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My Family, In Black and White

My Family, In Black and White


Nov 6 2013
Yes, we are different races. You can stop staring now.

In the photograph, a little girl—5 years old, her blonde hair in two braids—sits between a man and a woman who look markedly different from her. And that's where the trouble started.

A few weeks ago, CNN reported, "Authorities asked questions about Maria because she has fair skin and blonde hair while her parents have darker complexions typical of Roma, also known as gypsies." Eventually, the girl's biological parents came forward and her adoptive parents were cleared of abduction, but while the news of this little girl (and two others in Ireland) played out across my screen, I couldn't help but see my own family's reflection.

When I step out in public with my two black sons and one white son, we turn heads. Like those European families, mine is subject to scrutiny because the color of our skin does not match.

Strangers suggest skin and hair-care products. They ask if I'm babysitting. They ask if my kids are triplets. I've been told I'm an angel. I've been told I'm a racist. Everywhere we go, people of all colors make judgments about me simply because of how we look.

This is especially common for white parents of black children. When I posted a question about families' experiences on an adoption Facebook page, the stories poured in. "An AA [African-American] woman stopped me at the local library," wrote one mother, "wanting to know where we got our daughter. She then looked my daughter right in the face, and asked, 'Are you happy with them? Do you want to come home with me?'"

The stories ranged from harmless ("I have had people ask 'Where are his parents?' when I'm standing right there," a woman wrote) to frightening. Several parents told of bystanders threatening to call the police when their child began screaming while being buckled into a car seat.

In a recent essay for The New York Times, adoptive father Frank Ligtvoet wrote:

Our daughter once threw a tantrum on a crowded street on the way to school, and the only way to move forward involved dragging. It was not a pretty sight, and a black woman who had witnessed the scene came up and, bypassing my partner, who was doing the dragging, addressed our child: "Is this your father? Is this your father?" She was claiming our daughter as part of the black community.

Mostly, people are trying to make sure our kids are okay. I can appreciate that. But sometimes, as in Ligtvoet's story, there's a subtext to the questions. A disapproval of trans-racial families. A long look of skepticism over whether we white parents are really what's best for these kids.

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My Family, In Black and White