Becton has never seemed to care much about the color of his skin. Without missing a beat, he will name many of his friends, adopted from various countries around the world, who have white mothers. (Our racially/ethnically diverse elementary school makes this possible.) He chooses his girlfriends according to personality – can they dance and sing? – rather than any particular externals I can determine. His girlfriends have been pale-skinned, blond and blue-eyed. They have been Chinese and African-American and Ethiopian. At one point, he said – trying to get a handle on the kind of girls he likes – “One of the parents has to be Jewish and the other has to be Christian.”
I expected something different from Becton, having been the parent of Journey first. Journey came into the world wondering why she did not look like the rest of her family. Her sense of being different is a big part of the reason we decided to adopt another “different-looking” child. Of course, we prepared ourselves as best we could to embrace these differences by being conscious about the construction of the communities we chose to put ourselves in. Were they diverse? Would our children see themselves in other people’s faces? We’ve done well, I think, with the school. We’ve done well in choosing a dance studio and athletic teams. We’ve not done as well, in this regard, with our church choice. But there were other factors and other children to consider with regard to church. I keep meaning to take Becton and the rest of the family to the AME church down the road where my old friend from theology school is the pastor. Interestingly, Becton’s lack of interest in seeking out African-American communities has affected my own energy around this topic.
Is this like the “sex talk” or the “adoption talk”? You are not supposed to wait for the child to ask. You bring up the subject when they are young, over and over again, so it becomes comfortable and natural for them to ask their questions when they arise. You bring up the subject, over and over again, so they know YOU are comfortable with the topic, that it is not taboo. With regard to both these subjects, I have been proactive, if not overly communicative. One of my funny memories about sex-talk revolves around Emily’s modesty. She was known to cover her ears and start chattering to herself to drown out my words whenever I brought up sexual topics. From the back of the van, one of the other children would yell: “Tell us some more about penises, Mom!” Then they would all burst out laughing while Emily continued to cover her ears and moan.
Of course, now that we have teenagers, the door has been shut – or partially shut – with regards to both the subjects of adoption and sex. Puberty has a way of announcing that parents know NOTHING about what a young person is experiencing and has nothing of value to add.
Though I’ve not been as energetic around seeking out African-American communities for Becton (or Spanish-speaking and Native American communities for Journey) as I anticipated I would be, reading to my children has been a source of unexpected inclusion. I’ve noticed that when we go to the library for books, I am now drawn to stories with non-white children on the covers. Why didn’t I see these books before? Surely, many of them were there. But my other-than-white children have opened my eyes to literary riches I never knew before Journey and Becton entered by life. Even when Becton resists reading, I load up my arms with books about black children because I want to know what words of enlightenment lie between the covers.
Becton is an energetic child prone to destruction of almost anything through sheer fidgetiness. But at night, he snuggles up with his blanket in bed and calms down to the sound of my voice as I crawl in bed with him and begin to read. He asks lots of questions. He interrupts to anticipate what will happen next in the story. He is not a passive listener. We are both intrigued. Often, the books are written by persons with a keen sense of African-American history. They tell us stories about African-American culture or the history of racial discrimination.
Last night, we read a story about a black family in the 1930s who lived by an airfield where the black men worked on the planes but were not allowed to fly. Becton asked “why” and we revisited the topic of segregation to which Becton nodded, knowingly. He said, “That’s why Lady Gaga wrote ‘Born This Way’.”
I smiled. He has an interesting set of role models – not Dr. King or Rosa Parks or other black leaders that children now learn about in school. But Becton, in his own unique way, gets it. And, I have to admit, I like the fact that he sees how non-blacks can have a role in fighting discrimination. He is a man of his generation, a generation that will be different than my own and, hopefully, better.