While many adopted children enjoy relative acceptance and are showered with attention and gifts, for four year old Anwar Phillips* members of his adoptive family only see his colour.
The little boy of Xhosa origin was welcomed into his new home by his father Nur*, mother Safiya*, and two siblings at the tender age of seven months and almost immediately adapted to life within his new family.
“When I saw him for the first time, I just told my husband ‘this is him’ – Allah chose him for us,” recalls Anwar’s mother.
Though her household excitedly welcomed the little boy into their lives, his presence within the family was met with stares and discrimination by her extended family and certain community members.
“Some people do not think twice before they hurt a little child’s feelings. It shows that a lot of Muslims are outright racist,” she says.
The racism levelled toward Anwar becomes evident when family and friends choose to give her biological children gifts, whilst openly ignoring Anwar’s presence.
Safiya says the little boy has picked up on the discrimination and continuously asks “why they are not fair with him.”
In an attempt to remedy the situation, Safiya encourages her biological children to share their gifts with Anwar.
In response to enquiries about Anwar’s treatment, one family member says she treats Anwar as an outsider because she was raised in a segregated community and is, therefore, unable to accept individuals of a darker skin-tone as members of her family.
In order to protect her son from being discriminated against, Safiya makes an assertive effort to stay out of the company of those who do not welcome Anwar’s presence.
“I do have family that adore him, but then there are those who don’t acknowledge him, so I try and stay clear of them,” she adds.
In addition to contending with discrimination from family and friends who struggle to accept her son, she and her husband were forced to remove Anwar from a local Muslim school after the little boy complained that he was being ill-treated at the school.
The treatment, which Phillips describes as being “shoved around”, resulted in him ‘wetting the bed’, though being previously fully potty-trained.
“Another parent informed me that she thinks that the school is being racist with my son after her child told her what is happening at the school. We removed him from the school and he is now so happy.”
‘Choose a child that looks like you’
Indicative of innate racism that continues to exist within South Africa, many individuals have stated that Safiya should have chosen a child that ‘resembles’ her.
“But I always tell them that the Prophet Muhammad [may peace be upon him] was an orphan and that Sayidinah Bilal (the first caller to prayer) was a black man – so why must we look down upon a child because he is dark-skinned?”
While the racist comments have decreased, Safiya says those who did not accept her son’s adoption have not made an attempt to develop a relationship with the little boy.
As Anwar ages, Saffiya says he has begun enquiring about his physical features, which prompted her to inform him about his adoption.
“I explained to him that he came from an orphanage, but he does not really understand it as yet.”
While Safiya is unable to provide information about Anwar’s biological parents, she confirmed that Anwar’s adoption is closed. He, therefore, has no contact with his biological parents.
“His mother could have done it a different way, but she went to child-welfare. So, she could have abandoned him, but she did a responsible thing.”
In order to educate her son about his family’s history, Safiya says Anwar will be introduced to Xhosa tradition once he is able to adequately grasp concepts.
‘Muslim families want blue-eyed children’
Safiya, whose only requirement was that her adopted child be HIV negative, explained that during the adoption process, she was shocked to discover that certain Muslim families specified that the child be blue-eyed with ‘straight’ hair.
“I was so sad to hear that because there is such a lot of children who are black but do not have homes, because our people are so selfish they want a child who looks a certain way,” she adds.
General manager of Vision Childcare Centre for the past 25 years, Saadiq Jacobs affirmed that when choosing a child to host, certain individuals tend to exhibit innate racism, by specifying requirements.
“I would like people to come forward and adopt and not be choosy. I have found that certain individuals, when they host children, prefer a light-skinned child with blue eyes, silky hair, and built in a certain way – people need to realise that it is the Almighty’s creation,” Jacobs asserts.
Non-Muslims tend to be less specific when choosing a child to host. He says children housed within these childcare centres are able to sense when individuals choose based on race.
“The reality in South Africa is that almost all children that are available for adoption are “black”. People who decide to proceed with this should understand this and firstly overcome their own prejudices. Our family and especially his cousins have become “colour-blind” and this will also remove their prejudices as they grow up,” adds Nur, Anwar’s father.
Not all adoptive parents have encountered racism
Meanwhile Abubaker Abdullah, a father of two adopted daughters, explains that he has not encountered discrimination from within his family and community.
“They actually get more out of our parents than from us,” he says.
The little girls have adapted quite naturally to the home environment and described their sisterly bond as “inseparable.”
Abdullah says this journey has resulted in him meeting many adoptive parents and affirmed that he has never encountered stories of racism or discrimination against adopted children.
“Everyone says that their adopted children are so spoilt by family and friends,” he concludes.
VOC (Thakira Desai)