By the time our daughter was ready for preschool (well, the toddler room), I’d had three kids in school for a good long time. So, all those applications and the thick ream of required school forms were nothing new. Checking the box that delineates our daughter as “Biracial” rather than the “Caucasian” box I’m accustomed to marking with my pen—that was strange.
Strange because while I don’t forget she’s adopted, in another way, I do. She’s a family member, ours, mine, whatever you will—and I don’t think about how adoption might distinguish her from her siblings or us as we go about our lives. That fact doesn’t really matter in our daily lives, but then of course, on the page, in that little box, there it is, the reminder of this complicated difference.
I say complicated because I don’t know quite what it all means—or will mean to her. Her birth father, a man we’ve never met and aren’t all that likely to meet is Jamaican. He’s the reason I check the box. As she gets older you can “see” her ethnicity a little more, but you can also “see” her as a white girl with a somewhat darker complexion. In this way, her status as an adopted child is less obvious than some of her friends, the ones who are African American with blue-eyed white mom or Vietnamese with blond white moms. But at whatever remove the Jamaican family members are, she still has rights to this heritage.
And what do I know about Jamaican culture? The short answer is not all that much. It has to be more than what I have at the ready: some Jamaican friends and some reggae CD’s.
I’m still trying to figure out how to introduce all of this to her. She knows her birth mom and family; they are her white family. And at five, the notion of birth or first mom remains pretty emotionally confusing. She grapples with it by intermittently remembering that she came from another tummy and thinking (hoping?) she came from mine. This is complicated by the fact that I grew up mistaken as Mexican, Eskimo, Asian and even Italian. She’s grown up with many people certain she resembles me more than the sons to whom I gave birth. It would all be confusing no matter what, but the particular way we blend together takes away one obvious reason to discuss how we landed together. In any case, we have a steep learning and feeling curve ahead. I don’t exactly know how we ensure that adoption and ethnicity are concepts she really “gets.” I am confident we’ve already laid the groundwork on the adoption front at least and on the basic notion that all skin colors are good (the basic preschool lines). I trust we will be able to help her have room and support to feel her feelings about all of it and explore as she wants and needs to do.
Identity will be an issue in all kinds of ways over time. For example, the role of race in college admissions is not static (and thus, with a going-into-kindergartner I have no idea where it’ll be 13 years from now). I read somewhere I can’t find (I’ve Googled, unsuccessfully, a bunch) an article that said some colleges measure race in different ways and an adopted person of color with white parents might not be considered the same way someone else’s minority status might be. There are articles that mention how Asian can be a disadvantage at some schools and some applicants choose to leave that off their college applications if they are biracial, just as some biracial people will mark black versus biracial or Caucasian. All that lies far ahead, though.
The thing about the forms right now is that my response has more to do with me than with her. To check the minority status box—the one that put her higher on the preschool’s priority list—again speaks to our privilege, collectively, the adoptive parents’ privilege. As white people (if the adoptive parents are, as is mostly the case in our preschool) we have enough advantages—economic and social—to place ourselves into the position to adopt—and so it’s from privilege that we adopt children of color. That could complicate how you see yourself, right?
Certainly, at our preschool, where minority status does give you an advantage in terms of admission, it feels like a double-dip (at least) of privilege to receive that nudge closer to admission. Our preschool is, it turns out, quite diverse (just about 50%). Its admission policies support the diversity it enjoys. I guess that when I step back from any hint of guilt I might harbor about this I can see another truth, which is the school’s diversity is good for the school. It’s good for the children of color, sure; it’s good for the white children; it’s good for the families, too. We are not the only ones: not the only ones with a biracial child; not the only ones with children via adoption or a combination of routes how our children joined the family; we’re not even the only ones with a child in high school. So, when I check that form, what I have to remember is the simple mark is really just one line; the story is much more interesting and complex. And that’s okay.
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