Don't know if people are still interested in this topic (tales of Madonna's exploits having been replaced by tales of the adventures of Britney, Paris etc) but anyway.....
'Part of me wished my parents had given me back'
After the outcry over Madonna, Elizabeth-Jane Elising Jeffcoat explains how her own experience of trans-racial adoption was good and bad
Thursday November 9, 2006
"It was your Mum's idea," my Dad said. What followed left me in shock. It was 1990, I had recently left home and my parents separated six months later. We had been out somewhere, my Dad and I, and we were sitting in his car. He turned to me and said: "It was your Mum's idea to adopt you."
My Mum had always been so cold towards me, distant and unreachable. The anger would flare up in her eyes at times. On other occasions she would be hostile and abrupt. I always had the impression that she was embarrassed and ashamed of me, that I dragged an otherwise respectable family down. Why? Because I was black.
I was born in 1972 to a Ugandan mother and Kenyan father but was trans-racially adopted several months later. My parents already had two children of their own, Richard and Rupert. Three more were to follow over the next 13 years, David, John and Andrew. In the main we were private school educated.
The positive times of my childhood were the wonderful times I spent with my Dad and my brothers rambling through the many hills, gullies and woods near where we lived. My mother rarely joined us on days out. She was the sole breadwinner and worked very hard as an accountant. I used to rationalise in my head that she had to work all the hours there were in order to support such a large family. But I knew deep down that an element of it was to avoid me.
Throughout my childhood I would try to stay out of her way. I was so nervous and uncomfortable around her that I found conversing with her difficult. Often she would ignore me or switch off halfway through what I was saying. By the time I was 12 communication had become very stressful. At 13 I stopped kissing her goodnight, after one night when I kissed her and she flinched. In fact it was then that I decided to stop trying altogether.
I believe the root of her problems was her inability to articulate her disappointment that having a daughter hadn't worked out the way she hoped. I think she struggled to cope with the racism she experienced being the white mother of a black child.
My Dad loved me. He could be great fun to be around, very warm, caring and worked hard as a parent. But the relationship between him and my mother was strained. I believe he was frustrated with her attitude towards me but he could also be cruel to me. It wasn't unusual for him to refer to African and Asian people as Wogs and Paki's. It never failed to amaze me that when someone would shout a racial slur at me in the street Dad would shout back "Bloody fascist!" I'd look at him and think but you say things just as bad.
It always seemed that when things were particularly strained between my parents my Dad would turn on me. He'd say things like: "Just because you're black, you think you can get away with everything." He'd say I was a "black bastard", at times revelling in the double meaning. When I was 14 I overheard him talking about me to an older brother. He said: "She's not one of us." I was profoundly hurt.
My parents needed support. When I was 16 I went to Marriage Guidance to try and get some advice on my parents' behalf. The counsellor told me it was my problem. A part of me wished that my parents had given me back to the adoption agency as the struggle they went through was tearing them apart.
I felt very guilty about how it affected my brothers, especially the younger ones. In 1992 I made the decision to cease contact with them as I felt I was a harmful influence.
The last time I saw my youngest brother, Andrew, he was five. He was a lovely child and a delight to be around. We were in the car with Dad. He was singing Baa Baa Black Sheep, as he was singing he turned to me and said "you're a black sheep" and started laughing. He was curious about me being in the family, curious that I wasn't about so much anymore.
I loved him deeply and I know he missed me a great deal. I believe that my parent's attitude towards my ethnicity had left him bewildered and confused. My Dad turned to him and told him off for what he said to me. I thought enough's enough I have to get out of this child's life in order to bring him some peace. In hindsight I was wrong to leave him, terribly wrong but I couldn't bear to see any of my brothers suffer anymore.
A heartfelt memory I have of Andrew is when I fetched him from school one day. We were walking back hand in hand and he turned to me and said: "Liz, I don't mind that you're black." Never will he be forgotten.
It's been 14 years since I had a productive relationship with any of my brothers. I have made contact with Rupert and John in the last 12 months and hopefully this will continue. They have achieved great things and through them I have learnt that Richard, David and Andrew are also doing well. Even if I never see them again, they will always be in my thoughts.
My parents are what they are. I neither agree nor disagree with trans-racial placements. What I think is important is looking at the motivations of potential adoptive parents who seek to adopt a child of a different ethnicity/culture to their own. Through this process expectations can be properly examined and this in turn will assist in assessing the stability of the potential adoptive family including extended family. I think this is what's important in relation to Madonna's case.
I'm proud to be an African-Scot, I'm proud of who I am. Being brought up in the Jeffcoat family gave me five wonderful brothers and a fabulous grandmother. That's what I try to remember.