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Dear care and nourishment,
I (32 F) was adopted at birth by a white family and grew up knowing my birth parents were Italian American. I have dark hair and eyes, and olive skin. I now have a one year old daughter who is quite clearly darker skinned than me (my husband is rather pale so it is not his). If you saw her without context, I think most people would assume that she is mixed in with a black parent.
After some pretty tumultuous first few months of motherhood struggling with PPD and my husband wondering if our daughter really was his (she is and we now have the DNA test to prove it). I decided I wanted to take a 23 and I test to hopefully track some biological parents and find out more about my ancestors. I have fallen into a deadlock (at least so far) in terms of family members, but according to the results, about a quarter of my origins are from Africa. Seems inappropriate to me to claim an inheritance based on DNA results, but my daughter is not passing like me so I feel like I have to raise her to appreciate / understand her roots, as well as with an awareness of what it means to be black in America.
Obviously, there are people like adoptive parents who are raising children of different races, but it seems different to me. Am i black I feel like it’s wrong to claim it, I was not raised in black and I am not faced with the issues black people face in America. But if I don’t claim it, I feel like I’m telling my daughter that being black is something to avoid, or that I’m trying to distance myself from that part of her.
My family and husband think I’m overreacting and we can just pretend she’s ‘Italian’ too (even though just a few months ago she looked so gloomy everyone thought I was cheating). Honestly, their insistence that I drop this and we can continue the line about being Italian makes me wonder if my parents knew I had mixed ancestry from the start and just thought it would be more. easy to pretend I was white. They say the information about my birth parents came from the adoption agency, but I’ve never seen any forms or anything to back it up.
I just have no idea where to go from here. Whenever I try to talk about it with my family, it’s perceived as this unhealthy obsession that I have and that I’m going to raise my daughter to have a complex. It got to the point that even the things in my mind that have nothing to do with whether it’s black or white are meant to be overkill and PC myself. i was reading it Corduroy the other day, and it turned into a huge fight over whether I was even going to read his “black books” now, which is crazy to me because it’s not like reading centers or even breed mentions. I don’t know where it all came from because before I would never have thought my family was racist, but I don’t recognize what they are saying anymore.
I want my husband and I to go see or talk to a therapist, but apparently that’s another sign that I’m blowing this up. I feel like I’m living in this alternate reality of everyone. What do I do?
– Who am I?
Dear who am I ?,
Before you can discuss racial identity with your daughter, you must deal with the recent discoveries you have made about your own racial identity. Give yourself space to feel a range of emotions when you find out that what you have been told about your own ancestry is not correct. You deserve the time to work on it. It is not an obsession or an unhealthy fixation; it’s new information that is already having an impact on your marriage, your parenting experience, and your interactions with loved ones. It will continue to impact you from now on. Right now you need a support network, not a Greek choir of gaslighters. Your spouse and family may think they are helpful in trying to convince you that nothing important has changed, but you already know that is not true. Everything changed. Get on the path to reconciliation, whether your husband does or not.
You are right to recognize that your daughter’s experience as a person with darker skin will be different from yours. Even before she was old enough to realize her skin color, her complexion had already given rise to contested paternity. This calls into question the loyalty of his mother. This will continue to be a topic of conversation for her, as a child of two apparently white parents. You say if someone saw her with a “zero context” they would assume she had a black parent, and many will. But first of all, let her know that she doesn’t have to answer questions about why she has darker skin tone than her parents.
No one is accountable for this information. Except her.
When she is old enough, explain to her that although you grew up believing you were white of Italian descent, you found out after she was born that you were not. In fact, it was her birth that led you to discover her. Black ancestry is something you both share; it gives you a unique and independent opportunity to bond. Be honest about how being raised by white parents and navigating the world as an adopted white woman for most of your life makes it difficult for you to give her advice on how to present yourself in the world as a black girl. Decide together how you want to proceed in terms of cultural education. Give your daughter the honesty you were denied, but don’t expect to teach her to be someone you weren’t raised to be. Find resources and communities that can be instructive for both of you. You are learning this for the first time together.
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