My name is Tholakele Antamu. I was born into a life, a country and a world that was not quite ready for me and I knew it from my very first moment of consciousness. I was born in a place I did not know, can not recognise and have not yet been back to. I was given the name Lindiwe, surnameless, mother and fatherless I lay waiting for my new life to find me.
The name Lindiwe, is the female name derived from the Zulu word ‘ukulinda’, which means ‘to wait’. My name is now Thola, (Tholakele) which means ‘to be found’, (the found one). This is the name I was given by my two white South African parents in early January of 1989. My name is my crown and I wear it with pride like a gold wreath upon my dark chocolate face. My name, Tholakele Antamu Catherine van Speyk Hulbert, tells my whole story. It tells a story of a powerful, stong, elegant woman who was found on the top of a high peak. No one knew how she got there or why she was there but people would always find themselves wanting and wishing that they could join her.
I am Thola Antamu.
Today Thola who blogs over at The Girl Who Found Power, shares her personal experience of adoption and growing up as a young black woman with white parents. Thola, this is so incredibly beautiful. Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions and for sharing your heart with us.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your family
I am a 28-years old poet, princess and performer. I studied performance art and graduated as a professional triple threat performer. I travelled with my one woman show, ‘Exhibit-S, Ode to Saartjie Baartman by a Black South African Woman.’ I have been privileged to be able to perform my work internationally and nationally. I will always be a poet first and foremost.
Sadly, I learnt that performance does not pay the bills even though across all economic brackets, human beings seek entertainment. Performance feeds my soul. I decided in 2016 to begin studying psychology in order to have my work and opinions recognised as valuable and important. I have just completed my 1st-year and have just recently been accepted into a London based university to complete my degree.
I hope to used drama, movement and poetry together with psychology to allow others like me to find space in this world. Psychology and performance have lead me to my current freelance lifestyle. I perform, I teach dance classes, I write blogs and I facilitate diversity workshops in both corporate and educational spaces. My path has always lead to personal empowerment, and so I am learning now, to allow those around me, who are willing, to also empower themselves.
What is your definition of adoption?
I do not believe that I can define the word of act of adoption. I can try to illustrate what it means for me but in doing so I am excluding what it means for my cross-racially adopted sister or my mother or father. Each of us would have a completely different definition of the same concept. For me, adoption is whatever you make it to be.
How do you feel about adoption in general?
Personally, I think that adoption is incredible. For a long time I struggled to understand how my white parents were brave enough to choose to not have children, as they had been expected, and then on deciding to have a child, they adopted me. A black baby in a white family in 1989 was not a natural choice, not a natural family. I saw my parents as brave. Now, as an adult, I have come to understand that my parents were not particularly brave, they were just free. I wish that kind of freedom on all people. The freedom to design your own truth and colour it the way you choose.
How do you feel about your parents?
How does any child feel about their parents? They are my parents. You love them, you hate them, and you love them again.
How do you feel about your biological parents?
I don’t know my biological parents. Therefore, I have not feelings towards them.
At what age, if ever, did you want to find your biological parents?
I don’t remember a time in my life when I wanted to connect with my biological parents. I do however want to go back to where I was born and see if I can claim the land that is my birth right.
How were you told that you were adopted?
The world told me that I was adopted. I did not really recognise that I was not my parents’ child. I knew that I looked different to them but I did not know that I was black and they were white. They my family. Nothing else really mattered. The world made me aware that I was different to other children and that my family was different.
Has race been an issue? Has race affected your friendships?
One can not live in this world and say that race has not been an issue. One can not live in Cape Town and say that race has not affected friendships. Racism is disgusting and has caused me much heartache. I have wasted so much time thinking that I was not good enough or worthy purely based on my hue. Goodness. I’m tired just thinking about it.
What has been the hardest part of adoption for you?
There is not hard part of adoption. The issue is society. The average human being is celebrated and allowed to share their average mind and average ideas loudly. The average human being is the problem. Not adoption.
Is there anything in particular your parents did really well? Anything they could have done differently?
My parents are superheroes. I believed that as a child and I believe it still. They loved so much. They celebrated us void of what we looked like or what our skin colour was. My sister and I have always been held, supported, encouraged. We were real children, not little black girls. We were children.
I see now that many adoptive parents are making an effort to surround their adopted children with friends and role models who look like them and inspire them. I would have like to have had that. But I also understand that South Africa’s history made it very difficult for my parents to surround my sister and I with black male and female role models.
Can you speak an African language? What are your thoughts about this?
My South African English is an African Language. I grew up speaking isiZulu, Afrikaans and English. When we moved to Cape Town I just spoke English because there were not many opportunities for me to continue with isiZulu. At school I picked up isiXhosa very fast and continued with Afrikaans. The expectation of having to speak isiXhosa makes it very difficult for me to enjoy learning the language.
Your thoughts on race vs culture for adoptive parents?
In my opinion race and culture are all socially constructed and can be re-constructed. I do however believe that it is very damaging for white parents to ignore that their children are black or brown. Give a child the freedom to choose their own way. This can be said to any parent, not just adoptive parents.
How can adoptive parents best equip their children to deal with the hard parts of being adopted cross culturally?
Be brave enough to educate and inform yourself. Your child will follow naturally in your footsteps. If you allow the world to break you, your child will break too.
Tell us about your relationship with your siblings?
I have one sister; she is the most precious thing in my entire world. She is black and beautiful and bold and soft and so wonderfully different to me. She has allowed me to understand that black is not something that someone can define for you. She taught me that even though others told me that I was black and that she was black, I had the power to illustrate blackness in whatever wat that I chose. Having her in my world has made the journey manageable, a little less challenging and even fun.
Are you treated differently by people of your birth culture when they discover that you are adopted by parents of another race?
I do not know any people from my birth culture. But yes I am treated differently by black people. But we need to be transparent here, I am treated differently by everyone who know that I am adopted.
Was/is “belonging” and feeling like you belonged ever an issue?
Belonging has never been an issue in my home, with my family. As an adult, I have begun to find that there are safe spaces in which I can relax and know that I belong, but there are many spaces in which I am often made to feel as if I do not belong. This has nothing to do with adoption and everything to do with racism.
What would you say to other kids who have been adopted?
There is no one thing that I can say to another adopted child. Even my sister has different worries, concerns and triggers to me. I suppose the most important thing that I have found, is safe spaces with human beings that have minds and attitudes that are open and empathetic.
What to say to your adopted child?
I love you. You are mine.
What not to say to your adopted child?
You are plan B.
Would you ever consider adoption in your future?
Absolutely. I plan to adopt at least 4 children. There are so many babies in the world who need parents and love. I have love. I do not need to show my love by birthing a child.
Many of you may have already attended Thola’s Adoption Storytelling, ‘Black & White’ but for those who haven’t yet – Thola is sharing the stage with her mom, Vanda, on 15 & 16 September in Observatory, Cape Town. Tickets can be booked for R100 pp by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photographs by Christopher Clark