Welcome to 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying adoption experiences and perspectives.
By Ruby Levin
My name is Ruby Levin. I am seventeen (almost eighteen). I live in Chicago, and I am a senior at Senn High School in the dance program. I love art, and I absolutely love to dance, and I was adopted by my amazing single mother, Felice, when I was four days old.
I personally feel being adopted comes with certain expectations, from yourself and from others. It comes with challenges as well. Most importantly, you can’t let these expectations define you. You need to remember that you are the one who is in control of your identity.
On that note, a big challenge I face is the fact that many people in my life have told me that I am white. Which is partially true — 20% to be exact. I know this thanks to an ancestry DNA test I took, although I personally identify as a black woman.
So hearing that I am white from others really does destroy the purpose of me as a person having my own identity. I would ask myself what the point was of creating my OWN identity if society didn’t even accept it or follow it.
Other challenges I have overcome in embracing my identity mainly revolve around getting over the labels and stereotypes people like to place on me because I’m adopted. I taught myself that I don’t need a label to define myself and to define my actions, because every race doesn’t need to act the same to be identified into that race.
My black friends would tell me, and they still tell me, that I don’t “talk black” due to my “proper speech” tone. When people tell me this, I reply with, “I am black, and I am talking; I think we are all doing it right!”
The things that I think “make me black” are that I have embraced my natural frizzy curly big hair, I know the history of my people, I march and act towards what I believe is right, because throughout the years I will not stand for less due to the way society wants to treat me based off of my melanin complexion, and lastly, I am black because in the end I am simply THAT without question.
People would also question if I was Jewish, and when I told them “yes”, they would never believe me. They made fun of me because I always forgot what day Christmas was, and I didn’t know about Easter. Instead of having a Christmas tree, I had a menorah. Instead of having eggnog, I had matzoh ball soup.
Eventually I realized being Jewish is really cool. I didn’t go through all the work of having a whole Bat Mitzvah just to throw my religion away! I embraced my identity through the thought process of realizing that it’s okay to be your OWN label, and your OWN self, and once I realized this, I felt so much more comfortable in my OWN skin, and my OWN identity.
It has taken me a long time to find myself and find my identity because things can get pretty twisted up when people would question why I don’t have a dad, what a bat mitzvah is, why my hair is so frizzy, and why my mother is white. They would question me in ways I wouldn’t even know how to reply.
And they would ask me, who are you?
The easiest way to answer that question is to just say that my name is Ruby. I’m Black, Jewish, prideful, artistic, open-minded, and free spirited. I express myself through music, dance, art and action.
My people and ancestors (Black, Jewish, and women too), have been bold by simply being themselves in a world that sees them as nothing more than their stereotype and label. Throughout our lives, it feels as though we are obligated to give and receive labels. Now, these silly little labels can be as serious as unfading harsh engraving permanent marker, to as temporary and easily ephemeral as dry erase ink.
Labels can help us know who we are, and help others “know” who we are even quicker! But… what if you find yourself too unique to fit into a so called “label”?
Think about it like this; what if you are the color maroon in a world full of only the seven basic primary colors — where do you go? What if the plastic sticky note name tag that someone gives you is too small to hold your whole name — do you take out some of your letters? Do you remove something from yourself so that you can “fit”, or in other words, “fit in”?
How big is your box of expression? In art, the infinites are endless. In fact, art itself comes from the idea of asking, “why does it have to be this way”? Human beings said, “We have more colors in this colorful world than just seven!” and that’s where maroon fits in.
There is room for everyone on the dance floor. Label or no label. No matter our complexion, beliefs, religion, gender, sexuality, personality, or color of our hair, we all dance and our labels become invisible.
These thoughts have also helped me get in touch with my emotions. I told myself that everybody has different methods of handling situations, and different emotions, and that emotions are what make us human.
When babies are born, normally the first thing they do is cry, so I need to remind myself that crying is a sign of living, along with being happy, being mad – all these emotions are the brain’s natural way of reacting to what is happening around us.
The hardest time for my emotions was definitely puberty, and I think we can all agree that at that time in life, everyone is confused. But in the end, everyone has emotions. Music helps me cope with my emotions. Music plays a big role in everything, it’s almost like the “background sound” to my life.
Music is like another language that is spoken nationally. It brings people together. Whether it may be Rap, Hip-Hop, R&B, Soul, Nigerian “beats”, music has surprisingly helped me get in touch with my culture!
It’s a really wonderful feeling to know that the artist that created the song has experienced the same emotions that you do. Music really does bring us all together. With music, we have no sense of sight, or judgment controlled by what we see. You are praised by how you sound, not by how you look. Despite the many labels I have been given in my life, I’ve created my OWN label for myself, discovered through music and dancing and thinking and feeling:
My name is Ruby Levin, I’ve grown up in Chicago, and it will always be my home base. I was adopted when I was four days old, I am raised by a single mother, and we are a Jewish biracial family.
I have built myself into the human I am today, thanks to the acceptance I have given myself to be free and be entirely me. I tell myself to “do you, boo.” Because the power of being unique can only be acquired with some positive vibes, pride, respect for yourself, and acceptance over who YOU are.