All posts filed under: Essays

The Color of My Skin

April 24, 2021 We’re almost home, on the border of Fort Greene and Downtown Brooklyn, coming back from a morning trip to Target. The weather is a perfect, sunny spring Saturday, warm enough to wear t-shirts. The cloth masks that I sewed from their favorite baby onesies are on. Because it’s still the Pandemic. Covid vaccines are rolling out and this feels hopeful. Emmy, my almost 5-year-old daughter, and Rainey, who’s a little over 3 years old, insist on walking.  Our street is blocked off. Our neighborhood resurrects an outdoor street fair. There’s a cluster of people gathered, several folding chairs out. Two loudspeakers stand tall and high like totem poles. I’ve parked the huge stroller to the side. My daughters stand in front of me, my left hand over Emmy’s heart and my right hand over Rainey’s heart.  Several African American children ranging in age from 4 to 8 years old are on stage. Feeling the music, they move their legs and arms in sync, skipping, twirling, hopping, and flying. The dancers are in …

Learning (to be) Korean

My first and worst moment as a parent occurred on the same day. My husband and I waited two and half years to travel halfway around the world to adopt our son from Korea, and yet the day we took custody of him broke us all. He joined our family speaking only Korean and remained steadfast in its use for a few weeks. However, when his foster mother never came back, no matter how many times he waited by the door, he realized the futility of his hope, and with it, syllable by syllable, his Korean language dropped away. I saw this same sorrowful sloughing away of a Korean identity with my second son, adopted from Korea a few years later, but these were not the first times I experienced this. The first time occurred after my own adoption from Korea some thirty years before. Born in Busan, South Korea, and adopted at six months by a Jewish American family in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., I was cut off from the Korean language and …

Given Name, Taken Name

There is a popular (albeit misguided) belief that BIPOC kids adopted into white families live white-approximate lives and grow up with white privilege. This belief asserts that adoption is beautiful and is one of the purest kinds of love, a love that has the power to transcend racial boundaries, replacing a lost family with one newly gained. But this simplistic vision of adoption is propaganda in service to the multibillion-dollar adoption industry and its paying customers: white, adoptive parents with access to power and privilege. As such adoptees, our proximity to white privilege directly correlates more not to our proximity to power, but to white violence. Packs of white boys riding their bikes through my neighborhood, shouting anti-Asian slurs as they passed my house. The white woman down the street who perceived me as polluting the neighborhood. Veterans who compulsively told me about their Korean War experiences when I was just a little girl. Racist nicknames and comments about eating dogs. The erasure and isolation. Fetishism and hyper-sexualization. The rape. To acknowledge one’s adoption trauma …

Birthmark

Around age 10, I got a bad sunburn on my face. My adoptive mother didn’t really take sunscreen seriously. She, a white woman, was always trying to tan. A cancer survivor, she liked tempting fate. She admired my skin tone, particularly in the summer months when her skin reddened and mine caramelized. The tanner I became, the more she admired (envied?) my body. “Look at the color of your skin!” she would exclaim, taking a step back to gaze at my bare arms and legs while I played at the pool or the beach, her voice a mix of incredulity and admiration. “You tan so nicely; your skin is the perfect color.”  I did not know then about fetishes and colorism; I just felt proud of my tan skin. While I never asked, I imagine my adoptive mother’s preoccupation with my skin tone was driven by her hyper-awareness of our biological differences, for these biological differences poked at her insecurity that I was not “really” her daughter. My adoptive mother once admitted that, early in …

“This wasn’t a Black woman thing.”: An Excerpt from Adiba Nelson’s ‘Ain’t That A Mother: Postpartum, Palsy, and Everything in Between’

“Everyone had always told me I was going to be such a good mother, and I had always seen myself with four or five children, but here I was faced with one and I couldn’t even handle our first day alone.” Below is an excerpt from Adiba Nelson’s memoir Ain’t That A Mother: Postpartum, Palsy, and Everything in Between, now available from Blackstone Publishing. Sliding into my matching slippers, I shuffled over to the bassinet to stare at the baby people continuously said was mine. With as much indifference as I offered her, she offered it right back to me, staring at me, blankly. Both of us assessing each other, imagining what the day had in store for us. I wondered if she had an imagination at that young age, and knew that if she did, she was most likely imagining a world where someone else was her mom. The look on her face said it all. “Ugh. God. It’s you. Fuck this up and it’s a wrap, chick.” And I knew it too. I had …