The Body Holds On


In 2007 the adoption section at Powell's was divided into distinct camps: How-To, Parenting the Unattached Child, and Memoirs of Children Adopted in SE Asian Countries. I read what I could find. We had sorted out the "how-to" bit pretty quickly. We were going to be matched with a small child, so we hoped that the attachment would be the manual, loving, labour of holding, rocking and feeding. The memoirs bit was trickier– still is. These were fully formed adults talking about the weight and trauma of being raised by Other People. I was under no illusions that I was not Other People. 

My writing at that time– if you can call it that– was benign and breezy. I reveled in the things I did not know. I knew enough to not worry about the wait for our child. That was selfishness. The rest would take time to know. I was wholly fixated on the racial implications without knowing what the racial implications would be. I felt like we were probably going to make a lot of mistakes. 

Portland was probably going to be our first, big mistake. We know that now. Liberal Meccas are bastions for Polite Racism– personal and structural. Everyone was going to love on my baby and turn to NextDoor to complain about them when they got old enough to ride their bikes around the block. We were going to bring our precious loves into a system where they would be tokenized, their spirits crushed, and their worth questioned by people who refused to see them as whole persons. 

And. They would also be seen and loved and cherished by people who look like them and who would teach them how to gird their hearts against the specificity of Pacific Northwest Whiteness. They would be encouraged and accepted. We would find our other Family in our friends and neighbors and coaches. We would get the hair thing right. We would be blessed by unearned generosity. 


When people say "Portland So White" I sigh and think "Not My Portland". And so in that, we sought to rectify our first mistake. 


Go back though. Our first mistake was probably thinking we were good enough to take this on in the first place. That is a wondrous kind of good-hearted arrogance, isn't it? 


We tell Augie about his tiny, baby self often. 10 years later it is still funny and strange. "Sam hated the smell of formula. You would be spitting up and farting in our arms and Sam would be gagging and covering his nose sitting next to us." 

10 years. 

"You had thrush… it's a kind of infection and it covered your tongue. The ladies at the hotel told us to rub urine on it. We took you to the pediatrician while dad drove Sam around in the parking lot so we could get you checked out. You were perfect, of course. The thrush cleared up right away. No, you were too tiny to go swimming in the hotel pool."

"We went to the beach one time. The night before we left. We parked in a roundabout and Sam and dad ran out into the sand and I stayed with you on a bench. The sky was pink."  

"Your brothers and your sister were so little. We saw them one time with J. She held you while they did an activity book on the floor. Your sister____ was 12 months old and insisted on filling up everyone's paper cups from the water cooler. You all walked when you were so tiny. I tried really hard not to cry, but I felt sad for J and didn't know what to do. She didn't know what to do either. Mostly she just smiled at you. We didn't know very much about your family. We know a lot more now. You know A LOT more now."

"You were so bummed when we got back to our house, Augs. It was too cold and your tummy hurt and we just held you as much as we could. Your dad had no time off. You did not love to sleep."

He laughs because he still doesn't really love to sleep. 

"The day Sam played with you was right about the time you started scooting around. He gave you a toy and started talking to you in a silly voice. I took approximately 1 million pictures and then I cried." 

At this part he just stares down Sam. "Rude", he says. 


October is the month we married, the month we bought our house then years later, sold it. It is the month in college where everything was still golden and I always felt like this was the year I was really going to kill it with my GPA. November is the month we brought both of our babies home, a year a part. This week he blew out candles and opened up new clothes and shoes. He and I both cried at some point but for different reasons. He did not know why he felt so sad. I told him that sometimes the body holds on to things that are hard, even if our minds do not remember them. 


I have not spent that much time thinking about Macklemore, but I did really love this article and felt like it described the PNW fairly well. How Macklemore Laid Down His White Burden

He’s done, as he put it, with “preaching to the choir”: rapping politics to the white liberals who compose the majority of his fanbase. Which, for many, comes as a relief. He remains the avatar of white guys trying hard not to be the worst, but he’s also — especially in this new incarnation — a salve for those exhausted with the enduring conundrum of white guilt. His endurance makes sense, but it’s also proof of the fickleness of so many components of white liberalism: When you can put a conversation aside when it ceases to thrill you or feed you, how deep was your investment? Is the ability to stop talking about injustice the greatest white privilege of all?

Nikole Hannah-Jones is getting the recognition she deserves right now. I want everyone I know who has children in public schools; who are landlords and renters and homeowners; who are managers and small business owners to read this short article. And then Just Keep Reading until we are all so wrecked and demoralized that we actually start to push back on what we have* until now, been complicit in"Schools are segregated because white people want them that way"

People want hope. They want to believe things are getting better for black folks. What I'm arguing, and I think what Ta-Nehisi is arguing, is that things will never be right. An improvement doesn't make things right; it just makes them a little better.

Black people are still fighting for equal citizenship rights. Millions of black children are still in schools that look just as if Brown v. Board of Education never happened. Generations of black people are still trapped in urban ghettoes. The black unemployment rate, in the best of times, is still double that of white Americans. Black people face discrimination in every sector of American life.

So when people want hope, I wonder: Hope for what? To me, until black Americans are treated as full citizens, it's immoral to expect people to be satisfied just because there's forward progress. People want hope and absolution instead of working to destroy a system that still holds black people last in almost everything.

This is our latest YouTube loop from 6th graders (and their teacher) in Milwaukee laying it down to Tee Grizzly's "First Day Out'. 

I am smart/I am strong/My life matters/I'm a Blessing

*Accurate edit suggestion 

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