Walking down Cass Ave these days, usually with a friend or two, to the shops on West Willis Street it is likely I’ll hear, “What a beauuutiful baby!”.
Then the question – “Is he yours?” with the questioner looking at the closest black woman to my baby.
When I say “He’s mine” their reply is almost always an “Oh.”
Since Detroit, for many practical purposes, is a “food desert” (an area in the industrialized world where healthful, affordable food is difficult to obtain), I do a lot of my grocery shopping in the suburbs. The store is a pretty sociable place and Leroi is always in his car seat propped securely in the basket with the bassinet cover up (to shield from the store’s bright lights).
There will usually be one grandma each trip who runs up to the bassinet and ‘has’ to see the baby. When they see him they have a similar reaction, “Oh.”
So how do I feel about this reaction? Well, I’m not really sure. Of course I’m happy that my baby is very happy and healthy – and beauuuuutiful.
But it is obvious that regardless of whether the onlooker is black or white – the fact that my baby is black and that I look white is cause for pause, and sometimes concern.
As an eco-warrior mama and racial justice activist I have spent some time analyzing how I feel about being the adoptive mother of an African-American son, yet I do not have a decided position on interracial adoption.
Culture, and cultural preservation, are important to me. Multiculturalism is important to me as well as it embraces respect and understanding for all cultures – with the space to explore and preserve your own culture.
I have no doubt that Le, growing up in Detroit, having the friends that we have – along with the rich legacy his African American father is passing on, will have a strong sense of who he is as an African American man.
In these awkward moments, maybe the best I can hope for and the best response I might offer is simply some reserved judgment.
I always hope there will be follow-up questions to the “Oh” because I would love to talk about me and my adopted baby with people – random people – especially those who obviously love babies.
Though I hope others will reserve judgment and may be interested enough to gather more information, I know that is not something I always do. But it is one of my new mantras for the new year – give the benefit of the doubt and reserve judgment.
My own parents were not perfect, but I know my mom did try to teach me to give folks the benefit of the doubt. At least this is what I took out of her funny rationales for warding off her own road rage. If someone clipped our car she would say aloud, ‘oh no they must be going to the emergency room’. If someone is unbearably meandering down the middle of two lanes she would say, ‘I bet they have a fish tank in the front seat and they can’t let the water spill!’ That one – to this day – cracks me up.
But with all things it really comes down to the fact that we never know someone’s situation. Nor can we assume: who they love. How they grew up. Who’s in their life. What their beliefs or philosophies are. Or how they view, deal with and confront race.
I remind myself that life is better spent with genuine curiosity and understanding than to live it blocked by rage.