Biracial woman adopted by black family as a toddler doesn't wish for a different life

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Although she was born of a white woman and a black man, Pamela Chapman grew up in an African-American family, among the "colored" folks in Cass County with whom she was placed because of her fair complexion and hazel gray eyes, which meshed with their coloring.

The 52-year-old Kalamazoo resident said she has known that she was adopted for as long as she can remember. "They told me as much information as they had," she said, referring to her adoptive parents, Clarence and Goldie Haines, both of whom are now deceased.

What she knew was that she was born in Booth Memorial Hospital in Detroit in 1952 and that it had been part of her white relatives' hopes to have her adopted somewhere nearby, in Wayne County.

How she ended up in an orphanage on Rose Street in Kalamazoo, she has no idea.

She was an adult before she learned that her white, maternal grandfather would have raised her with the family, but that her maternal grandmother's opposition killed any such plan.

Chapman was 25 when she tracked down and met both her birth parents in 1978; she thinks it's more than coincidental that she felt the urge to make the contacts before her first child, a daughter, turned 13 months, the same age she was when she was adopted.

"She was 19 when I was born," Chapman, a registered nurse, said of her birth mother. "It was dictated by her parents, by society. There was just no way it was going to happen. You just were not going to see this white woman dragging this little sandy-colored baby down the street."

For the most part, Chapman said, she lived a sheltered life, protected from the curious stares and questions that came more and more as she became an adult and moved into the work force. Growing up, though, she did hear her fair share of "half breed" and "Heinz 57" remarks -- a reference to the mixed varieties of the ketchup sauce.

She was raised with a biracial adopted older brother, who she felt identified more with his "white" side than she did. She felt sympathy for her brother, who apparently already had established a relationship with his birth mother, as he was 3 1/2 before her rights were terminated and he was adopted. He died in 1989.

While she has worked as a nurse, she said, people have asked her what her ethnicity is, but she never tells them outright. Instead, she asks them what they think, and the responses range from Indian and Greek to Mexican to African-American.

She and her birth mother, with whom she speaks a few times a year, love some of the same things, such as cats and quilting, she said, but their relationship is "limited."

Her birth mother now is remarried, to a white man, "who might have a little race problem," Chapman said. Although the man knows his wife gave up a daughter to adoption years ago, he does not know that the child was biracial, she said.

She has talked to one of the couple's daughters, a white woman who embraces her. But one of their sons wants to hear no talk of her, Chapman said.

There was a time, Chapman said, when she explored her mother and grandfather's background, experimenting with Norwegian culture and foods and with Norwegian country design in her kitchen, using yellows, greens and reds and heavy woods.

"It's really funny, because there was a time I wanted to explore that side," Chapman said.

Even though she's heard the expression that life might have been easier if she were all-white or all-black, Chapman disagrees.

"I am the way I'm supposed to be," Chapman said. "I don't believe life would be any different."

© 2005 Kalamazoo. Used with permission

Copyright 2005 Michigan Live. All Rights Reserved.