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A Mother Adopts, and Discovers Her Own Racism

A white mother who adopts a baby from India confronts her shame that her child's skin is dark, and realizes she needs more diverse friends.

When I was trying to decide who and from where to adopt, I had a lot of questions about transracial adoptions, and most people responded to my curiosity with a subtle discomfort. I felt embarrassed voicing possible concerns to my liberal friends, because all of us were adamant that race made no difference to our choice of friends, lovers, or tiny babies up for adoption. But in looking around at these friends, they all seemed a pretty tribal bunch: when it came time to make a family, in nearly every case, like colors had stuck together.

The first photo I received of Vaishali showed her with fair skin. I was surprised, because from what my adoption agency told me, the child assigned to me would be much darker. After I got over that surprise, I had another: I felt relief. Suddenly -- guiltily -- it was a comfort to know that she would not look so different from me, and even more important, that her light skin would save her from a lifetime of prejudice.

But ah, the magic of flashbulbs. A few months later I received several more photos and gaped at them in shock. The baby was much, much darker. Worried that the child to whom I had grown unbelievably attached had been given to some other family, I sent a bewildered email to my adoption agency in Maine which then made a bewildered phone call to their trusted social worker in India, who assured us that she had seen the child on many occasions and all the photos were of the same girl. Phew, I thought, as long as this little girl is the same one I have held in my heart for three months, she is my daughter and I am going to bring her home.

I flew to Bombay and became a mother. For the first week, my new daughter Vaishali clung to me, terrified, and I sacrificed eating, sleeping and bathing in the service of comforting her. Over and over, I told her: Mama is here. You are my baby.

Back home, after a couple weeks had passed, I stared at Vaishali's naked bottom -- her darkest part -- and tried to ignore the insistent whispers of fear. Instead of brimming with pride, I felt like a trespasser, performing ablutions on this private flesh with color so foreign from my own. It was one thing to swoon over her photographs for months, but now she was in my home; she was my family. How could this be my daughter? I looked at her and tried to find similarities between us, relieved that her hair was straight, her lips not too full. Just thinking these thoughts made me feel horribly ashamed. I tried to sort emotion from fact: was it the dark color of her skin that was making me uncomfortable, or just that she did not look like me? I ached to talk to someone about it, but I was too afraid people would disapprove, would doubt my ability to be a loving mother....

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