© Beth Schaefer 2008. All Rights Reserved.
Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation
January 20, 2008

I've been thinking a lot about race lately - and not just because we are celebrating Martin Luther King Day.

As many of you are aware, my husband John and I are in the process of adopting a child. We don't yet have a specific child assigned to us, but we think it will be a girl, and that she'll be about a year old when we meet her for the first time. We can hardly wait until we receive her picture in the mail, and we're given authorization to travel to China to get her. Hopefully, that will be this summer.

When we decided to adopt, we began naively in some ways. We knew we would love a child just as much if she or he were from Iowa or Guatemala or Tanzania or China - this would be our child, after all! But we soon discovered that among so many other issues to consider, we would have to think very directly about race too. Because John and I are both European-Americans and our baby will be an Asian-American, this will be a transracial adoption. First, we learned that word. Then we learned from our adoption agency, from parents who've gone before us, from workshops and books and articles, that we will be asked questions in the grocery store. And she will be asked by schoolmates why she and we don't look alike. We'll need to talk together a lot about how families are made in many different ways. But that's not enough. We've also learned that, unlike you might think at first, we can't be colorblind.

For example, lots of research and stories from adult transracial adoptees show that we'll need to be sure that she has not only good adult role models, but that some of them must be good Asian adult role models. In one exercise at our agency, we had to put colored beads into different cups for the race of various people in our lives: What race is your doctor? Your dentist? Accountant? Best friend? How about your next door neighbors? Guests at Thanksgiving dinner?

Of course we will love our daughter with all our hearts, and of course we will want to help her explore all the wonders that life in America has to offer. But we've also learned that acknowledging and respecting and educating ourselves about her Chinese heritage is crucial too, so that when she grows older and has questions about where her ancestors came from, as we all do, we will be able to celebrate that heritage just as much as we celebrate so many things from the European roots John and I come from.

So our treasured daughter will become a part of our family; she will become an American; but she will not become white.

As we often say in discussions of race, we need to look beyond the surface - and that is very true. But we have to look at the surface too, so that we can respect and rejoice in what it is.

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