1.07.2009

Black Baby, White Hands


I recently completed Black Baby, White Hands: A View from the Crib by Jaiya John. The intensely descriptive autobiography recalls the childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood of Jaiya John in New Mexico. Being adopted by a formerly Midwestern white couple, John became the second child in the family behind his sister (his adoptive parents' biological daughter). According the story, John's adoption was the first transracial adoption to occur in New Mexico. His parents adopted another African-American child after Jaiya and had two more biological children.

I would recommend this book to any person(s) adopting a child cross-culturally (not merely transracially). In fact, I would recommend this book to any person who has mainly grown up in a homogenous context, whether Black or White.

The majority of the book paints a sober picture of transracial adoption. Notice I said "the majority of the book" and not all of the book. Some parts will bolster the confidence you already have in adopting transracially. However, I've read other reviews where persons were downright angry at the author for his overtly negative tones regarding his upbringing. While these angry reviews are too harsh, they are at times understandable, and the reader of this book (especially an adoptive parent adopting transracially) needs to read the ENTIRE story before judging prematurely. The book will drag you through the mud, scrape your skin on rough pavement, shine blinding light into your eyes, but ultimately take you through clean waters of renewal. How does Jaiya John do this you might ask? Well, he describes his self-perceptions and what he thinks to be others' motives to the utmost degree. His agonizingly descriptive language will place a weight on your mind and heart that might seem uncomfortable at times. Discomfort is not a bad thing.

I appreciate Jaiya John's ability to be frank and innocent simultaneously. His depth of insight and transparent nature allow him to burrow deep inside of the reader to strum untouched soul strings. His story seems less than ideal at certain points, but overall, his life has been richly blessed (as he admits periodically throughout). At points, Jaiya John's views of non-White peoples seem to be a little romanticized. He somewhat levels the field by surfacing the unfortunate destructive racial tendencies in all people groups.

The personal takeaway value for me is a bolstering of many thoughts I've already had regarding a transracial family. For instance, we often take many things for granted such as the context of family. Most people are born into a complex web of people known as family, who will shape their life context. We have pictures or stories of our grandparents and ancestors. We understand where we came from, which often shapes the trajectory of where we are going. This notion is called continuity, and its stabilizing effect often goes unnoticed. Imagine no familial context to your life! The ground suddenly becomes much less stable! It's difficult to even imagine such a concept if you've only ever had continuity. Our son might desire to understand his biological continuity (some long for this a.k.a. Jaiya John while others genuinely care very little), so we need to do as much as we can to plan for that possibility. We as parents also need to be sensitive to the difficulties and fears of our children. We need to listen to them and not assume that our children see the world through our eyes. Sure, we still parent, guide, direct, love, cherish, disciple, and let go to the best of our ability, but communicate well throughout the entire process.

5 comments:

The Boyce Family said...

I just finished this book as well and was contemplating doing a review as a blog post--until I stumbled upon your blog and read yours--you articulated my thoughts probably better than I could have written them. Wish you the best in your adoption.
Christina

Donovan and Julie said...

Yes--I read this book last summer and had many of the same thoughts. Gleamed so much from his reflections and yet felt taken back by his eagerness to claim full understanding of the thoughts and motives of others. I thought he was a bit egocentric--partially incapable of seeing others' perspectives while crying out for others to fully understand his. There is something for all of us to learn by reading this book. I would also recommend "There is No Me Without You" by Melissa Fay Greene if you haven't read it already--the Ethiopia adoptive family must-have!

Donovan and Julie said...

Oops, meant "gleaned." That typo had ma laughing!

Donovan and Julie said...

OK, so I am addicted to typos. :)

Emily B. said...

I haven't read this one yet- I've heard it's a hard read. But do check out "I"m chocolate, You're vanilla". It touches on how to raise a black child in a race aware world.