Mother and Daughter
May 2020

Skin Color

BY AMANDA FIRTH

Mother and DaughterThis is part of a short series on foster parenting and adoption in Santa Cruz County. Proper names in the stories have been changed for the protection of the children and families involved.

An old and dear friend was over at our apartment to meet “our babies.” One baby was really about to become our baby forever. We were about to adopt a beautiful Latino baby. He was in the midst of a playdate with one of our former foster babies, who was white. The two of them were crawling around the living room together.
“It’s a shame you’re not adopting that one. That one looks more like you.”
I shuddered inside at my friend’s words. I wish I’d said something very evolved such as, “There’s a lot to unpack about what you just said. How about a cup of tea and an honest conversation?” I hate to admit that instead, a part of me just gave up on her, then and there.

We are a “mixed race” family. I wish people would never look at our family and wonder what the problem is. Assuming something is wrong comes from a deep place inside people. It doesn’t not come from us. It doesn’t come from my baby’s skin color that is different from mine.

That place inside people is not their invention. It carries so many years of embedded misinformation, it’s thoughtless, like breathing. No one welcomes that control center inside their psyche that sends those thoughts. No one tries to look at my family and wonder what the story could be. But no one would wonder about anything if we were the same color.

No one welcomes that part of themself. No one invites it in. But it is there. And it is each person’s problem, and theirs alone to overcome. It’s not my baby’s problem.
The decision to keep my baby in our care was an arduous one on the part of CPS; he had distant older relatives who came out of hiding when he was ten months old. Handling orphans with “different ethnicity” goes through trends and waves, and sometimes the trend is to ensure children are with a family of their own color. These trends are usually backed by research, but the arc of the story of a child and a family is individual. Research on something that is never the same twice can’t be applied to every situation.

My baby knows me, he knows my voice, sound, smell, breath, feel, arms. I am his mama and I have been for all his time that he remembers. The pain of moving a child away from his loving parents is pain that can only be told by one who has experienced it. This is a wound that shapes a life, a life that will be spent at least in part overcoming, rather than striding forward.

I am a scientist, and I know that race and ethnicity, like gender, are social constructs. There is no genetic basis to separate us. Our country and its many complex financial systems were supported by social systems, and those relied upon creating the belief that skin color made humans fundamentally different in their abilities, desires, and dreams. Our country’s foundation depended upon the false story of white supremacy. That pestilent story is hidden deep within the statement below.

“It’s a shame you’re not adopting that one. That one looks more like you.”
OK, friend, but THIS one is my baby. This one loves art and music, and playing with a ball, and sings to my favorite songs, and is comforted by the sound of the waves and the wind blowing through the trees. This one loves the mountains and loves to travel, and loves to be out of the house. This one loves our cats, our walks, our friends, and our family dinners. This one’s spirit knew we were waiting when he set foot on his journey to touch the earth. He knows our voices, our smells, our touch, and has built his understanding of human interaction around how we react. How you react, friend, matters to him, and matters to us. No matter what you may be holding on to in your invisible bag full of misconceptions, you’ll have to react with nothing but love and acceptance if you want to visit my babies.

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