I sat in Mark’s living room as he ran around the house looking for boots he could loan me so we could go outside. I was 10 years old and Mark was the only other transracial adoptee I knew and as far as I knew he was the only other TRA on the planet.
Our families were really close and I would often go over each other’s houses to play. Mark and I also went to the local Lutheran grade school together and had become really good friends for obvious reasons. The interesting thing was that although our backgrounds were colored the same, we never talked about it; rarely do adolescent boys go that deep. Reflecting back on it, it is a shame we didn’t talk about it because I’m sure we could have helped each other feel more normal.
Mark was my confident friend whose extra pounds made him more intimidating than he really was. Although he played the tough kid role better than most, Mark had this extraordinary gift of story telling. I looked forward to spending the night at Mark’s because I knew each night before bed he will continue this serial bedtime story that he told. As I stretched out in my sleeping bag on his small bedroom floor, I would sit captivated as he spun this never ending story in his mind and out his mouth. It was a nice intimate detail that I was able to witness that didn’t come across through his tough guy persona.
Mark lived in a black neighborhood and at this time I was two to three years removed from my old black neighborhood. Quickly I adjusted to my new white neighborhood and although I had to endure the consistent racial issues, I began to take on some of the ideology of this new neighborhood.
In Mark’s neighborhood, I was scared. I was afraid of the “real” black kids. They carried tough in a way that I had forgotten. In the back of my mind, I felt as if they would instantly see through what they would consider to be “fake” blackness and I would become the object of their ridicule.
The school we went to was about 95-98% black but these were kids I knew so they didn’t intimidate me. They were also black kids from middle to upper middle class families and their toughness was less explosive and their wicks were much longer I thought.
On this particular visit, it was late winter/early spring and the spring sun came out to melt the remainder of winter away. Instead of staying inside, Mark wanted to go outside and have toothpick races. This was an event I was normally excited about. After a summer rain or during the spring thaw, as the water rushed along the city curbs to the storm sewers, we would drop our tooth picks in the mini-rapids and see whose would make it to the sewer first.
I was afraid to go out and meet Mark’s friends in his neighborhood. I was certain they were equipped with X-ray vision and right away they would know I was different from them and this would translate into an easy target. My training in Detroit taught me easy targets were chum to those looking for easy prey. Confrontation was not my area of choice so I tried to convince Mark that staying inside where it was warm was a better idea and besides I didn’t have my boots or winter coat. I only had my paper thin canvas high top gym shoes and a thin windbreaker. I am not sure if this was a premeditated outfit but given the temperature outside I think my subconscious was thinking ahead when I dressed to go visit Mark.
Mark was very resourceful and ran around the house looking for an extra pair of boots and jacket. As I sat in the living room wishing he would come up empty, Mark returned with a pair of cowboy boots and an spare winter coat complete with a hood that was lined with fake fur. I thought to myself, “Dag, how many black kids have cowboy boots?”
Before I knew it, Mark had wrestled up four plastic bags that once housed loaves of Wonder Bread. It was common practice to slip the bread bags on your feet and then slip your feet in to the boots. This made the entry and exit in to the boots easy and helped keep your feet dry if the boots were porous.
I was outside in the cold before I comprehended what happened and headed down the sidewalk to see who was home in the neighborhood. To my relief, no one was home or able to come out and play so Mark and I raced toothpicks between us. I don’t remember who won. All I remember is that cowboy boots had not traction or insulation and I spent most of time trying to stay upright as one toe after another went numb.
As I got older and continued to be exposed to all kinds of kids my anxiety decreased and I became more and more comfortable around black kids no matter what class they were.
The funny thing is that the kids never changed. As I became more and more comfortable with me, I became more confident with who I was and therefore it didn’t matter what their X-ray vision revealed. I had a developing picture of myself that was become more and more in focus.
If given the choice at that time in my life, I would have shied away from the “kids in the hood.” Fortunately, I didn’t have a choice. The next time I visited Mark, his friends were home and came out and played and they weren’t the stereotype that I had so quickly adopted. They weren’t the bullies and rough necks I assumed they would be. They were just kids like me and I had no reason to fear them.