Since K's birth, we've gotten a fair amount of questions about her race. I don't post too many pictures of her on this blog for privacy purposes, but you may or may not have noticed her slight tan in previous photos. By contrast, I am very fair-skinned, so I think people tend to notice that she looks different more with me than with Joey, who has dark hair, dark eyes, and darker skin like K.
It doesn't bother me when people we know ask about her ethnic background, but in most cases, it hasn't been people we know who ask. It's been strangers. And it's almost always a question that isn't quite phrased right. (Such as, "what is she?")
I've noticed plenty of children over the years who do not look like their parents. In fact, I was one of those children. My brother and I were both born with red hair and fair skin. Our parents, on the other hand, had dark hair and darker skin. I'm sure they got plenty sideways glances when we were younger.
But I don't recall ever going up to families and asking them why their children look different from them, or having others approach me about why I look different from my parents. It seems completely inappropriate, right? Or am I alone in thinking this? I mean, I knew that this was something we would likely encounter adopting a biracial child. I guess I just didn't realize how often we would get comments – or the ways in which they would be worded.
Up until recently, I've been answering these questions with a straightforward, honest answer: she's half white, and half Hispanic. However, the more I answered this question with the truth, the more irritated I grew. WHY did they need to know? And, by giving these people an answer, am I letting them know that this type of behavior is okay? Because it's not okay! I don't go up to strangers and ask them about the color of their skin.
So, I started getting snarky. I've said things like "she's a baby" or "she's a princess!" when people ask what she is. I've thought about asking them a deeply personal question in response. ("Did you have sex with your husband last night? Oh, is that too much? If you don't want to answer a personal question, don't ask one!")
Yet, this is just as ineffective as answering the question. It's not serving anyone except for my anger. It's not teaching them anything except for "wow, that lady is a bitch." As K gets older, she'll begin to notice how I'm answering this question. I don't want her to grow up and resort to anger or sarcasm when people ask her questions that she isn't comfortable answering.
The truth is, it's a far more loaded question for K than people think. It isn't just about the color of her skin. It's about part of her background that we will never be able to share with her because we just don't have the information. It will always be this blank page in her story that we can't fill in for her, and that hurts my heart. I would love nothing more than for her to be able to celebrate who she is – her culture – but it's a piece of information we simply don't know.
Therefore, from this point forward, I've decided to be honest with strangers – truly honest. I will tell them that it's not appropriate to ask such a personal question. Because it's not. As K grows up, we will of course share her story with her, but we will also emphasize that this is her story. She can choose to share, or not share, with others based on her comfort level. This should be her decision, and not anyone else's. It's her personal journey.
And we'll teach her to always be respectful of other's personal stories - to understand that while she may choose to share her story, others may not.
Honestly, I wish I didn't have to teach her about respect and personal privacy. I wish I didn't have to help her navigate issues having to do with race. Instead, I wish people could just see the beautiful person that she is without focusing on the color of her skin.