Yesterday I watched a doccie about Sandra Laing. For those of you who don’t know who Sandra Laing is, here is a bulleted rundown:
- Born to white Afrikaans parents in the 1950’s – with distinctly black features
- She has two brothers, one classified as white and another who is also classified as coloured
- Reclassified when she was 10 years old as coloured
- Forcibly removed from her “whites only” school due to Apartheid classification.
- Ostracized by her father and brothers
- No contact with her mother for more than 30 years
I’ve seen this documentary before, I watched it in 2009 before we started our adoption journey, but watching it again yesterday, this time not just as a mother but also a mother of a mixed race child, I found myself overcome by sadness and shame and could not stop the tears from rolling down my cheeks.
How lucky we (Walter and I) are to have been born and raised in a time where we were not indoctrinated into the thought process that people of colour were sub-human. How lucky we are that our struggle with infertility occurred in the new millennium, long after Apartheid had been disbanded, long after the group area’s act and racial segregation had been disbanded.
I have found that since becoming a mother, I’m far more emotionally affected by these types of stories, now that I’m a mother and I know and understand a mothers love for her child, there is a deeper feeling of understanding and of sadness for these types of stories.
If we had had the misfortune of our infertility struggle during the 1970’s and even 1980’s we would not have been allowed to adopt Ava. Because of SA’s race classification laws of that time, Ava would have been classified as mixed race or coloured and we would have been legally forbidden from adopting her.
I cannot imagine what my life would be without her.
This beautiful child that has come into our home and touched so man lives, where would we be without her? She has enriched our lives in so many ways, she has worked miracles in our families, especially the older generations of our families who did grow up with the race indoctrination. Ava has been a lesson for us all, a lesson that the love of a child transcends colour. She has changed not just ours, but that of our extended families, she has broken prejudices and taught people so much by simply being.
And believe me, there are prejudices. One of the reasons I was initially so hesitant to disclose Ava’s race was because before she’d even been born, I got to experience first hand, the prejudices we would face. From the pointed questions by so many who thought they were within their rights to ask/demand that we adopt a white child. And one experience in particular that left me feeling like I’d been slapped in the face.
The day before we flew to Cape Town to meet our BM and witness Ava’s birth, I’d gone to the hair dresser to have my hair highlighted as I’d wanted to make a good impression on our BM. My hairdresser at the time was a black woman. I’d excitedly told her about our whirlwind adoption journey. She had stopped working on my hair to listen intently to our story. When I was finished she asked me if we were adopting a white baby. At that stage we hadn’t told anyone of Ava’s race, but I’d wrongly assumed it was only white people who would take exception to us adopting a mixed race child, boy was I wrong. When I told my hairdresser that Ava was in fact mixed race, she got right up in my face, waved her finger right in my face and told me I was wrong, that Ava was coloured and that she doesn’t believe in that! That it was not right that we were adopting a coloured child!
I was stunned. I sat in silence for the remainder of my appointment and never ever went back to her. Who the hell did she think she was making those kinds of statements at me, I pay her to do my hair and not to listen to her opinions on choices I make for my life!
Since Ava’s birth Walter and I have often found ourselves setting people straight – white, black, brown, yellow, green, pink, purple, whatever the colour, I’ve come to learn that EVERYONE has some kind of a prejudice and often when they voice that prejudice and I tell them of Ava’s racial heritage they don’t really know how to handle it or what to say.
I’m proud of my beautiful daughter, I’m proud of who she is and where she has come from and I won’t hide her identity for the sake of others comfort. She has taught me not to see in colour and I am proud of that fact. Her racial heritage is not obvious, you don’t look at her and immediately know, so why tell people right?
The answer is simple really – because I don’t want Ava to ever feel like she has anything to be ashamed of. Because I don’t want her to feel ostracized like Sandra Laing felt.
I’m proud of the beautiful tapestry that our family is, I look forward to adding to that tapestry, I’m proud of the richness of colour.
We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color – Maya Angelou