Tuesday, July 16, 2013

two worlds

The night we left Ethiopia with our two newly adopted children, a young man working at the security checkpoint paused in front of us for a moment. He looked at me, my exhausted white, clearly American face. He peered at my son, brown, tiny for 5 years old, looking with curious eyes at everything around. He questioned Daniel quickly in Amharic, glancing at me.  Daniel replied affirmatively.  Then the young man turned to me and said,

"Your son is a Lion of Africa. You must raise him to be proud, yes? He is the pride of Africa." *

I said, yes, of course, nodding vigorously.

But I could not meet his eyes.

Because I knew I was taking him to a country in which he would not always be treated well, in which he would be a 2nd class citizen. Loved, well fed, well cared for? Yes.  Go to good schools, be able to travel and see amazing sights? Yes. Have access to great medical care? Yes. Have amazing opportunities? Yes. But.

He would be black in a White country. No longer Black in Ethiopia.

And I felt terrible guilt about that. I still do, especially this week. Trayvon Martin was the pride of his family. He was a Lion of Africa. And now he's dead, and his killer walked free. And there are so many more Trayvons in this country.

Don't get me wrong: plenty of Ethiopians are killed violently. Too many Ethiopian boys die too young. But they don't die violently just because they are black boys. 

An important thing to know about Ethiopia is that it was never colonized. It never had white rulers or slavery, unlike almost all other African nations.  Ethiopia has always been independent, and that is a point of pride for Ethiopians.

As it should be.

To be a white mother of a black boy is to have one's white privilege ripped off like a blindfold.  My head and my feet remain in the White world, but my heart is in the Black one.  To have children, some wise person once said, is to have one's heart walking around in the world.

I may be safe, and not be followed in stores, and be able to hail a cab at night, and not be harassed by police, but my heart is not that safe. My heart walks around in black skin.

My family lives in two worlds. We live in America; we live in Ethiopia. We live in the White world; We live in the Black world.  Lots of people like to say that there isn't a Black America and a White America. Look at the President! I'm pretty sure it's only white folks who say that kind of thing.

Racism is an American disease for which we are all carriers. Yes, myself included. We are all infected; it is part of our heritage. Some people have it full blown- they are easy to diagnose.  But we all have it, even just a little bit. And the sooner that we all acknowledge that the better.  The sooner we can take a hard look at our criminal injustice system. The sooner we can acknowledge the failings of our unequal school system. The sooner we can make better choices in the voting booth.

It is hard for me to acknowledge that I took my children from a country in which their race and their heritage is a point of pride to a country in which they will have to learn to protect themselves from violence, discrimination and racism.

How I wish to meet that young man again and have a cup of coffee with him at the Addis Ababa airport.  How I wish to tell him how beautiful and strong and smart my son is. How I wish I could ask him for his advice for Daniel.

A Lion of Africa.

* It is very rare for Ethiopians to speak so boldly, especially to strangers. Ethiopian culture values politeness, privacy, harmony. He must have felt very strongly to speak his mind in that way.


  1. I love this entry, Becky. Truly from the heart... of both a white and black world.

  2. I've been thinking about you and Daniel these last few days. How to explain to and prepare him (and Lily) for the world they live in. " My heart walks around in black skin." I love your writing and the deep thoughtfulness you have. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Becky, I just found your blog. Words cannot express how much I love this post. I'm doing a 31 day series on Older Child Adoption. I'm going to talk about race this Saturday and will be linking to this post. I think every adoptive parent should read this. Thank you!


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