When we were in NYC in September, we took the kids to see the Broadway production of Annie. It was fantastic and our kids loved it.
One of the orphans in the show was a little African-American actress. If I had seen this production ten years ago, I probably would have thought, Seriously? A little African-American girl in a Depression-era 1933 New York orphanage? Like that would have happened. How politically correct can you get? Is that really necessary? [As if Annie is all that historical in the first place.]
But in 2013, all I could think was, I am so incredibly happy that my kids can look up on that stage and relate to one of the characters in a more tangible way.
And they noticed. Oh yes, they did notice.
I used to roll my eyes at this type of political correctness. I was all about racial equality and I had friends from many different races. I spent years growing up in Africa and my boss at my college job was African-American. But the idea of sticking a non-white person into a TV show, book, or billboard (that wouldn't otherwise have one) often seemed kind of forced, like the publisher or producer was saying, Look how inclusive we are! Like they were going out of their way to be politically correct. I couldn't understand why it was such a big deal.
Then I adopted three African children, and everything I thought about race started to shift. I started noticing when there were only white characters in children's books, and gravitated towards the ones that had other skin colors. I appreciated children's TV programs that included other races. I got irritated that standard band-aids are peach colored.
I know very well that there are African-American adults who don't approve of white folks adopting dark-skinned children. I am very self-conscious about this. I could care less if there are white people who don't approve of our inter-racial family. Phooey on them. But knowing that there are African-Americans who disapprove makes me insecure.
I have been the racial minority before; I know what that feels like. I have been racially profiled and possibly even discriminated against because of my race. But I have never, ever been oppressed because of my skin color, nor were my ancestors. In fact, usually my race did the oppressing.
That is the one aspect where I can't relate to my children. And it is huge. I know that's why some African-American people don't approve of our family, because will I really be able to prepare my children for this racial world they are entering? And it does worry me, a little bit.
But let me say this. I have never before been so motivated to try to understand the African-American perspective. I am reading African history, African-American literature. I am working to see the world through their eyes. We are celebrating MLK in this family. I want to know. I want to understand. I want to get it.
And isn't that the pathway to racial reconciliation, anyway? Understanding? Valuing others as we value ourselves? Getting why it's so important to have an actress in Annie have dark skin?
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
It's easy for those of us on the non-oppressed side to think that everything is hunky-dory, maybe we even have a non-white friend, that we are not racist, so therefore we are fulfilling God's ideal. But are we really trying to understand those of other races? Are we going out of our way to welcome them into our homes, our churches, our lives....to bring about true reconciliation?
I am ashamed that it took me so long to get it.
My children gained a family when we adopted them. But sometimes I think that I am gaining even more.