"but Jafta doesn't match"

India is in a stage where she is sorting and categorizing everything she sees. She likes looking at things in her world and pointing out the things that are the same, and then the things that are different. It's a great skill for her to be developing at this age (and probably one bolstered by lots and lots of Sesame Street).

However. One of the things that she has been noticing, as of late, is the fact that she and Karis "match", and she and Jafta "don't match". She comments on this fact with alarming enthusiasm several times a day. "Look, mommy! Karis and I have the same hair! But not Jafta! He doesn't match!" "Mommy, Karis and I are lighter. But not Jafta. He's darker. He doesn't match us." Every time she says something like this, I die a little inside. It sounds so cruel - and yet her intentions are not cruel. She is only making observations about color, hair and skin and eye color that do not hold the historial and familial weight that punches me in the gut every time she brings it up. For her, it is not an insult or an idictment about Jafta's status in our family, or in the world. It's just a little game of sorting, stated in the same wide-eyed curiosity as when she notices that her lunch box and shoes are the same shade of pink.




But for Jafta - sweet Jafta, her observations are hurtful. He pouts and slumps when she says it, turning to me and imploring, "who matches me?" with a quiver in his voice. Transracial adoption is always a learning curve, and over the past week I've wracked my brain trying to figure out how to curtail India's observations in front of Jafta, without making her feel ashamed of talking about physical differences. She's not doing anything implicitly wrong, but she is being unintentionally hurtful. In an effort to protect Jafta, I've tried changing the subject or talking over her, and also had several talks with both kids about how we match in other ways, and how skin color is just one of the many traits we have as people. We've pulled out books about racial differences, and we've tried to be more intentional with pointing out the similarities we all share. Most importantly, we've tried to be open to Jafta talking about his feelings, which often means squelching an overwhelming desire to minimize, defend, and deflect from these painful feelings for him. It's not easy to hear, but it's important. I've read enough experiences from adult adoptees to know that ignoring these feelings would be detrimental to him.


As we prepare to leave for Haiti next week, Jafta's feeling of being "unmatched" in our family is a reminder of how much we long for Keanan to join our family. I never wanted Jafta to feel racially isolated in our family. It was always my intention that he have at least one sibling who he can relate to in that way. And he does . . . I guess? But they are growing up without each other.


And this, for me, is the hardest part about transracial adoption . . . to say to Jafta: I cannot be your match. I cannot look back at you reflecting your nose, your hair, your eyes. I cannot give you this small but significant part of family life that is so taken for granted by most families, this "matching" that would make you feel more secure. I can only offer you the most mother love that I can give - and it will not be enough to erase that pain. But hopefully it will be enough to soothe it.

This is a small slice of what Jafta encounters as he walks around in his world, because in addition to being a minority in his own home, he is also a minority in his community. I have some more thoughts on that, thoughts that I'm still sorting through, but there was a recent study that confirmed much of what I'm already observed about children and race. The good news is that children are not inherently racist. The bad news is that they are inherently prone to sorting and classifying and grouping. I'm hoping to write more about this later, but for now, I would really encourage you to check out this article. It's long . . . but I think it's important for parents to understand these dynamics, as we strive to overcome the racial tensions that still confound our country.



11 comments:

  1. What a great post. As a soon to be adoptive and white mom of an Ethiopian daughter, I really like hearing about how you handled this. My two whiter than white boys will no doubt point out the obvious differences in our little sister. Thanks for being real! I love your blog!

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  2. My heart is crying for Jafta.. it's not fair!

    I read that article (we subscribe to newsweek) and found it really interesting.. my first thought was, of COURSE kids sort things.. this is one of the first skills we teach them.. put the circles in the circle slot and the triangles in the triangle slot.. which blocks are blue, which are red.. I wonder, PRE-US, do babies classify things this way, or are we training them to see same and difference right from the get go by teaching this "skill". (Look at any preschool workbook.. it is all about same and different, which things go together, classification...)

    An interesting aside.. when we had 5 brown kids living in our family, and went to a racially diverse church, still fairly frequently when we would go to walm.art or someplace and my kids would see a black person, they would shout out "LOOK! SHE'S BROWN LIKE ME!!" as if the person were some exotic creature and they had never, ever seen a black person before.

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  3. i remember when Cayden started doing this. it shocked me at first and i didn't know what to do. i wondered if i should tell him to just SHUT UP already or not .... i read "i'm chocolate, you're vanilla" and it reassured me that in fact my son was not racist but was just sorting!!!! :)

    The funny thing in our home is that Deacon is a lighter brown since he's biracial and i tend to have more of an olive skin tone and aaron is pasty white and so is cayden. so cayden's sorting goes like this: cayden and daddy match and mommy and deacon match. weird i know, but we go with it!

    i feel your pain and experienced this even more when Fedna was here. kids were staring and wondering if i was her mommy. which i wasn't so that was an easy way out. i wonder how it will be when A & S are here though. HOpefully our kids are so used to calling them brother and sister for the past TWO FREAKING years that when someone says something they will look at them like they are crazy. OF COURSE they are my real brother and sister!

    Okay enough rambling. have a great friday and you are not alone. i have no answers but you are not alone.
    :)Jamie

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  4. We are getting ready to adopt a little boy from Ethiopia. Your post gave me a little reality dose that we will have issues with the differences. Thanks for prompting me to do a little more researching on the subject as we prepare for our little guy to join our family.

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  5. We enjoyed looking at your blog.Please check out our blog and facebook page!

    www.thecoloroffamily.blogspot.com

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  6. maybe you could also put him in a pink shirt?

    ok... not funny.

    i'm so loving your honesty. i love that you can dig deeper and issues don't have to end up neat and tidy. i'm interested in hearing more of your thoughts.

    keep sharing.

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  7. What a great post....so glad that I found your blog while blog hopping tonight.

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  8. My first thought upon reading this is that you are a great mom, to all your kids. A really, really great mom.

    Then, I thought this...None of us match. All of us bring different issues to the table, even when we have the same skin color. Skin color makes the difference more obvious but, none of us are the same.

    Love to Jafta, Love to India, and love to my Sister-in-law who is paving the way for me.......

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  9. (Found you from your facebook post no The Color of Family)
    Wow! Thank you for sharing this. My niece is my exact mirror image and everyone is quick to point that out when they see us. I have never wondered how this will affect my daughter as she grows older. Now, reading this I am wondering if this will become unintentionally hurtful for her.

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  10. I'm raising my white kids in North Africa. I remember when my daughter was 4, at preschool, describing her friends. "Bomby is dark brown!" she'd tell me, and I'd cringe, but I kept my mouth shut, not wanting to burden those innocent observations with a weight of history and racism.

    Another time we had an African child...this is too long. We have experienced this also from the other side, of a child saying "I don't match." And me saying, "That's okay. You match in important ways."

    Best of luck as you sort this out! It was a great post and I didn't mean to hijack your comments. Here from TongguMama.

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  11. This is a beautifully written post. I have this issue with my family as well. Although my oldest and I look very similar in terms of facial features/structure, she is brown and I am very fair (despite being part African-American myself). Her younger sister is also very fair. Sometimes my oldest just really wants us to "match". I tell her that a lot of families don't "match" - which, fortunately in our circle, is very true. "You don't have to look exactly like each other to be a family," I say. "People can be different colors within the same family. It doesn't mean we are any less a family."

    I know one of your commenters said jokingly "maybe you can get him a pink shirt," but honestly - Viva loves it when we all wear the same thing. Even if it's just as simple as we're all wearing baseball caps or green shirts or something. It would be nice if you could buy the kids matching/similar "big sis/little sis/big bro/little bro" shirts. That way when Jafta is missing Keanan he can wear his shirt and feel closer to him. Or maybe even when you are in Haiti you could just buy them all something they can all wear everyday - like matching friendship bracelets (except for Karis, she might somehow choke on hers). That way they each have something that makes all four of them match even when they're not together.

    Okay, I've really gone on too long. But I feel for Jafta even though I know India isn't trying to hurt his feelings intentionally. I know it will be easier in many ways when Keanan is finally home. I do hope that happens soon.

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