My milky white hand holds her dark mocha hand in mine. She skips beside me, with joy in her heart, not a care in the world. We’re outside taking the dog for a walk in the neighborhood. It’s a safe place for her to hold my hand and just be herself. But often I’m not allowed to bring her to “family” events in public, for then her friends will notice we are not her real parents.
She doesn’t like that we have such distinctive colors. She loves me. I have a beautiful painting she made for me that says so. But this. This problem of our different skin color bothers her.
Our family experienced life as minorities for a short while when we spent a month in Lesotho. We felt the strangeness of being just a handful of white people in that country of dark-skinned Africans. We adjusted to the stares as we shopped and walked through the city center. We didn’t feel especially discriminated against, but we were obviously very different.
They critiqued us for being too skinny. They felt sorry for us and were surprised I’d managed to find a husband with such little padding on my tush. They showed great concern for lanky Olivia’s future and her marriage prospects. But, mostly, they loved us well, and accepted us, and our foreign ways.
Now where we are not minorities, we again find ourselves in the place of being judged for the color of our skin. It’s this strange place where no matter what we do and how loving we try to be, that underlying prejudice gets in the way. We feel helpless and know that, short of God’s intervention, there’s no escape from the challenge of overcoming prejudice.
We have always been open to receiving all foster children into our home, no matter their culture or race. But, it’s only when you receive children of another skin color that you realize how complex it can be.
First of all, we know our fair-colored skin makes it pretty obvious we’re not the girls’ bio parents. Like most kids in foster care, they want to keep this fact a closely guarded secret. So, we’ve had many discussions about how to explain our relationship to others. We’ve found common ground with them telling other people, “We’re staying with friends of our parents until they get their act together.” It’s mostly true. We’d love to be friends with their parents if they’d open that door.
Foster care tends to be messy. This issue is messy. It’s a combination of two things that cause the girls to experience anxiety because of our differences. The first issue is that they don’t want anyone to know they’re in care, but our different skin tones put a spotlight on this, and people ask questions. The second issue stems from the racism they’ve learned in their home. They wrestle with what they’ve been taught and told at home, and what they’re now experiencing. Somehow the two don’t match up and it’s confusing.
Living in this tension gives us a new vulnerability and perspective. The girls always notice when people stare at us in a restaurant or in public, whereas I have been oblivious to it. I thought it was a good thing that I was so clueless and somewhat “colorblind.”
For me, it just feels normal. They’re our girls and we’re simply a family having dinner. However, I’ve had to make a shift and pay closer attention. I’ve learned to be more sensitive to what they notice and how they perceive their surroundings.
Some prejudices are taught, but I believe with lots of love and actual life experience, they can be unlearned. It seems we all carry some kind of judgment and prejudice that lurks beneath the surface. Only with God’s grace can we recognize and reconcile this. We are praying for healing for our girls, for ourselves and that we’ll all learn to see what’s inside the heart.
God is at work.
Recently, when I offered to attend the elementary school field day festivities, she politely declined, “Everyone will ask who you are and they’ll see you’re not my real mom.” I accepted with understanding, but felt sad I couldn’t be there for her.
However, two weeks later, when the end-of-the-year class party rolled around, she asked me, “You’re coming to the party, right?”
I needed to be certain. “Are you sure you want me there?”
“Yea, I wished you’d been at field day to cheer me on. I want you to come. It’ll be fun!”
Something changed. The desire to have a loved one present and share her experience overshadowed her embarrassment and her fear of people finding out.
When I arrived at her classroom, she wrapped me in a big bear hug in front of everyone. And boy did that feel good!