Monday, 24 January 2011


When I was little, I loved music. I still love music, but back then I really loved music. And nobody ever said that it was because of the colour of my skin.

A white kid who is good at music (and lots of white kids are good at music) is never told that it's a racial characteristic. People never said to my mother 'oh well of course little Claudia loves to sing! She's white! It comes totally naturally to her!'

I think you can see where this is going.

Lately I've been thinking about complexity. I don't like the fact that sometimes, people think they know about my kids, when they don't know my kids. From what people say to me, sometimes I get the feeling that white kids are allowed to be complicated, and infinitely variable. Black kids, on the other hand, are expected to be good at music. And running.

And guess what? I think that my kids are pretty musical. And maybe it's genetic, but there's also a good chance that it's because I make sure that the three of us spend time singing and dancing together every. single. day. Probably, it's some combination of the two and there's no way of unpicking how much belongs to nature, and how much to nurture. If they do have this talent, I want to celebrate it because this talent will be part of what makes them who they are: what makes Blue, Blue, what makes Pink, Pink. Not because Blue and Pink are black.

I have no idea, yet, whether they will be good at running; they are still at the drunk zombie stage of walking. If it turns out that they can run quickly, I can tell you now that will be nothing to do with me. That will be because their mother or their father could run quickly. Or, maybe it skipped a generation and it was one of the grandmothers who had this skill and passed it down. But if it happens, it's going to be something that came from their family, not from their race. I think there is such a big difference. And so I don't want anybody assuming anything about what they're going to be 'genetically' good at, unless that person knows their first family.

We humans have small brains, and we live in a big world. It's understandable that we want boxes to put our thoughts in, and use then use those boxes to put people into. But I think that one of the best ways we can show respect to other people is to allow that they are complicated. Even if our stereotypes are 'positive' stereotypes, I think stereotypes are always demeaning, because they stop us seeing a whole person and only let us see a cardboard cutout, and who wants to be a cardboard cutout? I think this goes for more than just race, although race is what is making me think about it.

I've said before that I think adoptive parents run the risk of talking about Ethiopia as if it is a theme park, and Ethiopians as if they are always a nation of beautiful, friendly, cheerful people. We certainly met beautiful, friendly, cheerful people while we were in Ethiopia. But we also met a few who were surly, a couple who were lazy and at least one who was deeply depressed. (We even met a guy who wasn't good looking. Shocking, I know). They certainly were not all singing and dancing, and I think some of them even wanted the latest consumer goods. It seemed to me that it was a country full of people just like me, really. Different from each other. And complicated.

And complicated is what I want people to expect of my Ethiopian children. Maybe, in some kind of grand cosmic joke at our expense, they will turn out to be musical and fast and that will be the sum of their talents. But maybe their youthful tunefulness will turn into tone-deaf caterwauling as they grow; maybe they will be as slow and uncoordinated on their feet as I am. More likely, they will be averagely musical, and averagely speedy, and the gifts their first parents have given them will turn out to be totally different: gifts for listening, for storytelling, for comedy, for chemistry, for climbing trees. We can't know now, and we don't need to. I want them to be able to develop into who they are, free of expectations.

I just want people to let my kids be complicated.

One more thing: I'm going on a blog break for the next month. I need to spend my writing time on this supposed book, and if I don't say here that I'm taking a break, my resolve will crumble. See you soon!


  1. Well, I will say this: when we first told my Dad we were adopting from Ethiopia he got excited for the possibility of a distance runner in the family. He's a marathoner so this is something he'd really love. But, there is a fact of nature at play: East Africans are known to have 70-75% slow twitch muscle fibers which are known to help endurance athletes. Of course obviously not all East Africans are endurance athletes (duh!) but I didn't take too much offense at his comment :)

    And this book--I'm in awe. I want to write our story so badly but feel so overwhelmed. So.overwhelmed.

  2. I love how you keep changing the background and the little tagline :)

    I agree 100% with this post. 100%.

    And stereotypes do box you in - I've always felt that there's SO MUCH MORE to people than just x or y.

    Also, when did you start calling them Blue and Pink? That is so darn cute!

    Hey, all the best with the writing - I love the discipline. Shall I send you some chocolates to keep your energy up? Seriously :)

  3. Marcia - I suddenly realised that I couldn't call them 'baby I' and 'baby L' anymore cos they're no longer babies! Booooo :( In the end, blue and pink was all I could come up with! (And chocolates - yes please!!!! Ummmmm.... is there any way any human would say no to that question???)

    Mrs MTL - There is nothing to be in awe of at the moment, trust me! The book is, ummmm, more of a conceptual entity than a physical entity at the moment. Talk is cheap, right? And the more I do, the more I realise that I have to do, so part of the point of this month is to make me decide either YES, I'm going to give this all my spare time for the forseeable future, or NO, I'm not going to manage it at the moment and that's okay. I don't want it to just dribble on forever and ever, never getting finished.

    And I take your point about muscle fibres - I'm not trying to say that there are no geographical correlations at all with some human characteristics. I guess it's just that the variations WITHIN a group are always so much greater than the variations between groups - our kids are just one data point on the graph and they could be a long, long way (in either direction) from the statistical average for their ethnic groups. So I want people to see them, and not expect things that might not be true of them individually. Not sure if that makes any sense, my brain always goes in knots when I try to explain myself on this topic. One thing I'm pretty certain of is that they'll be faster than me, but that's because 99.99999% of all humans are faster than me.

  4. So, you don't want to put people in a box - well, which of the twins is Pink and which is Blue, Hmmmm?????
    Yes, when we were writing our 20 page homestudy essay and my husband had to fill out the question "Why Ethiopia?" He wanted to say, "Because I am a fan of track and field." But you know we are obnoxious like that.
    As for your blog break - well I was planning on emailing you today and saying that I don't appreciate how long you go between posts and that I think you should start doing both Sunday Snapshot and Wordless Wednesday so we can see more of Baby I and Baby L (I will not stereotype them with those color labels).
    You have my permission to take a Blog Break if you post pics on Sundays and Wednesdays... you can even post a picture of yourself typing to prove you are working on your book. And, you can actually sit down in an hour and get all those posts already que'ed up (there is that stupid word again)and scheduled to keep me satisfied. (Because it is ALL ABOUT ME.)

  5. Don't forget dancing! I don't even have my children home yet and I've had people regularly comment about how we're going to finally have two good dancers in the family. Huh?? Apparently, all black people have great rhythm. Really?? It is rather shocking.

    I did, however, chuckle with your commenter commenting on the stereotypes of pink and blue! lol.

    Blessings, Claudia.


    PS. As always, love the post and your writing!!

  6. I am so buying your book when you get it published.

  7. Enjoy your break & know that you will be missed! Happy writing. :)

  8. Couldn't agree with you well said. And I am excited you are taking a break to work on more writing. You are amazing! Enjoy!

  9. Love this post. And I must add that the visual image of your kiddos doing a "drunk zombie walking" made me laugh. Too cute.

  10. semi feral makes me laugh.
    a lot.

    will miss you.

    and perhaps you could satisfy your zombie lust fans with a wordless Wed, or Thurs or anyday.


  11. Tempted by the idea of posting photos.... very tempted!! Especially since I just downloaded and sorted about eleventy bajillion. But it's a slippery slope. Photos would be the gateway drug; within days I'd be back on the hard stuff :) So I'm going to stay strong and keep my fingers away from the 'upload' button until my month is up.

    Except for FB, obviously. Because that is TOTALLY different.

  12. Great post! I hope your blog free month treats you very well : )
    By the time you are back to it we will be on your side of the pond!


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