Monday, October 31, 2011

Every child is entitled to opportunities to make friends with people of her race or ethnicity.

It feels like fall just happened here, all of a sudden. I know it's snowing in some places where people I love live, but here in Seattle it was just yesterday that summer started it feels like. And just last week the trees were hardly turning. But now in a flash there are fiery autumn oranges and reds all over the neighborhood trees and the sidewalks are wearing a carpet of fallen yellow leaves. We've had some amazing days (today is lovely for example) but also a lot of rainy ones. Luckily I've discovered that our community center has toddler gym time twice a week. This is a godsend on rainy days when J is bouncing off the walls. We can walk across the street and into the big indoor gym and play in the bouncy house or with the many many other toys they pull out of their closet. Sometimes J just runs from one end of the gym to the other, yelling with joy to have all that space.

The first time we went I was surprised to see that it wasn't very crowded. The girls and I were there with our neighbor Jen and her daughter E. There was another white mom with two girls, the youngest about J's age, and a Latina nanny with two white toddler boys who took up noisy residence in the bouncy house for most of the time we were there.  Finally an older African-American woman arrived with a little boy, I thought he was probably her grandson. He took off for the toy cars, grabbing a basketball on his way, and she sat down on the bleachers and pulled out a book. J was enthusiastically pushing a toy lawn mower from one end of the gym to the other, Jen and E were in another corner with a toy and I was tired of standing up with Salome wrapped up on me in the Moby so I sat down on the bleachers as well.

"He's adorable" I said to the woman reading, " How old is he?" She smiled and told me and then asked the same about my girls.

"She's getting big, talking now?" She said about J, as if she knew her. I said yes, and she smiled kindly at me. "You don't remember me, but I met you at the park last summer when you just had the older one there."

After a moment I did remember - she had been there with her granddaughter - and we got to chatting about parks, play times, kids, and the other things we have in common. As we talked J started chasing her grandson around and he shouted "Grandma! Look she's playing with me!"

Every child is entitled to opportunities to make friends with people of her race or ethnicity.

So this is me, continuing my reflections on the Transracially Adopted Child's Bill of Rights, as promised (and requested - hi Carly!!) I want to make sure, as I write these posts, that I am not setting myself up as some sort of example. This is the hard stuff, and I'm just thinking out loud, reflecting on what I've done that's working and how I am thinking about what might be ahead. I think the key to this particular reflection is the word "opportunities." No one makes a friend without the opportunity to do so, so it's  helpful for me to think about what sorts of situations tend to produce friend-making opportunities and how we might need to work to make this particular sort of opportunity available for our kids.  A few things come to mind.

  • Location: If my child is the only person of her race or ethnicity living in our neighborhood that will cut out a lot of opportunity for forming friendships and connections. Now, not every neighborhood is close or acts like community, but if there are kids in a neighborhood then they'll be at parks, playing on athletic teams, and going to music classes and daycare in that community. All of these are places where my kids will have opportunities to make friends. This is a big motivator for Andrew and I to live small and stay in our diverse urban neighborhood.  J and S see and have opportunities to connect with kids that look like them every time we go to the park or community center or pool. If we lived in a different Seattle neighborhood that wouldn't be the case.
  • Example: I make an effort to talk to other parents and caregivers when we are out and about, especially those who are racially different than me. I'll be honest, it's hard sometimes. This city isn't particularly "friendly" and I think white culture in Seattle especially tends to give people "space." That is a nice way of saying that I haven't observed many white parents at parks talking to anyone they don't know and while there are usually both white and black caregivers and kids at the parks close to our home I cannot recall ever seeing them talking to each other. Likewise, while J is often approached by AA kids that we've never met and asked to play, I can't remember a time that a white child has come up to play with her at the park. I can't help but wonder if these are connected - kids observe that their parents don't cross racial lines and so they don't either. I figure that it is  important for J and S to see me and Andrew talking with, befriending, and socializing with black people. This means people we know well and have established friendships with and just being neighborly at the park. What I do, the way I behave is part of creating opportunities for my child to make friends. (Oh and bonus, it's pretty good for me too.)
  • Paying Attention to Race: J started daycare this past September, something that we put in the works last March. When we were looking around we wanted a few things: local, affordable, small, and diverse. It came down to two places, both small, local, and affordable.  But one had diversity in both caregivers and kids. So we chose that one - J isn't the only black kid at daycare, or the only adopted kid, and she also sees her race reflected in the caregivers there. There is a story that some people like to tell about "not seeing race/color." Families who adopt transracially can't afford to tell this story. Giving my girls opportunity to make friends that share their race and ethnicity means that when we are making choices as a family about where to invest our time and energy - whether it is choosing a school, daycare, neighborhood to live in, park to go to, extracurricular activities to try, etc. - we are going to need to consider whether or not that investment of our time, energy, and money is meeting this need for our children. It doesn't always trump everything else. Church, for example, is a particularly tricky one for us given my professional goals. But it needs to be the most important consideration sometimes. This isn't always comfortable, not for me and not for others. But my girls deserve these opportunities, and if I'm always comfortable they could lose out. 

When I was a kid my friends were kids that lived on our block, went to my school, and went to my church. Of all those friends there is only one that I can remember who didn't share my race or ethnicity. I don't think this was the healthiest of all possible environments for forming my racial identity, though it is a fairly typical one for a white child to experience in our culture. I grew up completely unaware that I too had a racial identity and a racial culture that influenced both how I perceive myself and how the world perceives me. There is absolutely no way that my kids could end up with the experience I had. Even if Andrew and I were the only white people they knew, my daughters would read magazines and books, watch television, and look at billboards. This item on the TAC bill of right's is about the right each child has feel normal in their own skin. That is a journey, for anyone in any skin it is a journey. Each child has the right to have some peers as they grow and figure it out for themselves, friends who are the same road they travel.


  1. Happy Adoption Awareness Month! As a fellow adoption advocate we thought you would enjoy taking part in Open Portrait, a blog that is painting a portrait of open adoption through photos, videos, and quotes. We would love you to participate and help spread the word!

  2. "Likewise, while J is often approached by AA kids that we've never met and asked to play, I can't remember a time that a white child has come up to play with her at the park"

    That sounds a bit sad, though to be charitable I'm assuming you are right that white families don't tend to spontaneously talk to other white families too. I would imagine this will change as J gets older as well - at her age there's not as much "playing with" other children, but when they are older they actively want playmates a lot more.

  3. My kids are the same race as my husband and me and like you, I grew up knowing mostly only people of my race. I want it to be different for my kids, so i often think about the best way to make our family's world more diverse.

  4. DrSpouse I think you're right - J certainly isn't shy and has lots of white friends so I imagine she'll have no problem asking any kids on the playground to play when she gets there developmentally.

    oneinchofgrace - I often think/wish that I would place similar values on diversity and modeling friendships across racial lines for my children if they where white like me but of course I can't say because that's not our situation. I think it's great when ANY parents choose to really attend to these issues, especially parents of white kiddos.

  5. great post and i so agree. i have worked quite intentionally to make friends of a different race for both my sake and that of T. we chose our current church because of its diversity and the fact that there were brown kids his age. even thinking about who to invite to his bday party was related to race...there needed to be non-white adults and kids present. just all a part of intentional parenting as a transracial family:)

  6. This is so important to me especially since Kidlet doesn't appear black I want him to be around strong positive black people. It didn't even occur to me that I felt that way until I saw one of his little league coaches was black and I has such a string emotional reaction and I had to figure out why that was. I want him to positively identify with his blackness despite not being able to see it when he looks in the mirror.