There is something magical that happens inside the four walls of all grocery stores. It seems as if once someone walks through the mystical doors that open by themselves and they are swept in to the tile floors and piped-in music, all inhibitions dissolve. Surprisingly, there is something about this environment that makes people feel comfortable about asking deep personal question to transracial parents in front of their children.
The questions fall from the tongues of strangers like saliva from a rabid dog.
“Where did you buy him?”
“How Much Did he Cost.”
“Wasn’t slavery abolished.”
“What happened to her REAL mom?”
“Is that a crack baby?”
The brashness that propels these words out of the stranger’s mouths often leaves the adoptive parents speechless. The parents stand there in a daze as if Mike Tyson has just connected with their temple.
At every adoption conference I’ve been to this scenario is discussed usually during lunch or while we are on a short break. The families huddle together for support and to hear the best way to respond to the offender.
The conversation then always turns toward a conversation about the offender and how to put them in their place or if the offender should even be acknowledged. This is where the conversation goes the wrong way and the subject gets looked at from the wrong vantage point.
Instead of concentrating on who said what, what should be the focus is responding for the benefit of the adoptee. The response to the stranger can be a powerful message to the adoptee. This means that as a parent you become an educator but not for the benefit of the stranger but for the benefit of the adoptee. By responding in a calm but assertive manner you send the following messages to the adoptee:
1) That stranger’s ignorance doesn’t point out a flaw in you. By running away from this conversation adoptees can interpret this to mean they are broken, a commodity, a slave, not your real child, a crack baby.
2) By talking about it and addressing it, you send a message that it is alright to talk about adoption and race. Running away from this conversation sends the message that these subjects are to be feared and not discussed.
3) By standing up and defending your family you teach the adoptee how to do the same when you aren’t there.
4) The sense of empowerment the adoptee learns from seeing you respond and not cower is vital and invaluable.
The next time you enter this zone and ignorance greets you with a smile, remember your response is not for the stranger, it is for your child who is next to you absorbing how to respond to the world. Empower them!