Last night for my Mother’s Day gift my mom took me to see a movie about African American Jews. It was a documentary and autobiography about a woman who is bi-racial and raised in a very traditional Jewish household. It turns out that her mother had an affair with a black man and she was his biological daughter. However, they never told her or acknowledged it until she was in her 30s. YIKES. The family was in such deep denial that they never mentioned it and just kept insisting that she was a dark skinned Jew.
The film maker does a lot of work on ethnic diversity amongst the Jewish population. It was a great night and brought up a lot of thought provoking questions about identity and race. I was so glad that I could go with my mom.
During the question and answer section I raised my hand and had a question (and a statement). I first stated that everyone in the adoption world should watch her film. There are people (who are allowed to adopt) who insist on raising their children “color blind”. They don’t want to talk to them about race or africa, they don’t want to celebrate where they come from. This film was a good example of what happens when you deny your children who they are.
My other question (which is something I have been struggling with) is how to marry our Jewish identity with Davy’s black identity in a way that doesn’t feel perfunctory (yes she says Oy Vey). The filmmaker had a great answer which is that as parents we need to “do our own work” about who we were, learn about white privilege, race and be comfortable in our own skin. Only then we will be able to guide our children down the path of who they are and become. I appreciated that answer. It was honest and exactly on target.
There was another speaker that night, a professor from PSU that was giving us a talk on racism. I didn’t like her as much because I felt like she was lecturing us (she is a professor after all). The crowd was actually pretty diverse for an event at the Portland Jewish Museum and I felt like she was talking down to us. She was talking about her background (as a mother, teacher and grandmother). Out of the blue she said “and my daughter is getting her PHd and is doing a dissertation on transracial adoptions (literally pointing at me) and let me tell you right now its a hot mess. HOT MESS.” Wha?!?
I am the first to admit that this is tough territory, BUT we are in a room talking about race and identity. I am the first to be self effacing. Andy and my parenting motto is to screw Davy up as much as or less then we are screwed up. I am also working hard to give Davy the opportunity and space to become who she is, and to identify anyway she wants/needs to identify herself. Ethiopian, African American, Jewish, Pacific North Westerner, daughter of honkies, etc. She is a baby but will get there. I think one of the benefit of being a 40 year old parent is that I have been around the block and I think that there are benefits to this. For me the biggest benefit is to say that I don’t have all the answers when it comes to navigating racial issues. I would be worried if I thought I did. Davy is going to have to navigate this terrain on her own. I can’t do it for her. Its my goal as a parent to give her the armor to fight her battles. Give her the love and support so that she feels like she can fight them. And when we have questions, to seek answers that may help her, even if they are uncomfortable.
One of my favorite bloggers once said that we can’t walk the racial terrain for our children. As white mothers of a transracial family all we can do is walk besides our children. Give them a staff to lean on. That is sage advice.
NOW its 7:15 a.m., Davy has been up for 15 minutes and is whining in her crib for me to get her. Her diaper is wet, she was playing in sprinklers all day yesterday, so she needs a bath and breakfast. I gotta go get her day started. Otherwise she is going to be a REAL hot mess.