In high school I had a close friend, Tyrone, whose mother hated me. I had rationalized that she didn’t like me because I was the one who would come and take her son away from her. My friend was the youngest child in the family and I was the mean and evil body snatcher who came every Friday or Saturday to kidnap her last child.
I secretly hoped that when I would pull up in front of his small house on Detroit’s northwest side that he would be waiting for me on the front porch so I wouldn’t have to come in contact with his possessive mother. My hope never joined reality. Instead, I would have to park and go to the side door and knock. As sure as you can count on the seasons changing, I could always count on Tyrone never being ready. This meant I would have to come in, walk up the three steps in to the kitchen and greet his mother who was always in the kitchen cooking and pissed off. She usually said very little to me and nothing above a grunt but to ignore her was had dire consequences.
There was one time, I came in to her home and did not greet her. It was evident to me from our initial meeting that something in me just made her instantly angry and the anger that rose off her body like steam paralyzed me. My tongue was not immune from the paralysis that she casted on to me and I wanted to speak but nothing came out. Her back was to me so she never saw me trying to speak.
A day or two later Tyrone relayed a message from her. She wanted me to know that if that if I ever wanted to hang out with him again, I would have to come to her house and apologize for being so rude. On top of that, she wanted me to understand that if I ever came in to her home again and did not speak to her she would not be able to predict or control the response I might get from her.
This request was like asking me to jump from a moving vehicle on to broken glass. I was always a very shy and quiet child and now I had to come and bow before a woman who I thought could turn Medusa to stone.
At the repeated request of Tyrone, I did as she asked and survived but worked to keep my contact with her to a minimum because being turned to stone would have really put a kink in my social calendar.
That was 25 years ago and recently I returned to Detroit to speak to a group of transracial adoptive parents. After losing touch with Tyrone over the years, we reunited a few months ago so I invited him to come see me speak.
As I recounted my life growing up as a minority in my own home, I reflected on how thankful I was to have been raised in Detroit where the schools I went to were 95-98% black. Everyday, I was fortunate to be surrounded by kids who looked like me and how those black kids poured in to me the culture and racial identity I couldn’t get in my white home. During the presentation, I thanked Tyrone who had come with his wife and I introduced him to the parents. It was because of friends like Tyrone who knew my background and who were so patient with me that I gained a lot of much needed self esteem and racial pride.
After I finished my presentation, the parents began asking questions and one parent turned to Tyrone and asked him what he thought of my colorful family. Growing up this isn’t the type of question you ask your good friends but it was an answer I was anxious to hear.
Tyrone grinned and reflected back on how much he learned from our family. He recalled coming over and having dinner with us and how he was taken aback when we sat at the dining room table, ate and shared the particulars about our day. No one else he knew ever did that but he liked that we did.
Then he shared with the audience the connection I never put together. His mom didn’t like me because I was raised by a white family. She had stereotypes of how white people were and she didn’t want that to transfer to her son. She thought whites were disrespectful and unruly. Unfortunately, my lame tongue that failed to greet her proved her point. Tyrone went on to say that if he came across as disrespectful or undisciplined towards his mother she would blame it on his contact with me.
The information that Tyrone shared was very helpful to the parents who sat captivated as they heard how a black family responded to our transracial family. I stood in front of the room trying to remain professional but speechless as he shared the truth that I missed.
Being a multicultural family was all I had ever known so it was my normal. Therefore, it was never a thought to me that we were as unusual as we were. Even as Tyrone told this 25 year old truth I was shocked.
As I continue to walk the life of a transracial adoptee it seems each day I learn something new about the life I have lived. The lesson in this is simple; As a multicultural family your radar screen has to be expanded. You have to develop your own “spidey sense” about things like this that aren’t detected on a smaller radar screen.
As a young teenager, I walked away from this exchange thinking Tyrone’s mom hated me because I was a bad person; there was something flawed in me that made her instantly angry. In reality she resented my family not me. It may be a small distinction but for me to know that then would have made a huge difference; to know it was not me. Being aware of this would’ve given a lot of points back to my self esteem that was already dangerously low.
Last week I began my second book and at this point, the title of the book is named after this post, EXPANDING THE RADAR SCREEN. The book is a collection of the blog posts I have written over the last year and a half. It will organize 80+ blog post and show my journey and growth as I decipher what it means to be an adoptee and how that has affected my life. I will keep you posted as the book progresses.