurred to us that people in similar situations to our own (e.g., wanting to adopt internationally) would have considered these issues very little, nor how much we would "stick out" in our small group.

One of the first activities we completed at PAC was designed to get participants to think about race in their collective environments. When we returned to our small group room after lunch, we found an empty, small, clear plastic drinking cup in front of each of us, as well as a small container of beads. The beads were white, amber, brown, and tan. Each bead represented a race: Brown for African American, tan for Native American, amber for mixed racial background and white for Caucasian. Next, we were asked a series of questions: 1) Your spouse is: Place this color bead in your empty cup. 2) Your neighbors are largely: Place this color bead in your empty cup. 3) Your boss is: Place this color bead in your cup. 4) Your best friend is: Place this color bead in your cup. 5) Your Pastor or religious leader is: Place this bead in your cup. 6) Your congregation is: Place this bead in your cup. 7) Your co-workers are: Place this bead in your cup. 8) Your friends are: Place this bead in your cup.

At the conclusion of this learning activity, Terry and I looked around at other's cups, and discovered largely cups filled with white beads. Terry and I had many colored beads in our cups. Many of the other participants were surprised at how "white" their world was. Others were proud to have 1 bead of color in theirs. We were then asked how many different colored beads we had in our cups, to which Terry and I answered many. Our social worker/leader asked, "How did you get all those beads in your cup?"

This question angered me (Sarah), as it seemed to imply that you can simply "pick up" people (in this case people of color) and simply "put" them in your life. Sarcastic me nearly answered, "We found them on Lake and Hennepin." What she meant, of course, was to inquire about how we had come to have so much diversity (racial) in our lives. Instead, Terry and I answered that we held having diversity in our lives as a strong value. We did not exclude others because of their race, culture, ethnicity, religious background or sexual orientation. We were open to learning, asking questions, being honest, and to putting ourselves in situations where we would actually meet people outside of our own backgrounds. Other participants in the group wondered if it would be "important" to have people of color in their inner circle; someone for whom the child could turn or learn from if need be. Personally, I could not imagine bringing a child of color into our world without the amazing diversity of our inner circle of friends and family from such rich backgrounds.

It is important to us that we not have "tokens" in our world of friends of family. You may have heard this word used before. Often it is used when we advertantly, or inadvertantly, make a racial or ethnic remark based on stereotype or prejudice. The person with whom we are speaking might call us out on making a insensitive remark or for stereotyping. Often, you may respond back by saying, "But I have a black/hispanic/gay/etc. friend"... implying that, therefore, you are not or cannot be racist/sexist/homophobic. In the academic world this is called having a token; because you have one friend or acquiantance who is different from you, you cannot be what they accuse you of.

We have all done this at one point in our lives or another-- it is not intended to be tokenism, nor do we intend to cause harm. However, as Terry and I enter the world of trans-racial adoption, we must more carefully consider the words that we use, and the words that are used around our child by family, friends, neighbors and acquintances. We will no longer be a white family with complete white privilege. Instead, we are now going to be a family of color. Given this new distinction, a new way of viewing our world, we must also be prepared to stand up for our child, explain racism, ask for apologies and give explanations. We must be prepared to answer difficult questions, but also withstand and be prepared for difficult social and personal situations where a racist joke may be told, or when someone simply asks if "that child is ours".

We can't wait to welcome this new life into ours. It will open doors and fulfill us in more ways than we expect. Our child will not be a token, not a child we are saving or rescuing from Africa or dire conditions; we will be the lucky ones to be given the opportunity to raise a child within our amazing network of friends and family.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Longest Journey

Some journey's last a lifetime. For us, our lifelong journey began as a commitment to our marriage and partnership-- to loving, respecting, honoring, and laughing with each other (and sometimes at!). Now, we embark on another lifelong journey, one long awaited, to our child in Ethiopia. This venture takes us out of the "known". Will our child be a boy or a girl, an infant or nearly a toddler? Is s/he born yet or still resting and growing in the warm and comforting womb of a mother who wonders about the future of herself and her baby? Soon we will know the answers to these questions, and the months will surely pass quickly although the waiting will be difficult.

We began this chapter in our lives in February of 2006, attending an informational meeting at CHSFS (see links). We had firmly decided on international adoption for many reasons and had narrowed our country selection to India and Ethiopia. When we heard about Ethiopia our minds were set and we began the application process. We attended a 2 day class on international adoption, and issues (challenging or rewarding) that we will likely face: Who are my biological parents? Can I meet them? Who am I? How do I fit into this family? Minnesota? My school? Who are my people? Where is my community? How do I define "who" I am? We continue to think about these questions and talk about them, preparing for the day when the questions begin.

We then had to begin our homestudy with the social worker. This meant 8-12 hours of meetings asking about medical, personal, and familial questions, as well as questions about discipline strategies, intentions for raising a child of color, support systems available through family and community, and what our diversity plan was. We are humbled and honored to have supportive family and friends from diverse backgrounds who have graciously answered questions, pushed us to think harder, shared painful, positive and eye-opening experiences. In short they helped us learn from them. We are grateful to have these same people in our lives who will be a great support and inspiration to our beautiful child.

Why are we starting this blog now? Well, many have asked where we are at, where we are going and if our baby is here yet. This will be our way of sharing news as it comes. But, we also know that many have questions: Why Ethiopia? How did you decide? How will you face the challenges (see above)? We also want to take this time of waiting to "educate" those around us. By this we mean, talking about adoption language, issues of race and diversity, and addressing concerns that we have about the journey we are taking.

So, with that in mind, thank you for visiting! Thank you also for supporting us. Please ask questions, share thoughts, give us food for fodder as we wait, wait, wait for The Call that will lead us to a precious child in our lives; an honor and humbling experience we cannot wait to have.

Addis Ababa Time