Sunday, March 1, 2009

Walking the Line

When my blog suddenly got over 500 hits yesterday, I knew something was up. It seems yesterdays post was linked on another blog, and started quite a debate.

While some people understood my anger at the ignorance I witnessed yesterday, many thought I was jumping to conclusions, and being overly sensitive.

I have learned in the past three years that it is a very thin line walk as a parent of a black child. You want to be there to protect them, and to prepare them for the racism they may encounter in life. But you also want to teach them tolerance, acceptance and trust. I certainly don't want Pipo to be expecting people to judge him... and yet I don't want to raise him to be naive either.

It's hard posting things on a blog... so much is left to the interpretation of the reader. There's no good way to convey tone, inflection or attitude. I am sure that the woman yesterday had no idea Emma and Pipo were siblings... I wouldn't expect her to know that. But the tone of her voice, the expression on her face said everything to me when she spoke of the "African American boy."

Even before Pipo arrived, I had seen much ignorance. Having a big family puts us out there, so to speak, and leaves us vulnerable to peoples public (and sometimes very vocal) opinions. But I've learned over the years to listen carefully when people speak... and not just to their words. Two strangers can say the exact same thing to me, and have totally different meanings. When finding out we have 7 kids, I often hear, "Are you going to have more?" Picture these words spoken by someone with open curiosity and a smile on their face. I love talking to people who are genuinely curious as to what its like to raise a crew. Now picture those words spoken with a sneer, and a look of disgust. It's very hard not to read in the implications there... I'm overpopulating the world, I am irresponsible, I am creating tax burdens on those with smaller families, I can't possibly have enough love or attention for that many, and am therefore neglectful.

When we are in public, and Pipo yells "Mom!" to me, I get lots of reactions. I am the first to say that the vast majority of the reactions are positive. But it's the same deal. It's not the words, but how they are said. "He's your son?" with a smile and a curious look can often lead to a cool conversation about adoption. "He's your son?" with a look of disgust makes me wonder what the person is thinking. I actually had one person say straight out to me "do they all have different fathers?"

But I also know this ignorance is the minority, at least from what I have experienced. And even many of the most ignorant comments are from well meaning people. People who have just not been around different types of families, different types of people. (Don't even get me started on the dreadlock comments I have gotten!) But just because it is rare, it doesn't mean I should teach my kids that it is out there. Pipo needs to know, he needs to be aware. By not teaching him this I would be doing him a huge disservice. And so I walk that fine line, and try to teach him to not just hear the words, but the way they are spoken.


Jane (a.k.a. patjrsmom) said...

And a fine job you have done and continue to do.

God Bless,

Laurel said...

Great post!

We, too, have always gotten the large family comments (good and bad).

I was in the elevator once, with my 5 children under 5 years old, when a woman said, "Are they all yours."


"I sure as ___ would have had (my husband) fixed by now."

Yes ... people are ignorant, and yes, our children need to be taught about it. I'm just struggling with the when and how to do the teaching. Since you've walked this walk longer than I have, I look forward to learning more from you in this area.


mama of 13

coffeemom said...

I've read both posts now and I get it. I understand your fury, been there, done that, and I understand the frustration.

It's HARD to know how to handle this, and especially so on the fly, on the spot. I think you did fine! And I think it WAS good for Pipo to see that you will be there for him, "have his back", fuss at him for teasing, to claim him, to be his support his champion, regardless of anyone else's opinion. And of course, it wouldn't be any other way, but the kids, they need to SEE it played out sometimes to have it sink in somehow I think.

And I think it's only gonna get harder as they get bigger in some ways. Especially w/ a black son. He will no longer be just the cute little kid, he will be a young black man...which can be, sadly enough in our culture, threatening.
I anticipate this same stuff w/ my Little Man, he is going to be a large, strongly built black man and I suspect the little boy that people dote on now and who can charm the socks off most people, might just be the one that is looked at with different eyes as he grows into his adult self. And I have to help him, learn to know when to ignore the ignorance, and when to stand up firmly but properly against it. No small feat.

What a great mom you are and what a great mom to Pipo!!! Bless you! M

BSC said...

Wow... I can't believe all the posts misunderstanding your anger and the situation that sparked it. That was eye opening. The important thing is Pipo's perception. He felt safe and protected. Way to go!!!!