#$%@ People Say To Transracial Families…

Kristen Howerton, Deborah Swisher and I got together with our clans one Sunday and made a little video about the #$%@ that gets said to us every day at the mall, the playground, heck, on our front yards! Being in a transracial family is a very visible way to walk through the world. I look at dumb remarks as a chance to advocate for adoption and to educate people who are usually well-intentioned, but insensitive. This video is in that same spirit. Plus, we had a blast making it. Hope you enjoy it. If you do, please circulate it!

33 Responses to '#$%@ People Say To Transracial Families…'

  1. Emily says:

    LOVE IT! Glad to finally see this. Very true. And painful. But still true.

  2. Farm Fresh Jessica says:

    I’m asking out of a caring place, for better understanding:why is it insensitive to say I love his hair?

    • Jillian says:

      The hair thing is really okay, in context, in my opinion (he does have awesome hair)! It doesn’t bother me at all when it comes from friends. It’s just that it gets kind of fetishized in a way and can become an object of interest from strangers in a way that’s out of balance.

      • kbiel says:

        It sounds like something people say because are uncomfortable and can think of nothing else to say. They know it would be bad to mention skin color or other racial features, but temporize that hair is a safe way to imply what they want to say, “but you’re white/black/non-Asian and he/she is black/Asian/white.”

  3. Laurie says:

    Love it!!! I posted it on Facebook and will put it on my blog!

  4. Stefanie says:

    Fabulous job, we’ve heard many of those, too. It was refreshing to be able laugh at things that can be painful/difficult/stressful/aggravating as all get-out in real life. Thanks for the laughs!

  5. emily says:

    this was great..
    i did want to ask why it’s a problem to say the child is cute/beautiful? i do this, and won’t anymore, but just wanted to get more information on what i am not understanding about that..

    i have also asked about where they are from… not in a way of isolation or singling out -or so i thought- i have really tried not to ever do that, it’s just i ask this to everyone – b/c i live in a large urban city & people are from all over. i can see how my asking in this situation really isn’t appropriate, but i guess i am still really trying to find the balance in all of it – because i am guessing the point is not to alienate (which is obvious) – but it almost feels like you can’t say anything – and if it’s just better not to, this is good to know- but it almost feels like i am ignoring something by asking the family that “looks the same” certain questions – and not doing the same for others.. it’s not the lens i see it through, so i am needing to work on that more.so sorry to ask these questions, i would really love your input – i am someone who never wants to fall into these categories..

    • Melissa says:

      @ Emily it is a problem to comment on how adorable they are for a couple of reasons. First, if I had a dollar for every time this happened I would be as freakin’ wealthy as Romney, it is very common for me to go somewhere with all my children, two of whom happen to be of a different race, and many people will ooh and ahh over how adorable and beautiful and exquisite my daughter is, meanwhile her equally attractive older white sister stands there all ignored…and ALWAYS feeling like crap about it. Which causes sibling rivalry issues, where we are often struggling I have gotten to the point now that I just look at her and say, “And you darling are just as beautiful and lovely!” Second, for some children, especially those who spent any amount of their childhood years in an orphanage, they learned quite quickly to use their looks to manipulate in order to get attention. That is a battle I have had to try desperately to win for years now. Not only is it incredibly unhealthy for my daughter to do that, it also devalues her. when people constantly comment on her looks, they feed that ugly monster that we try so hard to kill.

      Seriously, my bio daughter is a knockout…nobody comments on it because it is flat out inappropriate…but somehow for my adopted child it is socially acceptable.

      • Jillian says:

        Thanks, Melissa. This is a great reply. It’s a hard thing to explain and you did a wonderful job.

      • emily says:

        Melissa, thank you so much for the background on this – I had thought about the siblings, and it should have been equally obvious to consider i am not the only one making an observation/compliment on looks, and to a child – being identified based on looks can in turn, devalue other areas.

    • Jillian says:

      There’s definitely an issue of context and balance. It’s not just cut and dried. If I’m in a real conversation with someone, or if it’s someone who is interested in adopting, then it can be okay to ask if he’s adopted and where he’s from, even if the person is a stranger. The problem with the “he’s SO adorable” all the time (and he is, it’s true), and all the hair comments is about “othering” him and putting too much attention to his outsides. The point here isn’t to make people feel like there’s a gag order, but to make them sensitive to the fact that our kids don’t necessarily want to have to hear about their country of origin/hair/adoption etc. every single time they’re out with us shopping at the Target. Obviously there are some questions that should flat our NEVER be asked, like, “How much did he cost?” and, “What happened to his real mother?” Never. Ever. Other questions can be asked with conscious sensitivity. I LOVE talking about adoption, under the right circumstances.

      • emily says:

        i understand what you’re saying,and also appreciate you taking the time to respond. it’s hard to know the balance, because of the extremes you guys see.. however, i always want to be mindful of what i am saying, or doing, and realize – what my perspective/intentions are – doesn’t necessarily mean that’s what i go by.. please keep talking about this, i appreciate you not judging, and just being honest about what you’ve experienced, and the implications it has on your children.. i apologize for not seeing it this way from the start.

  6. The below is from my solo performance Sitting in Circles with Rich White Girls: Memoirs of a Bulimic Black Boy. Clearly the hair thing ain’t changed

    “Thankfully, mom and dad thought it was important for Bret and me to attend school with kids who looked like us. And since dad worked for the Tacoma Public Schools they were able to arrange waivers for us to attend Stanley. Where from day one── I found black people fascinating! ── They were loud, fast talking and could carry on entire conversations using just their neck and their hands.──Less fascinating── the discovery of my nappy hair and ashy skin.──Both of which seemed to be cardinal sins among black folks. Making me wonder if perhaps I should have come with a note,──“Dear, adoptive white parents, hair care and lotion are extremely important to the development and socialization of the black child, failure to cut, style and apply liberally, may result in daily ridicule.”

  7. kelly says:

    Loved it, thank you!
    It’s not that we get ‘offended’ when people comment about how cute our kids are (all kids are!) or about hair, really. It’s that it (sometimes) tends to come out in more of a patronizing way. I am less bothered by those things than prying questions which are simply inappropriate.

  8. Kelly says:

    You get my vote at the Oscars. Bang on! Thanks for making my day….

  9. Rhonda says:

    Loved it! Ummm, pretty much like 99.7% of those have been directed our family’s direction!

    Oh, need to add, for our second adoption of our son from South Africa (our daughter was born in Ethiopia)…they asked that since we did it once it must be quicker and cheaper the second time around. Sure, yeah, I guess I get the buy one get one half off deal.

  10. Oh gosh – loved the parody – and pretty darn realistic! Add in there that our daughter should play violin or be in gymnastics and we’re covered.

  11. Kate W. says:

    I still don’t get why “Is he/she your child?” is so offensive. I ask this question many times, and it has nothing to do with race, because I ask it even if the adult and child look exactly alike, because you could be an aunt, older sister, grandparent, babysitter, etc… If I know that it’s your child, then I have a jumping off point for conversation (ie. I have a kid too) or avoid making a faux-pas by assuming you’re the child’s mother, when you might be the baby-sitter. I don’t ask about whether they are adopted or if the other parent is another race…I just stick to “general parenting” topics. Maybe you could explain this, please?

    • Margaret says:

      I have never heard anyone say this to an adult accompanied by a white child.

      • Kate W. says:

        I’ve asked that qustion to all races, whether the adult and the child are the same race or different. In fact, I’ve probably asked it more to caucasions adults with caucasion children, because they are the majority. It’s important in many cases for me to know your relationship to the child, as I run childrens’ programs at a library, and there are different legal rules for legal guardians and parents, as well as it helps me to avoid making assumptions that could cause embarasement. We have parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents, babysitters, daycares, etc… of all races (and a few mixed race families, blended families, adopted transracial families, families that also babysit two or three other children od various races, etc… that come to these programs. I don’t want you to have to explain your whole family situation to me, as long as I know if it’s your legal child, or if you are babysitting or an extended family member.

    • Sarah says:

      I can’t speak for anyone else but I can answer from my perspective. I’ve gotten this question when out with my brother (he’s black, I’m white, there’s a 15 year age gap so it’s always fun to watch people try to figure us out, especially as he gets older and they assume we’re dating) and also when out with friends and their children. I have one friend whose blond, blue-eyed son is often mistaken for mine. He’s a great kid and I’d absolutely claim him, but I just get weary of assumptions. It doesn’t matter. I’m tired of feeling like I need to explain my family connections or relationships in regards to the people who are accompanying me to Target. It isn’t relevant to anything.

      I would wonder if there aren’t better ways to ask or find out, if the information is something you need to know. I think this could come up pretty easily in introductions (“Nice to meet you, I’m Sarah, this is my brother J, this is my friend’s son A”). It would probably depend on the place. In a setting where this would be completely reasonable information to share, it wouldn’t be uncomfortable or tiresome.

  12. Gem says:

    hilarious and ohhhhhhhhhhhh so true :)

  13. Jax G says:

    LOVE your video! As a mom in a blended, transracial family, I am also subjected to most of these comments. I try to be patient and view these situations as learning/teaching opportunities, but still find myself feeling frustrated despite the knowledge that most people generally don’t ask to be malicious, they are just curious or innocently ignorant. I was once asked by a man at McDonald’s if I thought my daughter’s skin would get lighter as she got older, so she would look more like me. I was dumbfounded, but managed to respond with “Why would I want that? She’s perfect the way she is.” I wish in retrospect I had given him a better speech, but hopefully my response was effective enough.
    My daughter has also learned from her time in the baby house that being cute and charming was the fastest way to manipulate people to get what she wanted, and we still have to deal with the effects of that because every time we go out, people also comment on how “cute” she is. I’ve learned to thank people, and then also point out to them that she is also very funny, kind and smart and is great at sharing, and those are her best qualities, not just her appearance. People usually understand quickly why I’m saying that, but I still have to have private conversations with my daughter about how “cuteness” only lasts so long and while it’s nice to be cute and get attention for it, being a kind person and using her intelligence is what she will need to be successful and happy in life.
    As for the hair – don’t get me started! There have been times when I wanted to hang a sign around my daughter’s neck stating “I am not part of a petting zoo” because somehow when people see a black child with a white parent, they feel it is ok to touch or stroke her hair. It is not!! Would those people walk up to a black child with black parents and do that? Of course not!
    Thank you so much for bringing attention to a topic that few people understand. Great job!

  14. Christine says:

    LOVE it! we have 4 adopted children, oldest is 16 and been getting these comments since the day we brought her home. We take them as an opportunity to educate as well! Most of them don’t really bother me, except the ones that say “you’re so wonderful for doing that!” I reply, they’re my children just like your children are yours.” I am NOTHIN special for having my babies I love to pieces.

  15. Glenda Hayman says:

    I have a friend who has adopted two african/american children. She is caucasion. My on and her son are friends. They were approximately 3 (her son) and 4(my son) when one day there were playing and suddenly my son stops in his tracks, looks at Jackson and says “When did you get so black????”. Jackson just looks at him, they went back to playing without a problem. We later talked about races and such but oh if we could only ALL be so colour blind! I have two disabled children and we face much of our own kind of %$#@!

  16. Carey says:

    2 thumbs up!! THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU for the laughs!!!

  17. Thanks for this. I shared it on my blog.
    http://michellecusolito.blogspot.com/2012/11/what-not-to-say-to-transracial-families.html

    I’d also like to thank all of the commenters for their thoughtful questions and comments. If difficult topics were always discussed in such a respectful way, our world would be a much better place.

  18. aaryn730 says:

    Yup. We’ve heard every single one of those comments. And one you missed: “So…what’s her story! I mean, like, is she a crack baby?”

  19. Niki Kelly says:

    There is always the Miss Manners option:

    “oh, why do you ask?”

    In which you flip the question back on to the asker in an attempt to mirror back the inappropriateness.

    If they were truly just curious and realize the question was misguided it gives you an opportunity to graciously change the subject to more acceptable things.

    However if they are being daft and persist you can ask some questions of your own, like where are THEY from or how much their children cost, maybe you can see who got a better deal?

    I think you will find it an interesting addition to the bag of trick Im sure you have already built up to anticipate and answer these kinds of questions.

  20. HE LOOKS JUST LIKE ZAHARA!! Hilarious. OMFG– you could probably do a whole series on unintentionally mean shit moms say to one another. Nice work!!

  21. Gabrielle - Mum to an Ethiopian Princess says:

    You forgot to add “Does she call you ‘mum’?” (or mom :-))

  22. Lisa says:

    Worst thing said to me thus far…

    My kids had been in the US for about 3 weeks, and I was in the grocery store trying to get just a few necessary items. An older woman stopped me in the middle of an aisle and asked, “Did you adopt them? Are they from Africa?” “Um, yes. Ethiopia.” “Oh,” she says, “You are so amazing! I always wanted to do something like that, but not from Africa. I didn’t want anyone to think I had slept with a black man.”

    So I’m standing there, in stunned silence, with my two kids who (thankfully) couldn’t understand enough of what she was saying to be as mortified as I was, and I’m trying hard to come up with something…anything to say. And a woman just a little further down the aisle pipes up on my behalf, “Oh, like any black man would WANT you!”

    Shut the woman right up.

    • Jillian says:

      I’m sure you and I could write a book on the inappropriate things people say alone. I’m so glad families like ours have each other to lean on.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.Required fields are marked *

*