I walked into the lobby and pushed the arrow for the elevator.My daughter was two weeks old when I had that epiphany on the elevator.
The metal doors slid open and a black man was standing inside. He had baggy pants on, dreads and a flat-billed baseball hat.
Eyes wide, I quickly scanned the situation.
Is he grabbing his waist band? Does he have drugs on him? What about a gun? Or a knife? What’s he holding in his hand? Do I want to be stuck in an elevator with this man?
My mind raced. My heart nearly thumped out of my chest.
As the metal doors began closing, I made a decision.
I stepped in that elevator and rode it up to the third floor.
But when I got to my destination – a work-related meeting – I was angry. My blood was boiling, and I was embarrassed and ashamed of myself.
You see, by all physical accounts, that man could have been my daughter’s birth father.
She was a perfect mix of chubby cheeks and thick curly hair when I realized that perhaps I held some deep prejudices and unfair stereotypes against people who look like her.
Boy, that’s a hard pill to swallow. As a mother raising two children of color, this admission is not something I’ve ever been proud of.
In fact, this is the first time I’m sharing it publicly.
But for me, that moment in the elevator was the beginning of an important journey – not just as a mother, but as a human being.
Adopting transracially has cracked my heart wide open, exposed the ugliest parts of me and forced me to unpack years of prejudices I learned through growing up in a predominantly white small town, while marrying a white police officer serving in a large metropolitan area while pursuing my own career in TV news as a crime and courts reporter.
It wasn’t until after we adopted our oldest daughter that my husband and I began learning about our roles as well as the complexities and responsibilities that come with raising children of color. Nothing could have prepared us for our inadequacies at doing so.
From hairstyling techniques and skin care routines, to prioritizing diversity in absolutely everything we do, adopting transracially has wrecked us in the best of ways.
We’ve begun listening – and I mean really listening – to people of color and their experiences. We’ve shed tears over the guilt and shame we felt for spending decades in careers systematically embedded with racism. We went through a phase of self-resentment, and we’re continuing to grapple with how to leverage our inherited and unearned privilege for good in our family and community.
Our family’s journey hasn’t been easy. In fact, there have been days it’s been really, really hard.
I’ve lost friends who have claimed I talk about race “too much.” I’ve had uncomfortable conversations with family members who claim to love my children yet support systems, programs and people in power who indirectly [or directly] discriminate against people who resemble my children and their birth families. I’ve made mistakes. I’ve said the wrong things. But my goodness, I have been on a significant learning journey – not just for my daughter’s sake, but for my own – and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
It’s been nearly four years since I had that life-changing moment in the elevator.
My husband and I now have two daughters who came to us via adoption, ages 3 and 2; a biological daughter, 1, and another baby on the way.
Our blended family will likely always garner second-glances and the occasional comment from a stranger. We will attempt to understand how we can best navigate a divisive culture with unity and solidarity. And perhaps most importantly, our family will continue to be a prime example of pure love and commitment – one that acknowledges yet transcends racial complexities and barriers.
Sure, our familial structure is more complicated than some, but it is much more beautiful and purpose-driven than it ever would have been had my husband and I not adopted transracially.
My young children have taught me more lessons about tolerance, acceptance and love than other people may learn in an entire lifetime; and for that – I am so, deeply grateful.
This piece was originally published in The Des Moines Urban Experience.