Every tree limb overhead seems to sit and wait, while every step you take becomes a twist of fate.
Up on the watershed, standing at the fork in the road...

If you are new to our adoption blog please take a moment to scroll down to the archives at the bottom of this page and start with July 2009 post "Watershed."


The Controversial and the Mundane

I find it interesting how something as mundane as choosing a costume for your child's first Halloween can actually be controversial.

I've been following a blog. I'm choosing not to link to it here and actually it isn't under the list of blogs I follow which is a good thing because my purpose isn't to send you all flocking over to it.

I don't know the author of the blog but have enjoyed her sweet accounts of her newly adopted Ethiopian child who has been home just about a month.

Now normally I do not get wrapped up in blog or facebook controversy. I don't have much time or interest in writing detailed comments or stirring up arguments. And I rarely if ever feel offended by a mundane adoption blog.

But, well I'm not sure how to ease into this so I'll just say it.

How do you feel about this?
Am I wrong in assuming that the vast vast majority of us know and understand that black (and I use that adjective broadly to describe both African Americans and people of color from and still living in the Caribbean and Africa) do not like to be described as monkeys, not even as a form of endearment?

I will admit that prior to becoming the mother of a black child many of the issues surrounding racial stereotyping were simply not part of my world. And I am sorry about that. Because I lived in Washington, DC and worked and socialized and went to school with a lot of black friends. Many of whom I probably offended in one way or another over time. I thought that it was ok in general to be ignorant as long as I wasn't being offensive ON PURPOSE.

Wrong. Dead wrong. Shamefully wrong. It is not ok to be ignorant. And it is doubly not ok to be ignorant when you are parenting a child of another race.

The blog author/mother was ignorant. And that happens. And I would give her a huge pass for not having done a bit more reading on race and identity and racism in the U.S. except for one fact. She was educated by a black commenter (and very sensitively and kindly I might add), re-educated by several more commenters who said they were close friends, and she still chose to post a final comment stating that she would consider the points of view shared but would not go as far as to stop calling the child a monkey or give away the child's monkey themed clothing received as presents. Because "clothes are expensive."

You know what else is expensive? Repairing damage.
It is emotionally expensive to repair the damage we do to the image of white parents parenting black children. It is emotionally expensive to explain to your adult black man of a son why childhood photos show that you dressed him like this despite being provided with the tools you needed to understand why it was not ok. Expensive folks. We are talking hard stuff here.

Because the argument that racism and stereotyping and slavery and racial divides and inequality are somehow in the past is not an argument that can hold up anywhere outside of white society. We are white. We are not.black. But our children are. And that is so very loaded and important and full of implications for how we choose to live our lives.

So I posted a comment. I gave her an out. I recommended she do some reading. I fully expected to see that she would come back a bit humbled, accept that she had made a mistake, and would be glad to have found out early in her parenting so that next year she can buy a giraffe costume.

It didn't turn out that way. And she obviously doesn't want more comments. So I am turning to my only other outlet - my own blog.

I just keep thinking this. What if a black parent were calling her white child "cracker" as a term of endearment? Because she enjoys eating crackers of course. What if she went on to dress said adopted white child as a big white Saltine for Halloween? Um. Wouldn't we all have a bit of a problem with this? Maybe not if it were a white mother and white child. But there is something about transracial adoption that changes things doesn't it? The historic power differential and racial tension between black and white in the United States. It may be old news to some but it is very real and still very close to the surface when we are talking about labels and words.

Hello people? Let's just accept that we don't know it all and humbly thank our readers when they point us on the right track. I think paying attention to black friends and commenters is especially important. Run a little litumus test. Before you dress your child of another race in a costume for Halloween just first consider what your best girlfriend of that same race might say.

Oh, what? You don't have a girlfriend of another race?
Maybe that is the problem.
And I don't say that to be snarky. I think a lot of us have a long way to go before we could consider ourselves beyond just "racially sensitive" (nice term for I know it's wrong to call a black person the n word but not much else) and get to "fully functioning white mother who knows exactly how to raise a black child so that he/she can function as a member of black society without confusion, shame, self-doubt or embarrassment."

Feel free to leave comments but if you say to me that "all that matters is what is on the inside. Or, as long as your intentions are good" you know I will laugh you right off my blog. My fifth grade teacher said it best when he told us "close is only good in horse shoes."

We have to get it right, not close, when it is our child at stake.



  1. I was and continue to be insulted and offended by many halloween costumes, and themed get ups. The question isn't one of intent- its a matter of- what happens later when the child knows the history of such terminology and knows Mom called her that.

  2. WOW! I followed a link on Missy's blog about your day in the mall, post back in August. I so related with your thought process and then clicked to you current post.

    Excellent post. You expressed so well what I just posted about, that we as parents have to learn what parents of our child's ethnic group already know.

  3. Bravo! That woman is an idiot! (You know I am dying for the link right?)

  4. That particular woman has very littler interest in learning anything. She has consistently lectured about how much she knows about everything. She knows better then adoption professionals, better then experienced parents and and adoptive parents. She wants sympathy for the poor choices she has made for her children. Her writing since her second child came home has smacked of deep selfishness. Her sleep, her time and her needs. There have been so many disturbing thing written about him that I find it frightening. Her littlest one deserves more. her big one deserves a HELL of a lot more.
    I know that I have had to open myself up so I could learn as I have moved through this adoption. I have learned so much about so many things and I also know I have not even scratched the surface of what I can learn. Thanks for the post.

  5. So, I have to admit that I feel conflicted about this post. Just hear me out...

    I TOTALLY agree that it is 110% inappropriate for her to have dressed her daughter as a monkey for halloween. I feel so strongly about it that I created an additional 10% that defies science and every law in the universe in order to show just how much I disagree with it.

    However you mentioned "give away the child's monkey themed clothing" and I am having my own personal mental tug-of-war over this same issue. Originally I told my husband absolutey NO monkeys on anything. It's wrong. It's racist. It's physically PUTTING racism ON our child.

    Then, a very honest, very educated, very close African American friend of mine laughed in my face. She told me I was waaay overdoing it and said verbadum "Unless it is a piece of clothing given to you by some Grand Dragon, you don't need to worry about it."

    I have to admit, I still feel---errr...not quite right-- about it. And I have already warned people that monkey-themed clothing will be returned.

    BUT I was at Gym.boree today and I saw THE CUTEST clothing line of monkey-themed outfits. Dark pink, brown and lime green (i'm a sucker for those colors) big polka dots and...a monkey.

    Now, am I going to buy that for baby girl? Hell no.

    But, if she, when she is older, decides she loves monkey, has some birthday money and sets her little sights on a tshirt with a furry, smiling little monkey on it....do I have to deny her something she loves, something she is interested in...because of institutional racism?

    I am really, honestly not sure. I don't know that I am going to keep her from buying it.

    I'm just not sure.

  6. Nevermind. I just found this.


    I had no idea. That is disgusting.

    Baby girl is just going to have to do without that adorable monkey shirt she may or may not want someday.

  7. Oh my gosh!!! I LOVE this. As you will see on my blog, I had the unfortunate coincidence of posting about my black child actually being CALLED a monkey within 24 hours of her posting her Halloween photos. That led to some blog drama at the beginning of my week! I am literally cheering out loud reading this post. My friend sent me the link because she knows that we kindred spirits in the adoption community that choose to educate ourselves regurally about what it means to race African American children in America, are rare! Thank you, thank you for SAYING it. My favorite line:
    "she chose to post a final comment stating that she would consider the points of view shared but would not go as far as to stop calling the child a monkey or give away the child's monkey themed clothing received as presents. Because "clothes are expensive."

    You know what else is expensive? Repairing damage.
    It is emotionally expensive to repair the damage we do to the image of white parents parenting black children."

    You said it. I have given away brand new monkey outfits and will continue to do so, because my child's self esteem when he is older and looks back at his precious baby pictures is FAR more costly than some clearenced Carter's outfits.

  8. Have to say that I am LOVING the comments from everyone - including so many readers I didn't know before. Thanks for the cheers of support. I was FUMING yesterday about this and then realized...I have a blog! I can actually SAY something to the universe on this topic. So glad you all "get it." Love you even more.

  9. This post is so amazingly RIGHT ON. Thank you for this, and for not couching your sentiments/reactions in "gentle" language. This is an important message and it needs to be heard--regardless of how much explaining away parents can do.

  10. A -

    1) re your comment on my blog, different girl. This girl's mother died a long time ago. Virtually every other Dateline is about a murdered spouse.

    2) I have the most precious smocked dress with monkeys around the collar. It is one of my favorites that my Maggie ever wore. The cutest thing. I also have several watermelon rompers. All of them are 'boutique' and very expensive. And I have kissed them all goodbye (literally, I love that monkey dress so much) because I just won't put my African baby in a dress with monkeys or watermelons on it. No way.

    Not knowing the blogger, i hope that she is just completely clueless. I have a SIL and I can completely see her doing that. She is just so naive that we often find ourselves scratching our heads at her. I hope that this is the case with that blogger! Surely, even though she feels defensive now - we all get defensive when our mothering is criticized, what hurts more that that? - she has been set straight. Gotta believe it.

  11. I agree with every.word.you.wrote -- and I have spent WAY too much time analyzing, and perhaps overanalyzing, how I dress T and how he is perceived by others. BUT, I have a confession.... He has worn a Paul Frank t-shirt -- which was a gift from an AA friend! (Perhaps, it was a test LOL) I was a bit squeamish about it, but she thought I was being WAY too literal. She even went so far as to pull up Paul Frank's website (http://www.paulfrank.com/all-products/) to "prove" to me that Paul Frank uses a ton of AA models (they do), and that, although I was on the right track, and my intentions correct, I was taking things a bit too far..... That said, I was admittedly glad when he grew out of the t-shirt in a month!!! On the topic, two little boys (ages 3 and 5) called T a worm today. When I said he wasn't a worm, they said he was an ant. Harmless? I think T felt my confusion and alarms going off because he swatted the younger of the two kids -- which is very contrary to his laid-back nature.... We can pontificate about all this on the beaches of Belize. Are we ON?

  12. Cindy is dead on right with her comment. Now "she" is posting about going back to work! **GASP** What?! with two little tiny very needy ones at home and she is PAYING a nanny to keep them?! I have four school aged kids and we do not make a whole lot of money, but I would never pay a nanny to keep my 4 month old baby and 1 year old that JUST came home from an orphanage. Why did she adopt?!

  13. Ok, so I have been following this controversy across four different blogs. I want to start by saying that I 100% agree with your cause here. I really do. BUT, this post still really gets under my skin. Not the general idea of what you are saying, but what you are saying at the expense of someone else.

    I don’t know the blogger in question, but I know OF her and I can only imagine how much this post would hurt her and affect her two weeks into bringing home her son (a son she obviously loves).

    I also believe that her views on the matter are incorrect; however, she was obviously ignorant to the matter and seemed to take the comments to heart. Yes, ignorance is not an excuse, but cut this woman a break. She has a lot on her plate. She didn’t dismiss anyone’s concerned comments, but I think it is unrealistic to expect her to turn a 180* and throw out everything with a monkey and never use the word again 24 hours after someone pointed out that it is often considered racist. To me, she sounded like she was generally concerned with the issue and it is something she will be thinking on a whole lot more in the future. Let’s give her time to grow. When you consider the fact that she received at least twice as many comments supporting her use of monkeys (however shortsighted those comments may be), I personally think she did a pretty good job of considering the other side and didn’t deserve this post.

    I don’t recall her saying that she would continue to use the word in reference to her son (although she did say the clothing comment.). In fact, she said “I also think that what is in our hearts is what truly matters. . . but I know that would only work in an ideal world.” Which shows to me that the comments made by you and others got through to her. Yes, we do have to get it right when our children are at stake, but we ALL make mistakes. Your post, to me, is divisive and that is the last thing we need here as mothers, adoptive mothers, and multi racial families. (and the “That woman is an idiot” comment really gets me).

    I’m not trying to be disrespectful and I hope it didn’t come across that way, but I wanted to pass along another angle. I do commend you for standing up for what is RIGHT and trying to educate others. I think we all have room to grow.

  14. Hmmm. I think it's a legitimate call that this post is a bit divisive. That wasn't my intention (and I'm actually feeling quite sorry if that is the outcome.) I'm not following any debate about this online, involved in any conversations about it, nothing. I just needed to say something on this topic and it wasn't appropriate to harangue the blog author about it. Maybe I could have left her out of it altogether? I thought I had by not posting a link to her blog. Now THAT would have been divisive and not right.

    I guess I just want to say this. I don't think the author is a jerk or idiot or bad mother. Not at all. I really don't get that feeling from her. As I said, I've always liked her blog! But I was disappointed with her reaction (not just in her blog posts - some of her statements were written in the comments sections over several posts.) It just seemed like she was saying that she had race handled because her biological daughter is biracial. And many of her commenters were quite naive sounding in their blind support - insinuating that the more we are sensitive to racial stereotypes the more we perpetuate racial tension. (Which is simply untrue.)

    My point is simply that all of us raising children of other races need to be open to the fact that we aren't going to get it right all the time, especially at first. And a deep sense of humility is needed. I have a long long way to go. So far, so long. It is humbling and tiring to think about.

    My post is not meant to be mean-spirited. But I can see areas that it could be interpreted that way. I hope there are no serious feelings hurt in blogland and that it's triggered some self-reflection (from all of us.)

  15. Thanks for this post. I am not an adoptive parent, but I might be someday.

    To be honest, when I first started reading your post, I thought you were over-reacting. Sure, it's a little insensitive, but is it really that big of a deal?

    Reading the rest of your post and the comments that followed opened my eyes to a level of racism and a need for sensitivity that I was totally unaware of. Thanks for bringing up these topics honestly and clearly to educate those of us who really are just that naive.

  16. Naive, unaware, too busy to notice are never good reasons for racism. As a transracial family and as THE parent the responsibility is on us. Read, get involved, change your church, make new friends - It is your responsibility to do this.

    A - thanks for this post...keep it up!


  17. LOVE your post! I feel like we could be friends because you sound like one of my friends.

    My favorite quote: Oh, what? You don't have a girlfriend of another race?
    Maybe that is the problem.

    I think you're completely on point. Keep spreading the knowledge.

  18. I did a post regarding terminology that you may or may not find of interest....

    Here's to a great day!

  19. Debated about whether or not to comment but this post has been bugging me since I read it earlier today. It seems as if this whole thing is being blown way out of proportion. I agree that we as adoptive moms must be incredibly diligent about respecting our kids' birth race culture but this seems to have gone too far. Hurtful comments about a moms desire to return to work or questions as to if someone should have even adopted in the first place (another blogger's comments) seem counterproductive to supporting each other in this already landmine ridden path to adoption. I believe we should be encouraging one another and supporting each other in our desire to "rescue the orphans in their distress". Bless your hearts, if you all have enough time to debate something as small as this, I wish I had all that time to spare. We all will make mistakes as moms, adoptive and biological. the important thing is that we don't tear each other down. Perhaps an email to this mom, whose blog I've never even seen, would have been a kinder route?


About Me

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J and I have been married for almost 15 years. We have shared many adventures and a lot of watershed moments. In 2009 I began blogging and in 2010 we adopted our daughter from Ethiopia. In March of 2012 we began the process to adopt a little boy from Haiti. This blog follows the many twists and turns on the road to our two children and beyond.