I am a white mother of a mixed-race daughter.
She is beautiful. Not just a little bit beautiful, but strikingly beautiful.
People are drawn to her and strike up conversations with us regularly. Many of them start like this, “She is so pretty! Look at those eyes! Where did you get her?”
I have also been asked how long it took to get her, how much it cost to get her, and what nationality she is.
There was a time when I had very blunt and very honest answers to these questions:
Where did I get her? She slipped right out of my vagina.
How long? About 24 hours give or take.
How much did it cost? Too much. I thought health insurance would really cover more.
Nationality? Um, she is American (do they mean to ask about race?).
Over the years, I have moved from annoyed to angry. There is an assumption imbedded in these questions: that my daughter must be adopted.
Before I go on, let me state clearly that I honor and respect adoption and adoptive parents, but I am not an adoptive parent. I will not pretend to know that journey. I would like to share my journey—the journey of the biological white mother of a black daughter. I am angry because these assumptions invalidate my experience. I am angry because there is quiet privilege in these statements.
Let me explain.
It is not just strangers that make this assumption. People who have known me for years pop in with the question of adoption at unexpected moments. There are times I am so shocked that I do not even realize until much later that these people truly wondered such a thing:
“It’s so great that you adopted. We need more moms like you.”
It feels very much like a microagression. There is a strange moment when I am unsure if I have a right to be upset; when I am not sure they mean what they say. I am quite sure they are not aware of the impact of their words. That is the crux of microagressions—the implicit message that feels awful, the inability to explain exactly why and the difficulty in figuring out what to do about it. It feels as though I am less-than if I tell them I am her biological mother. Apparently, bio-mom is not as cool or wonderful as adoptive mom.
When it is assumed that I have adopted, I can only wonder if it is because we are different colors. I wonder if it has to do with the fact that I am of “advanced maternal age.” I wonder if it is because I am white. I wonder if it is because I am a single mom.
It feels as though I am revered for this philanthropic choice to save some poor black child from a life of poverty and misfortune. It feels as though my real life story is not good enough.
It feels racist.
And it continues. After people realize she is my biological child, a different set of questions begin. Most often, the first question is, “Is her dad still around?”
Would it be different if she was white? Oh, yes.
How do I know? I have two older white sons and was a single mom for most of their childhood as well. No one asked if their dad was still around. Not once. No one asked me where I got them. No one asked me how long it took or how much it cost. No one put me on a pedestal for my obvious devotion to making sure they had a better life than their peers.
There is a big difference.
Our obsession with wanting some kind of exotic story is dangerous. Our stereotypical desire to assume white is good and black is bad is dangerous—even if it is unintentional, as I am sure it may be for many.
It also hurts. It hurts me.
It hurts my daughter.
To love is a grand story. Anyone who has truly loved knows this. Please stop assuming I chose to share my unearned privilege—my race, my age, my socioeconomic status—to give a black child a better life. We all make assumptions about a great number of things; it is how our brain improves on its already efficient decision-making.
And we all have the ability to intercept those assumptions in the moment and make changes.
Ask. Just ask me about our lives.
Because the truth is, I am her mom and I simply loved her dad.
Author: Sara J. Hills
Image: Youtube/Save the Last Dance
Editor: Erin Lawson