What has your experience been being a biracial family in Indonesia?
Just by being foreigners, we’re a spectacle. We’re a big family, and a lot of times there aren’t big families here. Just the fact that we’re ‘bule’ means that people are interested in us and watch us. When you add in the element of being biracial it adds in another layer of curiosity because adoption isn’t really a thing here.
Also, there is some racism against Papuans, who are darker. A lot of people actually think that Mark and Sarah are from Papua until we explain to them that they are African and from Ethiopia. It’s gotten better lately and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because our immediate neighborhood had gotten more used to us and the way we look.
When we first moved here, we would go on walks through our neighborhood just to figure out where everything is and meet our neighbors and practice Indonesian and just figure out life here.
We’d go out as a family and every single day we were asked if Mark and Sarah are our kids. We would say yes, and they would say “anda putih,” which is ‘you’re white,’ but “mereka hitam,” which is ‘they’re black.’ We would have to, in our limited Indonesian, explain that they’re adopted and from Ethiopia.
It was pretty exhausting for those first few weeks because every single day Mark and Sarah were hearing us talk about adoption. Every day they were being reminded of their difference. It kind of dug up some feelings in both of them, especially in Sarah. They both started asking more about adoption and why they’re adopted. We’re surrounded by more poverty here, so we see people that are impoverished. They want to know if that’s what it’s like for their birth moms. They’re seeing people in economic circumstances that they never were exposed to in the states, so they’re just trying to imagine how this relates to their birth families…
For the first time, they want to pray for their birth moms. I’ve approached that subject before gently with them. It’s just a way for them to care for their birth moms from afar. They haven’t really wanted to do that before, but since we’ve lived here, sometimes they want to, sometimes they don’t. We just go with how they’re feeling.
Being white on Java, locals ask to take pictures with us. When we go as a family on outings, we’re constantly stared at. I’ll step away for a moment and I’ll turn around and someone is taking a selfie with my kids. We’re trying to figure out a way to approach that because I know that they don’t mean it in a malicious way. We’re just a curiosity, but we’re also human beings. It’s hard.
In fact, Quincy used to want to be a pro-soccer player and Sarah wanted to be a singer but they’ve both decided that they don’t want to be famous because they don’t like people staring at them and wanting pictures with them every day. They just don’t like the attention.
I’ve thought more about race than ever before just living here because people look at me and stare at me and want to talk to me because I’m a white or because I’m a foreigner. I don’t think it’s just about being a foreigner, to be honest, because Mark and Sarah are foreigners and they’re not as interested in Mark and Sarah. Whereas with Ivy, she’s got long blond hair and they’re just really interested in her and want to take pictures with her. Again, they’re kind. It’s not malicious. They’re sweet, sweet people. It’s just another cultural aspect of living here.
Do you feel safe in Indonesia?
We live in a really cool Javanese city that has some expats due to a local international school. But in our neighborhood, we are the only expats, which we really enjoy. We have always felt welcomed and safe in Indonesia. People are so sweet and warm here. Even if people are curious, we don’t feel any maliciousness.
Where we live right now there’s a lot of Muslims and Christians, and they get along really well and respect each other and respect each other’s faiths. You have people here who are in the same family and have a different religion. We went to a neighborhood meeting and we were talking to these two older ladies.
They told me they were sisters and one of them is a Christian and one of them is Muslim and was wearing a Hijab. They’re sisters and good friends and they live in the same neighborhood. It’s a really cool place. People seem to get along really well here.
What are some actions we could all take to combat racism across the globe?
I think that we need to all have friends that look different from us, that have different origins, and that have different families. I think to empathize and understand what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes, you need to know them. You need to be friends.
We’re all so busy with our own lives. We’re all so tired and have so many things to do. We only have so much energy and capacity, so the energy that we have we’re usually going to spend on things that directly impact us… What’s going to make us really even care about how someone else is treated? It’s going to be when you care about someone of that other religion or that other race or that other country. Then, all of the sudden the world shrinks and you care. I think it’s a personal thing. You need to be willing to spend time with people.
I wish that people would be hungry to know what it’s like to live another life, to have another identity, to be from another country.
I say that because I love anthropology, culture, and sociology and history, so it’s easy for me to wish that for other people. I don’t know if it’s fair for me to expect that of other people. But everybody can be friends. Not that we all have to read books about each other’s faiths and cultures, but just as human beings, we can just be friends. I think that just being friends with people of other backgrounds is extremely eye-opening.
Culture is a beautiful thing. It’s incredible and beautiful that we’re not all the same. But through our families, through our government, through media, we’re all fed information. That’s where the complexity comes, from the cultural aspect of everything, even the human race.
We talk about different races, but we’re not different races, we’re the human race. We’re the same species.