Monday, February 1, 2010

How White is Too White?

Before I start this post I think I should clarify a couple of things first. You will notice that I will use the word white instead of Caucasian. It is my preference. I don’t use the word Caucasian in my everyday life to speak in general terms of those who would be considered white or mostly white so I won’t be using Caucasian on my blog. I will also not be using the word AA or African American either. In my personal opinion I think it is rude to assume that just because someone is black they are African American. They could be Haitian, Jamaican, etc… If you are wondering if I call our children African American, I do not. As we have gone through our adoption process I have learned that Ethiopians do not necessarily like being called African. Africa is the continent they live on. They are Ethiopian. I completely understand. I don’t call myself North American. North America is the continent I live on. I am an American. I just wanted to clarify my choice in words before you read this post.

How White is Too White?

This question has been plaguing me ever since we started our adoption process but especially since we have gotten home from Ethiopia. I am not talking about the fact that although I am white I have tan skin and my Hubby is well… white, white. What I am talking about is how white is the world around me and is it too white racially speaking?

This is a question I probably would have never asked myself if we hadn’t adopted children who aren’t white. Why would I ask it? I tend to socialize with those who I have met through church, family, and work. They all happened to be about 95% white.

It is why when we were given the opportunity to adopt Isaac and Jocelyn I took a hard look at myself and asked the question if I am prejudice? Would I be prejudice against our children or the friends they chose or the spouses they would marry? When I told my hubby I wanted to take the time to think about these things he laughed at me and said “don’t be silly you’re not prejudice.” In all honesty I didn’t think I was either. But was that because I wasn’t or because my exposure to other races had been so limited?

In grade school there was one boy who I knew was a different color but I didn’t know the word for it. I now know he would be called bi-racial. The only other non-white kids I remember is a little Asian girl named Treng and a Pilipino girl (sorry I don’t remember her name). The first time I remember meeting a black person my age was when I was in 6th grade at a track meet. I was completely intrigued by her mostly because of her speed but also because she was different than me. I do remember studying her facial features and how white her teeth looked against her beautiful dark skin. I was a typical kid with typical curiosities.

In Junior High I remember very few students of a different race. I could probably count them on my one hand. High School was much the same. This pattern has held true for most of my life other than the year I spent in Phoenix at Master’s Commission. With such little exposure to other races how could I not take a hard look at myself? I wanted to make sure my love for Isaac and Jocelyn would be pure and unconditional.

Now that our sweet peas have been home with us for four months, I am asking the question again. How white is too white? Is our world too white for our children? Hubby and me have tried to stay very attune to the way our sweet peas react when they see someone who has similar skin color. We have noticed how they stare at marketing posters of black people in stores we shop at and they almost always make some kind of comment about them. Last Wednesday while visiting the YMCA we realized how much something has to change.

Not too long after Jocelyn adjusted to the swimming pool a family with a young black girl waded into the pool. I would say she was maybe 10 or 11. Our sweet peas were mesmerized by her. She came over to say hi and sat down across from Jocelyn. Jocelyn immediately began touching her hand and arm while jibber jabbering. I asked Jocelyn if she liked her pretty skin and she just smiled and continued to babble. Once Isaac noticed the girl had sat down with Jocelyn he quickly joined them. He just stared at her and smiled. Both our sweet peas loved touching her hair which was amazing! It was very long and her mom had been locking it since she was about 4 years old. It looked absolutely beautiful on her. After getting home later that night Hubby and me discussed how attracted our sweet peas were to the little black girl. Why not? Their world went from being completely black one day to very white the next.

We have discussed many times how to go about making our world more “colorful” without a lot of good answers. The one thing we have realized is that most of our friends are from church. We tend to hang out with people who have the same passion for God that we do and who hold similar values. Unfortunately our church is white…very white. If we are unable to add “color” to our world through our church where do we go? Do we go to the “worldly” culture around us that does not share our values? Do we want this to be the influence for our children? Our answer is a resounding no.

So where does that leave us? It leaves us in a very hard place. A place I didn’t realize we would be four months ago. It leaves us in a place where we are praying and looking at attending a different church. Do we know the church? No but we know what we need. We need a church that is multi-racial just like our family where our children can meet and be friends with other black children. Our goal is that our sweet peas would have multi-racial relationships that will have a positive influence in their lives. We know the relationships we have built at our church over the past 7-8 years will not change but how often we see them will. It is a difficult decision to make and one we will continue to pray about. Children bring change to our lives even if it is sometimes unexpected change. Change also means a new adventure and one we welcome to be on with our amazing sweet peas.

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