Dear Birth Mom: racial unrest in the news makes me think of you

Dear Birth Mom:

For most of my adult life, I find my thoughts drifting to you anytime racial unrest is in the news. Like I was just thinking about you in July during the fiftieth anniversary of the race riots/rebellion in Detroit, as I do every July. I guess as a mixed person I should use both frames of reference, though I tend to prefer the latter over the former.

It has nothing to do with preferring my black half. Both halves relish necessary rebellion equally.

I don’t have much info about you or the nature of my conception, but my understanding is that you were a student at Wayne University in Detroit. July of ’67 would’ve been just about when you were coming to terms with the idea that you were single and pregnant. A young, white woman carrying a black man’s baby.

I think of him at times like this, too, but that’s a separate letter.

Anyway, I can’t possibly imagine what was going through your mind at the time, especially given that it was pre-Roe v. Wade. Sometimes I wonder what you would have done a mere few years later, but whether it would’ve been by choice or whether it was merely by lack thereof, I truly appreciate my existence — so I’m especially indebted to the sacrifice and torment you must have gone through.

I mean, a big chunk of your college town was exploding in violence and flames over race relations as your belly was beginning to bulge with a mixed baby. I can’t imagine how that felt …

Sometimes I wonder if you ever think of me, too. Like, do you ever think what happened to me in this country that can seem to be still so messed up about race?

Like with the horrible events in Charlottesville driven by ignorant, small-minded people who want to turn back the clock on all the progress we’ve made since your pregnant days. My adoptive parents raised me to see the progress — to be a part of the progress wherever we were — as it was unfolding, standing strong around my dark presence in their extremely fair family.

We have made progress since those days. I was thinking about Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech — that anniversary is coming up soon, too. Specifically, I was thinking about the part when he said:

I still have a dream.  It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I feel like we’re almost there.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Stock photo – Pixabay)

Granted, we’ve got a president who isn’t there yet, by any stretch of the imagination, and our governor up here in Maine’s no prize, either. But it seems like a majority of elected officials of all stripes and levels of office along citizens of all backgrounds have been publicly decrying the ills of white supremacy and neo-Nazism — and two thirds of Americans view the action in Charlotte resulting in the death of Heather Heyer to be an act of domestic terrorism.

As utterly painful as the events in Charlottesville have been for our nation to process, it is a time to mark our progress, even if our president isn’t thoughtful enough to say so. I really wish he had joined the majorities who are rising up and living out the true meaning of our creed.

Not that we don’t have progress still to make, double-time. Like I think we’ve let Dr. King’s legacy down by letting income inequality get worse instead of better in his absence.  Resolving that fundamental issue would be quite a steam release for all the simmering negativity in our country, and it was a cornerstone of Dr. King’s vision.

In case you worried at all, you should know I’ve had a pretty privileged experience, as far as race is concerned. Of course, it’s America, and I have a few scars caused by reactions to my particular shade from both sides, but Mainers have treated me SO WELL for over four decades now.

I couldn’t have asked for any easier go of it as far as race is concerned up here. In other ways, my personal story’s been pretty rough at times, and goodness knows I can’t brag about what a raving success I am. I can say my life has been wonderfully rich in terms of experiences and people I’ve met along the way.

The two greatest treasures in my rich life are my boys; and the luxury of being able to raise them and their lighter shades with little or no grief about our family’s racial make-up is another sign of our progress.

They’re amazing young men now, and I like to think the way they’ve turned out is a tribute to your sacrifice combined with the upbringing my loving adoptive parents provided. And the ever-progressing state and nation in which they’ve grown up.

Gratitude, love and best wishes,


Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.