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ON THE OUTSKIRTS OF NORMAL: FORGING A FAMILY AGAINST THE GRAIN By Debra Monroe SOUTHERN METHODIST UNIVERSITY PRESS 264 PAGES, $22.50 Debra and Marie Monroe PHOTO SCOTT VON OSDOL WATCH a conversation between a white mom and her adopted black son at READ more at Debra Monroe’s website [AUTHOR’S NOTE] Just Talk by Debra Monroe N 1996, I WAS A WHITE WOMAN WITH NO PLANS to marry, living in a small Hill Country town. I wanted to be a mother and started looking into adoption. I didn’t know that in 1972 the National Association of Black Social Workers called transracial adoption “cultural genocide.” In 1972, I was a schoolgirl. I’d watched the civil rights movement on TV, and it seemed like a battle black people fought with manners while white people fought with clubs and fire hoses. If I reconsider the national mood then, I realize only a hundred years had passed since white people bought and sold black people, babies included, a hundred violent years for anyone assuming that the rights and protections promised by the Reconstruction Amendmentsbut revoked by Jim Crow lawsstill applied. Miscegenation laws had only just been overturned in 1967. Angry suburbanites still protested desegregation. It was too soon for interracial anything, so agencies didn’t do transracial adoptions, not even after 1994, when the Metzenbaum Act was passed to address the fact that children of color were overrepresented in the child welfare system. It was amended in 1996, making the denial of placement because of race unambiguously illegal. I made my first calls to adoption agencies that year. Staff members asked warily if I’d be open to transracial adoption. Most staff members were white. During one call, when I said yes, the receptionist snapped: “Do you know what transracial means?” Her tone gave me pause. “I think so,” I said, parsing syllables, “adoption across races.” She said, “The child will be black!” Black was a whole other category of transracial, apparently. I ended up with an agency whose values seemed like my values: Its staff members didn’t tense up discussing race. I filled out paperwork. I underwent hours of training. No one told me the law had just changed. A happy accident, I think now, in that I didn’t see I’d be countering unsolicited conversations about raceconversations unearthing curiosity, uneasiness, and idealized visions of the futurefor the rest of my life. When I brought my daughter home, the color of her face, black and swaddled in pink, was news. The highway that cuts the country in half, 1-35, separates the South from the Southwest. Demographically, the South is mostly white and black, and the Southwest is mostly Anglo and Hispanic. My town, a cedarchopping village turned Austin exurb just west of the big divide, is firmly in the Southwest. There were few black people in town, so my daughter and I seemed remarkable there. People remarked. A stranger in a store cupped her hands around my daughter’s face and said, “This town is ready for you.” My daughter looked wary. A deputy pulled me over because I’d failed to dim my lights. He shined the flashlight from my face to my daughter’s. “Whose kid is that?” he asked, flustered. I went to a doctor for what turned out to be a blood sugar disorder, and he looked at my daughter and asked if her father was sick; he should order an HIV test, he added. These might seem like three versions of one conversation, but they’re not. The woman in the store had waited a long time to prove to herself she was comfortable with black people, and a white mother with a black child was an opportunity she hurried to take. The deputy was so startled he forgot to give me a ticket. The doctor assumed I’d slept with a black man and engaged in high-risk behavior, which is racial profiling. Note that in the conversations no one said the words “black” or “race.” Attitudes about race have changed a little. But our language for talking about race hasn’t changed as much as it’s gone underground, turned evasive. We live in semantically cautious times. We use the phrase “post-racial,” and we hope it means we’re past racial distinctions. Instead, we’re almost past old-fashioned words for racial distinctions, but we still find new ways to encode old assumptions. Most of the attention my daughter received was surprised but kindly. I fielded it, rarely saying the words “black” or “race” myself. I wanted her to grow up knowing that being black is being the site of conjecture fueled by history, but I didn’t want her singled out. The small town felt like a tableau of attitudes past. 32 THE TEXAS OBSERVER WWW.TEXASOBSERVER.ORG