Jaiya John. Soul Water Publishing; Silver Spring, Maryland; 2002
This is a powerful book. Anyone who struggles with the current state of race relations in the United States, which should be all of us, would gain immensely from reading John’s autobiographical analysis about how both race and adoption matter. John, a Black baby, was adopted in his first year of life by a White couple and grew up in a predominantly White community during the period of “love sees no color”, our society’s misguided goal of colorblindness. Throughout his life, John is surrounded by love and privilege – everything he needs to grow and thrive, except acknowledgement and acceptance of his Blackness.
In many ways, this is not an easy book to read. It is a commitment to get through chapter after chapter of disappointment and hurt – a young boy, then teenager, full of pain and anger. I often read late into the night, hoping to get to a “happy resolution.”
As a White adoptive parent of a Black child, I hung on John’s descriptions of his parents love and devotion. I recognized myself in his parents’ dedication to provide every resource to all their five children to thrive and become happy adults. I understood their commitment to change the status quo. But the recounting of good intentions is not the purpose of this book. In fact, the lesson may be about how good intentions can be our blinders to the reality that is our child’s life in a racist society.
Black Baby White Hands reinforced for me the message that I am seeing written and spoken about more and more: we need to acknowledge our differences and genuinely talk about them. “Colorblindness” was easier. As White people, it allowed us to avoid actually dealing with racism both within ourselves and our society. But, it didn’t and doesn’t work.
John digs deep into the implications of both race and adoption and challenges us to think through not only our intentions, but our actions and our willingness to hear the truth. This is just one person’s story, and could be discounted as such, but that would be a mistake. Jaiya John has something to teach everyone, but particularly those of us who are White and adoptive parents. If you approach this book with a genuinely open mind, you will be rewarded with new awareness.
And yes, I did find a happy resolution, but not the one I thought I was seeking.
– Debbie Kaufman