Our Rich Tapestry

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


  • Kim Brooks

    March 19, 2012 at 10:43 am

    Sharon when I sent you that quote some time back I just knew that you would LOVE it! Maya has such a way with words and sums it up so perfectly. Your family is an exquisite tapestry! As for any negative opinions that may come your way…well we all know that opinions are like backsides, everybody has one ;]

    Much love


  • TJ

    March 19, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    Sharon, you are most certainly doing the right thing. Ava should be proud of her heritage and her life and so that she knows that you are proud of her that is why you should tell people! F*ck those that have prejudice. Ava will know that she has parents who are proud of her and love her and that her ‘colour’ (because really – prejudice only manifests and matters in colour and not culture) really doesn’t matter!

    I am also grateful that we are able to raise our children in a diverse country such as ours where prejudice is frowned upon nowadays! Yes, we still have a long way to go but it will take a while. At least we’re on the right path.

  • Pandora

    March 19, 2012 at 7:33 pm

    Sharon, glad you found a new hairdresser! WE would so have been in the same boat in the 80’s. I was reading about Charlize Theron’s adoption of a little boy on one of the news websites today. While I am not her biggest fan, I do think it is great that she was able to adopt. By all accounts she waited a long time to adopt. I had mixed feelings about all the publicity because there is that whole ‘this child is so lucky’ issue, when we know that we AP’s are the lucky ones. What totally surprised me was some of the comments: ‘Why didn’t she adopt a South African child? Why not a white child since so many of them are waiting to be adopted. Adopting a black child is just a fashion statement, or an accessory or to copy other celebs.’
    Wow. Are people really still so naive?? How can anyone make such hurtful comments? Makes me wonder how people that think children are accessories treat their own children? (Yes, I am judging) Predjudice may frowned upon, but it is still very much alive, specially when people can make anonymous comments.
    I am proud of my daughters’s heritage too, and want her to be poud of herself. We have been lucky, we have had no real negative comments (not to my face). A few stupid comments, yes.
    In our case her heritage is more obvious, she will ask questions quite soon I imagine. I am not yet sure of the answers I will give, but I will make sure I give her as much of a positive self image as I can. I want her to be able to deal with other people’s insensitive comments, and not turn them inward.I agree with TJ’s more strongly worded statement above. Such people should be of no consequence, the words may sting momentarily, but we need to shrug therm off and not give them the power to hurt us in the long term.
    I love my little angel more than I can say, and I could not imagine being without her.

  • Cat@jugglingactoflife

    March 20, 2012 at 7:58 am

    The great thing is that to an extend our kids are growing up rather colour blind, or way more acceptingat least. I love it that my kids ( who goes to a little Catholic school for their first years) rather refer to a friend as being Tshwana than brown or anything else.

    So I am certain that although you are handling this in the best way possiblem we are also moving into an even easier phase.

  • To Love Bella

    March 20, 2012 at 11:08 am

    What a lovely post Sharon. You are such an awesome, passionate mommy to Ava.

    I remember that story about the hairdresser and I myself, reeled with shock at her audacity. People are so narrow minded and downright ignorant. It is infuriating.

    Was there a book written by / on Sandra Laing? I seem to remember seeing something recently? I’d love to watch the documentary – what channel is it on?


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