When Kim Kelley-Wagner adopted two children from China, she didn't expect that others from The United States would be rude, mean or dismissive about the adoption, her children, or the fact that the girls were adopted from a different country. She quickly learned, however, that even when people weren't being intentionally hurtful, that they were making off-hand comments that were insulting.
"The comments began right from the start," Kelley-Wagner says. "We would be shopping, and cashiers or store clerks would say things like, 'How much did she cost?' or 'You could have bought a car for what it probably cost to adopt her.' I would answer, 'Are you interested in adoption?' If they said no, I'd say, 'Why are you asking?' My response made them consider the impact of their words and sometimes they apologized."
It's great that some apologized (and you can bet some people probably got huffy and just said "well, it's the truth!"), but it shouldn't take a gentle reprimand to make people consider what they're about to say before they say it. Instead of shrugging these comments off, Kelley-Wagner created a photo project with her daughters documenting the microggressions, slights, and straight-up horrible shit that's been said. And you will not believe (jk, of course you will) the appalling things that have come out of some adults' mouths.
"One time, I was at the mechanic and the counter guy said to one of the girls, 'You know that's not your real sister, right?'" Kelley-Wagner recounts. "His coworker rushed over and apologized for him. On another occasion, a bookstore clerk asked, 'Um, does she look like her real father?'"
Damn, why would anyone ever have any reason to comment on the legitimacy of siblings? Outside of a soap opera (where these kinds of things are usually revealed for ratings), that's just a comment you keep to yourself. What can even be achieved by saying something like that? What is the goal? Insight?Making yourself feel smart for stating something only a sharp-eyed private dick would notice?
Kelley-Wagner's photo series is both heartening and hopeful, providing ample food for thought about the things we say and how we choose to say them. The comments directed at her younger daughter, Meika, who has special needs are especially cruel (though Kelley-Wagner is kind enough to point that they often come from ignorance rather than malice). And what's even more upsetting is that when Kelley-Wagner asked her daughters to make a list of the hurtful things that have been said to them, the girls remembered things that their mother didn't, making it clear that the comments were staying with them. Fortunately, Kelley-Wagner says that despite the comments her daughters " have never questioned their place in our family or felt out of place."
And to those who feel the project is exploitative, Kelly-Wagner has this to say:
"Yesterday, a woman online said that my project was a parental fail," says Kelley-Wagner. "But I want my kids to be aware of the ignorance in the world so they'll know how to handle it." She admits that it can be hard for her to stay calm at times; she doesn't want her children to respond rudely but instead to make the other person think. "My advice to them is, leave your offenders speechless," she says. Liliana is learning — recently, a couple approached the family and the woman remarked, "I couldn't love someone I didn't give birth to," to which Lily cleverly responded, "Oh, did you give birth to your husband?" before walking away. "I was proud of her," says Kelley-Wagner.
Here are several of the photos from the project. More can be seen on Kelley Wagner's Facebook page.
Images via Facebook.