On Growing Up Black With White Parents


Yes, Chef author Marcus Samuelsson, adopted from Ethiopia by Swedish parents, writes in a piece for the Huffington Post that his childhood was great, but he wonders whether families like his will ever become the norm — or at least less of a spectacle.

I like to say that my Mom and Dad were the original Brad and Angelina (if Brangelina lived in a small fishing town and made cabbage rolls), but in fact my mother's parents were the ones who first made blended families the norm. I had a Jewish auntie — Anne-Marie's parents had taken in a girl from Czechoslovakia during World War II and raised her as their own. My grandparents were far from rich, but it was not strange for them to stretch their means to provide for others. And that's how it was for my parents; we didn't have money but we always ate well.

In my book Yes, Chef you can see old photos of them: my Mom with her beautiful, long hair and my dark blonde Dad, sporting a stylishly scruffy beard. They were so cool, so ahead of their time, without even trying. So many of our neighbors and my friends couldn't understand what my parents had done in adopting us, especially children from Ethiopia, but the impact on our extended family was immediate. I had Canadian relatives and cousins from Korea. If we got into fights at school, it wasn't because we were adopted. If we didn't understand what a word meant, it wasn't because we were adopted. My mother made sure that fact never creeped into conversation and she didn't let it define us.

But that didn't mean we were oblivious to the fact that Linda and I had white parents and my parents had black children. This one time we were visiting D.C. and my mother had to take us kids and leave the city. She had been so excited to come to America, to buy copies of Essence and Ebony magazine so she could learn how to comb our hair and buy the products she needed to tame our unruly afros. But she was getting it from both sides — white people couldn't understand what this Swedish woman was doing with two little Ethiopian children, and black people would be constantly asking her a thousand questions. This was the 1970's and there weren't celebrities adopting children from African countries …


Read Marcus Samuelsson's entire piece at the Huffington Post.

The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff.

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