A few weeks ago we discussed a new kind of camp for Indian children adopted by white American parents. Today, via a tip on the news tab, I came across an article on Alternet by a Jewish New Yorker who adopted an Indian baby as a single mother, and was somewhat taken aback by the darkness of her child’s skin:
The first photo I received of Vaishali showed her with fair skin. I was surprised, because from what my adoption agency told me, the child assigned to me would be much darker. After I got over that surprise, I had another: I felt relief. Suddenly — guiltily — it was a comfort to know that she would not look so different from me, and even more important, that her light skin would save her from a lifetime of prejudice.
But ah, the magic of flashbulbs. A few months later I received several more photos and gaped at them in shock. The baby was much, much darker. (link)
Lisa Lerner has, initially, a lot of anxiety to deal with about the gap between her skin tone and that of her adopted daughter (read the whole article for examples: the kicker is the diaper change). She gets over it, but is still often surprised by the fact that no one in her social circle — including her Indian and Black friends — is as dark as her daughter:
Very soon, my daughter will have a lot to process. She’s adopted, she’s the child of a single mother, she’s an Indian Jew by conversion. We spent the summer with my father in upstate New York, and she was nearly always the darkest child in music class, gymnastics and day care. In New York City, even Blacks and Indians in Vaishali’s and my social circle are lighter than she. Over and over I see how light skin equals privilege. Now that I have become Vaishali’s mother, I realize: We need darker friends. (link)
I’m sure there will be some folks who will be offended that Lisa Lerner is publicly stating some of these things she says in this article. I personally am not: she’s expressing the shock she felt along with her embarrassment about that shock, and describing how she got past it. Yes, her initial reaction to her baby’s skin tone betrays “racism,” but it looks to me like she’s recognized and dealt with it.
Still, I wonder what people think about the solution she outlines: “We need darker friends.” Is it really damaging to a child (the baby has grown up some now) not to be around anyone who physically resembles her? And wouldn’t it be slightly strange to seek out “friends” on this basis?
[Oh, and one more thing: the Times recently had an interesting article on the growing number of cross-racial adoptions in the U.S.]