Tandra: "Oh, and I had a dream that we had a baby. And it was black."
Me: "That would be cool."
And it would, too. Seriously.
Growing up, in elementary school and through most of high school, my best friend was Adam Scott Thomas-Brashier. Bit of a mouthful. His mother has some feminist beliefs, or had, or something. I don't know. I think Adam once referred to her as a femi-nazi, but I don't think she's all that radical. I think he just wanted to say the word "femi-nazi." Anyhow, she didn't want to give up her last name when she got married, so even though Adam's parents are married, they both have different last names. And the lucky kids get them both. (Adam used to grumble that Brashier didn't come first, otherwise he could have been near the front of the lines by alphabetical last name, instead of near the back.)
The first time I met Adam's little brother Nathan, I was still too young to really understand what a unique situation it was, and I was too young to categorize people. I mean, I kind of had this sense of surprise that Nathan belonged to the rest of the family, but I got over that and accepted the fact almost immediately. From then on it never occurred to me that Nathan was black - he was just Nathan.
Adam's mother is epileptic (enough that she can't drive). She's also rather heavy. I think it was this combination of factors (although there could have been further complications - I'm not sure) that made it difficult for her to have children naturally. Adam was the only one, and I understand he was somewhat of a miracle. When they decided to adopt, they were asked if they had any preferences regarding the child. "And we just told them we didn't care, as long as he was healthy," she always says when she tells the story. So they adopted a black kid. Pretty cool.
Sometime around third or fourth grade, my mother enrolled me in gymnastics to see that I got some sort of exercise. I happened to go to the same place as Adam and Nathan, and my class was the same night as Nathan's. A kid named Philip from my school was in my class with me. After class one night, Adam's parents showed up to pick up Nathan. Philip said, "Isn't that Adam's parents?"
I said, "Yep."
Philip said, "What are they doing here? Adam's not here."
"They're picking up his little brother Nathan."
"I didn't know Adam had a brother. Who is he?" I pointed out Nathan and Philip's eyes got all big and round and he looked at me incredulously. "Adam's little brother is black? That's weeeeird!!!"
"No it's not, he's adopted."
Philip said, "ohhhhh..." but he still had this look of utter confusion on his face. I wasn't sure why at the time, but I was kind of angry at Philip about that.
As I grew older, it would occur to me from time to time to wonder about Nathan's social life. He grew up in a white family, surrounded by white people. He wore glasses and spoke with the pronunciation of a white kid. Up until roughly middle school or high school age, I don't think the issue ever crossed his mind. I mean, I'm sure he knew he was different, but I don't think he was perplexed with the question of how he should act.
I think it's infinitely sad that we live in a culture where such a consideration even exists. It's unfortunate that black people and white people are expected to act a certain way, and if you don't, you're "acting white" or "acting black" and are ostracized from your own people. This situation is particularly damaging to black people because, at least in my perception, black people are expected to act "thuggish" and hard and poor, you know, pimps and hos and the whole deal. That kind of lifestyle or the lives of rich professional athletes (and more and more, a combination of the two) are the only images of black people that the media portrays, and it's horribly negative and can't possibly have a good effect on young black people growing up. It's especially sad that a person like Nathan has to deal with those sorts of social expectations. I'm sure it's an annoyance that would otherwise be irrelevant to him - Nathan doesn't give a damn what color you are, and he probably doesn't think your race should have any influence on your behavior. I certainly don't. But when almost all of society believes differently (whether consciously or subconsciously), and the media only portrays the world that way... that's a hard thing to rise up against, I would imagine.