White mama, black baby

I am a white adoptive mom of a beautiful black daughter adopted from Uganda.

This has become a part of my identity. It is something I cannot avoid. It’s obvious. Gabrielle and I look like mother and daughter – and at the same time we look nothing like each other.

I have a million feelings about this, though I am still struggling to find the right words. More than anything, I am thankful. Becoming a multi-racial family has been a rich experience.

I love Gabrielle’s dark chocolate skin. I love how it is soft like satin. I love the texture of her curly hair, especially when it’s still wet from the bath and combed through with lotion that makes her smell like a cupcake. I love the palms of her hands, the delicate tips of her fingers. I love how hot pink nail polish looks on her tiny feet. I love Ella’s full lips and her huge grin. There is a sweetness to experiencing a child of a different race. We are the same and at the same time different.

Though I’ve always been very willing to get to know people from different races and cultures, I’ve grown up around mostly white friends and family members. I feel some sadness about this. I feel like I’ve missed out. I want to pursue friendships with more people who are less like me. Adopting a child of another race and culture has opened a world to our family.

At the same time, there are some challenges unique to being a multi-racial adoptive family. For one thing, we stand out. Everywhere we go, we get a lot of attention. This attention is not always wanted. The attention is almost always positive, but there are some days I’m in my workout clothes with my hair in a ponytail and I’m just barely making it through the grocery store and no, I don’t want to share our adoption story. Not then and there.

But I am thankful we live in a community where we are supported. The Seattle area is wonderfully diverse. While we stand out, I don’t ever feel judged. I have not felt even a hint of hostility.

The one area I struggle being a white mom to a black daughter is in relating to black women. I’m going to be really honest here. It has to do with hair. I’m trying really hard, but still struggling with Gabrielle’s hair. I love it. We’re getting by. Someday her bald spot will go away. Hopefully by the time she’s two or three I’ll have it figured out. But when I see black mamas with their girls’ hair done just so, I feel both envious and sort of ashamed that I can’t seem to get it right. I don’t want to say something offensive so I usually don’t ask for help. I probably should. But I feel a little like I have something to prove.

There was a couple scenes in Grey’s Anatomy last week where Meredeith was working Derek was taking care of their adopted daughter and her hair was a mess. Near the end of the show, Bailey – the feisty African American doctor – said something like the lines of “you need to do yo’ baby’s hair!”

It made me laugh. Because that is the story around here. I am always doing Ella’s hair, though never quite getting it right.

Another thing that makes me happy lately is seeing positive stories and images of mixed race families. I really loved how The Andean Collection – one of the lovely artisan groups who partner with Noonday Collection – used a white women and a black girl together in their spring photoshoot. I hope to see more images like these as Ella grows up.

Sara Brinton

sara@defenseofthefatherless.com

SARA BRINTON is a writer and entrepreneur with a passion for reforming international adoption and orphan care. She leads marketing for Noonday Collection, a business that uses fashion to create opportunity in developing countries. Sara and her husband, Mark, live in Austin, Texas with their four children, including daughter Gabrielle who was adopted from Uganda.

4 Comments
  • Kailey Jensen

    February 29, 2012 at 3:57 pm Reply

    Hey Sara! Here are a few websites that have some great information about hair care for adoptive moms!

    Curlyloks – http://www.facebook.com/pages/CURLYLOKS/114646518555819

    Keep Me Curly – http://www.keepmecurly.com/p/cornrow-twist-videos.html

    Chocolate Hair Vanilla Care – http://www.chocolatehairvanillacare.com/

    Hope these help!

    -Kailey

  • Marci

    February 29, 2012 at 4:20 pm Reply

    hey… love this post. Very much how I feel too. I get so so nervous about hair and skin before going out… we’ve had a few of our first “sightings” and it is just weird… I don’t get it. But thanks for sharing.

  • Julie

    March 9, 2012 at 2:59 am Reply

    Loved this… This is something I’m definitely a little apprehensive about, although I can’t wait to add some diversity to our family photo! I was excited when I saw this picture in the IKEA catalog that has a white mama and black little girl… (page 146)http://onlinecatalog.ikea-usa.com/US/en/2012/IKEA_Catalog/

  • Sharron Miles Gilty

    August 22, 2012 at 2:35 am Reply

    Hi, Great article please check out our online community on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest (Our Daughter’s Hair) it is An online community dedicated to teaching non-African American parents of African American and biracial girls simple steps to caring for and styling their daughter’s hair.
    We hope that we can assist you with some of your issues so that you and your daughter are more confident and able to embrace her natural texture. Once you are able to master it then your hair days in the future with Gabrielle will be painless!!!

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