When Debra Monroe started to pitch her memoir, On the Outskirts of Normal, she didn't want to hype the fact that her daughter is black.
The English professor is white.
But hers isn't a book about transracial adoption. It's a book about motherhood, self-doubt, a single woman finding the power within herself to let go of Mr. Right Now (and in the end finding Mr. Right) that just so happens to contain a white mom and a child of color.
To paraphrase a singer who just so happens to be of color herself: What's race got to do with it?
For readers: Not as much as you'd think.
I was halfway through On the Outskirts of Normal and thoroughly engaged by the story when I realized it wasn't the book I thought it would be ... nor did it matter.
It was a love story from mother to daughter, the tale of the adoption process and how it can turn out just right.
True, I'd walked into reading the book considering myself fairly open-minded on racial concerns. But this was a book whose cover photo is a black and white shot of a white woman and a small black child on a park bench. Beside the rather garish red lipstick title is a subhead in stark white: "Forging a family against the grain."
Monroe's own reticence to make race the guiding theme of her memoir speaks directly to the heart of the matter: Her biggest trouble wasn't being a white mother to a black baby in a small Texas town. It was being a single mother -- albeit one by choice.
Speaking with Monroe last week for The Stir, she admitted readily that she was wary of how she sent out her pitches -- including the one that landed Outskirts on my nightstand.
"The subject of the book is really about me, motherhood, and self doubt," she said. "Race is a subplot. But race is what makes it interesting.
"If you said it was a motherhood memoir, you'd yawn. The thing I was trying to play down is the thing that gets it interest."
It's not a lie that has gotten the book out there -- it's an exploitation of subconscious biases that turns the issue on its head. It forces you to explore your own open-mindedness ... or lack thereof. If that's what makes people curious, race is still an issue. Then again, if people walk into this book hoping for the best, is it?
Are you wrong to be curious? Or is curiosity the way we better society?
So I asked Monroe: What does that say about society that we need to be titillated by the idea of someone's troubles, by the hint that interracial mingling is somehow still taboo, if not downright dirty?
"If prurient curiosity about race is what gets you to read the story, but you find that's not the real story, that's a good thing," Monroe answered quickly.
Because like any adopted household: It's inside that matters.
"Race is finally the non-issue," she explains.
But if it's what garners the book interest, how can it be a non-issue?
"I never did it to be cool, I never did it to be a hero," she explains of the adoption. "I just wanted to be a mother."
And so she is today to Marie, 13, and fully aware of how her family came to be. Monroe considers the different skin tones to be a gift in that she never faced the decision of: Should I hide that she's adopted?
Is transracial adoption the same issue it was 13 years ago?
Images via Debra Monroe