I go to one of three grocery stores every week, depending on my mood and my errand route. There is one in particular that is very close to my home, and I often prefer it due to the fact that it’s most usually near empty. It’s easy to get in and out of and there is always that one shopping cart available for Shepherd. The car one that is so incredibly heavy to move around, but brings him enough delight to fill my whole shopping trip with smiles and toddler “vroooom” sounds. There’s only one problem with this grocery store, and it’s the woman whose shift schedule I clearly cannot avoid.
You see, when I first started coming here, I always thought she was in a bad mood the days I came shopping. But over the course of the last year and a half, I have discovered what I now know to be true: she doesn’t approve of the way my family looks.
I would never make such a grand judgment call if I were not positive and if they were not proven through a series of weekly events that have made me passionate enough to write about it here. We enter the checkout line politely and unpack our groceries onto the belt. Shepherd loves this part. He repeats, “Help you? Help you?” as he leans forward over his car steering wheel and grabs each item clumsily, then flopping it onto the counter. Meanwhile, the woman refuses to make eye contact with him or me. Eye contact is pretty much a standard if you’re working in customer service, in my opinion. But if the story stopped there I wouldn’t be writing this. She scans my items, never saying a word, never looking at my face, and never even telling me my total. If I’m lucky, I’ll get a brash, “You can scan now,” though oftentimes our entire checkout process will be in complete silence. And so I load my bags into my cart in awkward silence and push our cart away. Every. Single. Time.
You may be thinking, “This lady is just grumpy, how do you know it’s about race?” Well I’ll tell you. You see, I don’t always shop with Shepherd. Sometimes my husband will hang with him and I’ll run out for a few things alone. These times, I make it a point to enter her line (avoidance is not my forte,) and when I am alone my experience is not just different, but it is as if I am talking to an entirely different human being all together. She greets me with a lovely smile and questions, “How are you today? Did you find everything okay?” I respond politely, but her chatter doesn’t stop there. She inquires about the food I’m purchasing and even asks what I plan to make for dinner. It feels as if she’s an old friend. She tells me my total, asks me if I have my grocery store membership card, asks me about my day and my plans, and talks to me as I finish the transaction and walk away.
For the first six months, this happened 100% of the time. She would act one way when Shepherd and I were together, and the other way when I was alone. There was never an exception. So, for those first six months, I came to this conclusion: she must not like children.
Except over the course of the next year, I collected a variety of store experience with her sandwiched in line between white parents of white children, and the situation was even more obvious and disheartening. She would chat and giggle with the white children and their parents, and I would get the cold, harsh side of her personality. Only to begin exiting the line to hear her begin chatting in a bubbly fashion to the family behind me.
I do not think she knows, when I am alone, that I am the mother of the black son, because she never looks at my face when we are together.
This has happened time and time and time again over the last year and a half, to the point where I decided to ask a friend, a black male friend, if he experiences this often around here. He said yes. He then told me something I will never forget, “It no longer matters that you are white. When you are with him you are in the presence of racism, you will be treated as if you are lesser.” This perfectly summed up my experience in this one example amongst many I have encountered. Lesser. That’s the feeling I was feeling. Inferiority.
Transracial adoption is a delicate subject, just like anything involving matters of race and ethnicity. But however delicate it is, as a mother and father of a black child, our voices should rise up as those in favor of treating every individual as one deserving love and respect. For us, skin color has never dictated how we are to love, and from the moment Shepherd’s mother found us fit to be his parents, our love for him has interwoven into every fiber of our being, and it was all founded upon her decision to place him into our arms to love and raise and nurture.
I imagine that our experience as a family of differing colors is quite different than the family the next town over, the next state over, or across the country and world. Every territory has it’s own culture, all within one great big culture that is always growing, always shifting, and hopefully always progressing towards improvement. However, this truth does not make the sting of racial injustice less painful.
I cannot claim to know what racial injustice feels like on a personal level, but I feel it for my son. And that is enough for me to say this: don’t let transracial adoption scare you. You will love your child the same, no matter what they look like. However, the world may not. And that, my friends, is all the more reason to raise your voices and let your love fight battles that cannot be fought with fire.