With this post I divert from Amo’s story to answer some questions from one of my readers. Big thanks to Katy Roberts who addressed some important issues – issues I have been mulling over for a while now. While I have formed some conclusions, I feel like they are not quite mature. So give me a bit of grace here, I am happy to discuss and debate in the comments. Here is Katy’s comment from a few months back:
“I was wondering how you feel about Amo losing her ‘African’ culture? I know that this is a big concern for many around adoption. Where will Amo fit in when she can’t speak her original (African) language and so fit in with her race and may be rejected by her new (white) culture because of her skin colour? Perhaps I’m being to small-minded and not looking at us having a greater Kingdom culture but in the world these issues are very real.“
Let me start with two facts that are important when considering these questions. Firstly, regarding ethnicity, Amo is not black. Amo’s biological mom is coloured* (possibly Cape-Malay or Khoisan in heritage). On the other side we know effectively nothing about Amo’s biological father. We suspect that he may be black but will probably never know. With this in mind, I would ask; if we don’t know Amo’s exact ethnicity, how do we deal with culture?
Secondly, when we met Amo’s mom, we asked her if there was a particular language she would like Amo to learn because even in those first few months, we were wrestling with issues of culture. Her answer was Afrikaans. Now South Africans have an interesting relationship with Afrikaans. The Afrikaans language was at the centre of the Soweto Uprisings where many Soweto school children protested the introduction of the Afrikaans Medium Decree of 1974. It basically forced black scholars to be taught in a 50/50 mix of English and Afrikaans. This was resented by many black people and led to the protests on June 16, 1976. Desmond Tutu famously called Afrikaans the “language of the oppressor” (see this article on Wikipedia). However, Afrikaans is still the third most spoken language in South Africa (thanks again, Wikipedia), behind only Zulu and Xhosa and three places ahead of English in sixth. My point is that while Afrikaans is technically an African language, it did not originate with a native African people and is resented in some quarters.
So from the outset, there is no culture to fit Amo into. When ethnicity and language play such an important part in culture, how do we steer her towards a particular culture?
As I mentioned earlier, I have formed some conclusions:
1. Amo’s cultural identity is her family identity. She will grow up knowing she is absolutely loved and accepted as one of us in spite of her physical differences and background. Let’s be real for a moment. People, especially young people, find all kinds of reasons to make other people feel like they don’t fit in. We all do it and with the most trivial things. The cars we drive. The sports teams we support. What we eat. What we drink. What we wear. The trick is not to remove any chance of separation or rejection but rather to build strength and security into her so she can cope with rejection. A safe, stable and loving home is where she will learn that.
2. Amo’s identity is really found in Christ. Yes, she is a part of our family but if she loses everything else, she is still a child of God. This means that, according to the Bible, God knew her before he made her. It means that in creating her, He took great care and invested part of his infinite creativity. It means that He is active in her life. The obvious example being that despite being born to a lady who wasn’t able to keep her, God placed her in a loving family. She will grow up understanding that her family circumstance is a glimpse of what God wants to do with each of us – bring us into His family. God himself is adoptive. Katy alluded to this when she mentioned “Kingdom culture”. As Christians we put aside much of what the world says we ought to do and believe and we strive for the values God outlines in scripture.
Amo can’t really understand much of this at her age but she already knows that Jesus loves her and that we love Jesus. She knows that we pray to Jesus. She knows that we spend a lot of time with our church because we love to serve Jesus with them. She is developing a family identity and that identity is underpinned by Christ. We’ve slowly introduced concepts like God choosing her for us, and how she is God’s child as well as ours. If she grasps these things, really gets them, she will be a strong, capable, people-loving person and a credit to society.
Remember that no one can get away from opposition, prejudice or rejection. So our strategy is to rather build security and self-worth into her at home so she has what it takes to cope with life’s nasties. As long as she knows her place in and with God and as long as she has us, Amo will be just fine.
* Please note that in a South African context, the use of the term “coloured” is socially and culturally acceptable and describes a person of mixed race.