Seeking Independence From Ignorance

Posted on: July 2nd, 2015 by

Today my 7-year-old daughter is participating in her day camp’s Fourth of July parade. The children will be marching around waving American flags, as they do every year. Ari looks forward to this parade, the fireworks on the Fourth, and she enjoys listening to how the United States gained its independence.

Throughout the year, we have discussed how this country is a true melting pot of people — many from other countries. “Like me!” she says smiling, referring to China, her country of birth. “And like grandpa,” I add, acknowledging that my dad is from Poland. (Of course, she’s too young to understand that he escaped the jaws of Nazism.)

Part of the narrative woven into our family life is how wonderful China’s people are. And how the United States tolerates people of all backgrounds and beliefs. We root for China and the United States during the Olympics. I expose her to Chinese-related customs and holidays, while celebrating Jewish holidays. We are a multicultural family who embraces tolerance.

And we are also a conspicuous family. But in America, the land of the free, tolerance of conspicuous families sometimes falls short. A Caucasian mother with an Asian child is not always well-received. In fact, we have encountered more than our share of ignorant, unsavory comments from people of many nationalities and countries.

And what’s worse, most of them are said right in front of my daughter. I give appropriate responses because how I answer these questions will affect how Ari perceives herself. I must quell my impulse to tell these ignoramuses where to go. Sometimes I educate, but much of the time — depending on how shocking the comment is — we walk away. Ironically, we live in a diverse area.

So to those sometimes-well-meaning Americans, let me set the record straight on this Independence Day holiday:

* Yes, my daughter speaks English. Quite well, thank you very much.

* To the Chinese-food delivery guy who pointed at Ari and asked, “Wow, you’ve got a real Chinese girl living here?” Yes. She’s real. And her favorite food is Chinese food. Imagine that.

* To the Americans who call my daughter a “China doll,” knock it off. Once again, she’s a real person. For her dance recital, she eagerly wore some make-up, but then looked at herself in the mirror and said, “I don’t look real; I look like a China doll.” To stave off any more pain, I told her that she was real, not a doll.

* I’m not an American mom with a Chinese daughter. My daughter is also American.

* How much did I pay for her? Um. None of your damn business. I’ve been asked this in front of Ari many times, as well as “Did you buy her?.” Each time I’m asked these questions, I wish I could say what I really feel like saying (not appropriate in front of a child). But here’s the answer my pre-adoption classes trained me well for: “As much as it costs to give birth.” That answer shuts them up.

* No, her eyes are not too small. They are perfect.

* A woman stopped us in a store and kept repeating ad nauseum how lucky Ari is to be in the United States and in an American family. When I told the woman that I was so lucky to have my daughter, she then said “In China, they hate girls. They throw them in the garbage.” Ari and I quickly walked away. Later, we had an age-appropriate talk about China’s then-one-child policy.

* Stop calling Ari a lottery baby because she was adopted in the United States. She doesn’t play the lottery, she’s not a baby, and she isn’t completely lucky. Adoption is also a story of loss — the loss of a birth family and her native land. I know she experiences some grief, as do I. I want so much for her to know her birth family, but that will never happen. We want to go to China in the future, though.

I’d like to think these comments don’t faze Ari, but about six months ago, she told me, “This isn’t working out for me. Being an American.” I told her that there’s prejudice and hardship everywhere, and to keep an open mind because many people in our country eagerly embrace differences in others.

Truth is, my open-minded daughter is giving the United States another chance. This July 4, she will be celebrating with her best friend in red-white-and-blue style. She’s embracing America. I only hope other Americans follow suit.

How have you and/or someone you care about deal with unsavory comments from others?

If you are in a conspicuous family, how do you and/or your children fare in society?

If you are from the United States, how are you celebrating Independence Day?



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9 Responses to Seeking Independence From Ignorance

  1. Kathi had this to say about that:

    Oh, Beth! “This isn’t working out for me. Being an American.” Oh, my heart about shattered when I read that. You know, it struck me so much that one of the things that’s hard about countering this utterly ignorant nonsense is that when you meet its opposite, it’s not loud and obnoxious. The behavior of acceptance and tolerance doesn’t wave a flag, doesn’t shout. It’s just kind and quiet and joyful and loving. It’s the complete absence of this sort of idiocy. Thankfully, we can acknowledge that ignorance makes us feel hurt and angry and confused, and then choose not respond in kind. Poor sweetie. Humans are so thoughtless sometimes. But you are teaching her that we do have the power to choose to be thoughful and kind, our saving grace. Kudos & love to you both.

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Hi Kathi,

      Thank you for your kind response. It was heart-breaking to hear her say that being an American was not working out for her. And she said it in such an adult manner. Innocence lost.

      You are so right about the behavior of acceptance. It’s so easy to focus on the negative (I frankly had to get this off my chest), but many more people are tolerant, than are not. You are right: acceptance and tolerance is quiet, unfortunately making the loud, obnoxious ignorance stand out. It’s important to remember that most people in this day and age are tolerant.

  2. Rebecca had this to say about that:

    I am sorry you and your daughter had to deal with such inappropriate and unkind people. I don’t understand why some people always feel the need to have an opinion without considering the feelings of others — so selfish.

    Growing up, I received some inappropriate comments about me not been raised by my parents (and not having a dad). Some of those comments were said in front of friends and I often felt ashamed — reason why I didn’t have many friends. My grandma didn’t speak to that many people and she avoided them so I am not sure how she felt about our situation at home. I never felt different with my family as they welcomed me with open arms. At the end of the day, that’s the most important support one can get.

    Although we are aware that such level of ignorance exists, it is still annoying to deal with it.

    I am glad your daughter has you. She will be open-minded, educated and kind because of how you are raising her. I just wish we had more people like you who don’t judge others.

    There are cruel people out there. Too bad we all have to share the same planet.

    For the 4th of July I am going to visit my in-laws with my guy. I hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday weekend.

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Hi Rebecca,

      Thank you for your support. You are right, there are many unkind, thoughtless people out there.

      It sounds like your family situation was loving, and that’s really all that matters. A loving family can stave off some of the harsh insecurities one might have. I’m sorry you had to endure such inappropriate comments growing up.

      Thank you for your nice comments about my daughter having me in her life. I do appreciate them. I’m trying my best to raise a daughter with self-esteem and confidence in who she is. I don’t want her to define herself by the comments of others who are ignorant.

      Your holiday sounds great. Have a wonderful Fourth of July.

  3. Elizabeth J. had this to say about that:

    I suspect most people are more ignorant than deliberately cruel. Sadly, other racially mixed families say they deal with similar comments.
    Your daughter is fortunate to be growing up in a loving home – race, culture, and country are small compared to that. God bless you both. Happy 4th of July!

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Elizabeth, I agree that people are more ignorant than cruel. Ignorance hurts, and in the grand spectrum of things, almost everyone gets unsavory comments from others. It’s unfortunate, but it’s true.

      I try to provide a loving home for Ari. It’s hard work to “undo” the damage done by ignorant comments.

      Happy Fourth of July to you, too!

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  5. Nancy's Point had this to say about that:

    Hi Beth,
    People still say such insensitive and downright cruel things. Sad, but true. I know you are raising Ari to be proud and confident in her heritage, but still, it has to be frustrating at times to have to deal with such insensitivity this day in age. I love Kathi’s comment about acceptance and tolerance being more quiet. That is something to reflect upon for sure. I agree with that. Maybe sometimes those who are tolerant and accepting need to be “louder”. I hope the parade was fun for Ari and that you both had a wonderful Fourth of July weekend. Thank you for addressing such an important and timely topic.

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Thank you, Nancy, for your support, as always. It is frustrating when I teach her tolerance, only for us to encounter intolerant people.

      I also love Kathi’s comment about tolerance being quiet. In that light, we are dealing with more tolerant people than intolerant individuals. Most people are very accepting.

      I hope you had a nice Fourth as well.

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