There is always another story to mixed race adoptions.

There were 3 women sitting around a table.

One Black.
One Coloured.
One White.

Women who laugh quickly together, who affirm each other and love each and encourage other to be and to become.
I was the white woman.
Surrounded by friends who openly challenge me, confront things but also hold space for me when my heart is aching and broken.
We have wept together over broader social issues. We have listened to each other’s individual stories and heard the growth, the pain and the joys.
So what made this week any different? One of these life givers were about to board a plane and as I type this, I feel like something was birthed around that table which usually heralds celebration. It feels like we are still in the painful parts of the birthing story & in some ways labour has been paused. The conversation around the table was about Transracial Adoption in South Africa.

We are all mothers.

Figuring out how to be the mothers our children need as they grow and develop is part of the support and love that this friendship space gives.
The Department of Social Development recently put forward a proposal regarding how adoption in South Africa should be managed. Unofficially there have been multiple stories of resistance to adoption but also to transracial adoption within our South African context.

This is hard for me as a mother but also as a professional to sit with. T

This conversation is so layered and nuanced that to reduce it to only part of the story doesn’t serve any of us well and it definitely doesn’t serve the very children this proposal alleges it will protect.

Tonight I found the facebook post posted the day my son left by his interim (dedicated, committed and people who loved him) carers. His face is well hidden.
I know it’s him because of the date and the feet. I know his feet. I would know them anywhere.

My mama heart melted all over again – I often wonder if they look like his birth mother or birth father’s feet. They aren’t like mine or my husbands and yet when I look at my brother’s feet, I see similar feet emerging.

And then I flashed back to the conversation around the table.
One in which we spoke what drives adoption in this country.
One in which we spoke about the myths surrounding adoption. Of the many different reasons expectant mothers have for considering relinquishment of their children.
One in which we spoke about the number of expectant mothers who remain mothers to their biological children because of enough & appropriate support offered when exploring their options, ranging from abortion to foster care, adoption or keeping their babies. Empathic support that doesn’t allow stigma to interfere with their stories.
We also spoke of mothers who don’t have access or who find it hard or to access support or have tried and been pushed away for considering relinquishment and whose choice ends up being abandonment – whether safely or unsafely.
Nothing was as raw for me as the issue of relinquishment due to poverty.

In our country, poverty is delineated along racial lines.
Yes, we have poor white people too, but proportionally and historically nothing like any other population group.

I need to own and acknowledge that it’s because of people who look like me that this is indeed the case. This is deeply painful.

Not just for me, but when we encounter families of colour (whether Black, Coloured, Indian and Asian) for who this reminder is very real; that people who looked like me structured a country that is struggling to transform and find its new identity and now we seem to be taking children and babies too.

One of my BIGGEST joys is being my son’s mother.
And this story I am telling is not about his story – that remains and belongs to him. We remain custodians for and with him. This is my story and my response to a social story.
NOTHING nothing will ever change that. Always and forever this baby who is now a boy and will be a man, it’s the biggest privilege to be called mama by him.

And yet a painful thing for many people in the black community to see is me being his mother.
They don’t care how much I know about his origins or don’t know,
Or how we have a village looking after our family in this that isn’t white informed.
It’s a power dynamic that is encountered of white people taking on black children.
And this is loaded.
It’s loaded when I encounter it as a mother who recognises and loves her son and who knows I can’t do this without extra input in the spaces where I don’t have a story.
It’s loaded when I encounter it as a professional.
It’s loaded for people who know, love and support my family in all its entirety.
It’s loaded for people who don’t know me.
It’s a reminder of the many domestic workers’ children who were ‘unofficially’ or ‘officially’ adopted (regardless of love or intent) and still there was struggle because a racial category defined so much, if not all their story. Both theirs and their families.

I struggle with identity politics – in fact as I watch social media comments unfold I loathe it.
I loathe that it means we can’t say anything without fear of being misunderstood, or that we will never be enough for some and too much for others in whatever context we sit in.
I really do.

I also know that unless we can deconstruct and talk about race and what it means, not just for us, but for others we aren’t going to change this.
I am learning more and more that I need to be willing to grapple with this all else I am not being a mother to my son and I can’t, in integrity advocate for every child in a family. Including mixed race families like mine.
Until we can look to the past and own this pain as well as look to the future, we can’t define the work we need to be doing in the present. Work we are responsible for.
In the present.

And if we don’t define & grapple with the work we are doing in the present, then this wheel will keep turning and the only people getting crushed in the process are the mothers who are criminalized because they abandon their babies (regardless of the reason), the mothers who are stigmatized in hospital because of choices they are making for their children and the children who enter the system – who will, as Thuli Madonsela wrote, get stuck without real roots and with wings that are not rooted in belonging because that’s something that happens in family.

Social Justice in my Kitchen…a South African trying to figure things out

Over the past few weeks I have spent a lot of time thinking about what does “Social Justice” look like when I am not being a social worker or community worker or an educator?

What does it look like in my personal space?

What does it look like in my home and how do I live intentionally into this space with the people immediately in my world?

Recently I had a conversation that felt like a values clash with someone who I know genuinely does value people and yet we clashed horribly on expectations of a house helper. Their philosophy was very much if it is someone’s job to clean then regardless of the dirty “mess” in the kitchen that is what they need to do. My stance was that there is mess and then there is disrespectful mess – things like a difference between leaving food scraps on the stove to be cleaned by the helper the next day vs simply ask her to wash the dinner dishes.

My reaction to this was “clash” was shock knowing this person’s stance on other issues of PEOPLE MATTER – all people. My mom raised me to believe that the unspoken messages we give to people we work with, who work for us and the way we engage with them is as important as the spoken messages, thank you’s and requests.
I spent some time last night thinking, again, what would I think or feel towards people who felt it was okay to leave dirty mess for my mom to clean; what would it be like seeing my mom walk to a taxi rank in the rain, wait for transport in the dark and always seem vulnerable to being pickpocketed or mugged.

This week I had a conversation with a friend (of colour) who should be the head cheer leader for the Eastern Cape – she can’t stop raving about how much she loves her home. I also know that this same person has been mugged & pickpocketed more than once while walking or on taxi routes; I know someone else in this area whose mom was brutally raped and murdered en route home from collecting her pension. We have prayed together, cried together and been angry together about this.

My helper, for that is what she does is help me in so many ways, approached me at the start of winter about changing work hours to avoid standing in the dark – something that I had thought about generically but hadn’t owned, and realised we need to think about this too where we can.

BUT then I come back into my own space and think about it again:in my car, in my home with someone to come and help me manage things better so that I can work on other things, I sit in a place of privilege – my mom isn’t walking to the taxi rank in the dark to clean for another family – and yes, I get its work & employment – but how do I respect and value the work of someone who helps create my home to being the nurturing space I want and experience it to be if I don’t honour the fullness of who she is (a pastor’s wife, a mother, a woman, a carer) and what she does?

This morning the woman who instils a sense of peace in my home whenever she has been here and I had a conversation about what makes her feel valued vs what doesn’t make her feel valued in people’s homes where she works. It was that simple a question – which required digging a little deeper into what type of things “do people do or not do” that make you feel respected? It was clear that there is a line between being a person coming to clean for people as opposed to being the function of picking up dirty tissues and wiping down day old food. It was apparent that respect & value, in this manner was something that wasn’t spoken but was felt and communicated.

Justice and being advocates of justice really does start in the kitchen. Unspoken messages of I respect you and honour the role you play in my home are an important of what justice means. It’s not about bags of old clothes or simply making sure that wages are living wages – it’s about ensuring that people who work in our homes are seen and honoured beyond being the arm that wipes a kitchen counter.

I don’t always get this right at all – and I am aware that this is a journey of growth and understanding and finding ways of communicating regardless of the awkwardness to figure things out – to work out how to negotiate this space. I know that it matters to me to be seen and respected and I want to make sure that people around me know that they are too.