This weekend I read a pretty great article, written by a fellow White mom of Black children. Go read it here. Her message is important, and I'm glad she wrote it. But I was actually really shocked by her words. That any White parent of any Black child, hadn't heard these things? Astounding. It made me feel a lot of emotions and think a lot of thoughts. So I'm dusting off this blog to try and sort it all out.
First, I want to address the elephant in the room: Yes, I'm aware that many people, including the National Association of Black Social Workers, think that I have no right to parent a Black child. Their points are hugely valid. Because even though my family is multiracial (African American, Native American and Asian) I am not, in fact, a Black woman. My husband is 2nd Generation Dutch American. Because even though we have both been the only White household in our neighborhoods (he in SE DC and Little Haiti in Miami for me), we are not Black. Those people are right. I don't know how to teach my child to be Black in America. And this will be an issue. One we will navigate to the best of our abilities. But also know this: domestically adopted children are placed with their adoptive families by the birthparents. So 99% of White parents of domestically adopted Black children, were chosen specifically to parent that child. By that child's first mother. It is an honor, it is a blessing, it is scary as hell. In our family, we talk about race all the time, we read about it, we have no choice. It is such a presence in our lives, the Blackness of my daughter, talking about her beautiful hair and skin, caring for it, doing everything we possibly can so that she feels comfortable around people who look like her. We know we will fall short but we fight to get it right. And this is exactly why this article struck such a chord with me. Because apparently there are adoptive families out there who aren't aware of these kinds of things.
Let's step back in time a bit... 6 years or so ago we sat in our adoption classes, listening to adult transracial adoptees speak about their experience. I raised my hand and I asked about how to teach our children to navigate in the world. Because they'll not always be "that cute little Black kid with the White parents" and eventually they'll be a Black Man or Woman and that requires a different set of skills than those I must possess. I talked with the speaker about the fact that our children will be followed around stores and will be stopped by police. Not if... when. And then I slowly looked around the room and the other prospective parents sat there with mouths agape. Stunned silence. And, finally, one woman said, "I've never thought about that. I never thought about my child being Black." And then it was my turn to sit in stunned silence. I remember thinking, "Seriously? You are this far in the adoption process and you have NEVER thought about these things?" In another exercise we were given small bowls and then a small amount of beads. The beads were white, yellow, red, tan, brown and black. And the trainers asked us to add beads to our bowls according to the skin color of people in our lives/environment - doctors, friends, musicians you listen to, family members - and finally, the color your new child would be. Our little dish had many white beads, but also many beads in the various other colors. As I looked around the room I saw that the other bowls were full of white beads with a single black bead in the center. A bit crude, but clearly representative of the Black child in a sea of White people. And a little seed of dis-ease was planted in me.
In the last few years that seed has sprouted. I interact on a daily basis with other transracial adoptive parents via a few online groups. And I began noticing people asking things like, "Where do you get hair beads?" or, "My Target doesn't carry any 'ethnic' hair products." And then, when I respond that we just get our hair beads at the hair store, and I hear back that, "Oh, well, we live in Iowa. There are no other Black people here." It's like a punch to the gut. What? Really? Why?
I recognize it's not my place to question and I'm far from perfect on this journey, but I've been stunned in the recent years to hear about adoptive parents like this. Ones who've never considered their child as a Black adult in America. Who don't know any other Black people. Who don't even have access to appropriate hair products, let alone Black mentors for their children. In a betrayal of my own family, I've begun to edge closer to those who feel White people shouldn't adopt Black children. I find myself thinking, "What gives you the right?" What gives me the right? I don't have the answers. We've talked a lot about adopting from the foster care system... maybe a boy, between 4-6 years old. I've gone as far as stopping by the DHS office. I know the statistics. I know there is a need. I know that Black boys age out of foster care without ever being adopted at a staggering rate. But I'm scared. We don't know how to raise a Black man. We know how to raise a good man (hopefully!), but is that enough? Because even though we are doing our best with our daughter, I know that having White parents will fail her in some ways. Obviously having parents of any race is better than having no parents, but I struggle with my shortcomings in these areas. I worry that I won't know how to raise a little boy to know how to deal with the police properly. I worry that if my little boy grows up and sags his pants or wears a hoodie and goes for a walk... And I feel the burden of having to prepare a child for those eventualities without having had to experience them myself.
Which leads me to today. Today, not just in Ferguson, but in your neighborhood, a Black kid is being harassed by the police. Not just in Ferguson, but in your neighborhood, a Black woman is being followed around the store. Not just in Ferguson, but in your neighborhood, Black people are treated as suspects of crimes not yet committed. And to all parents of Black children - these are not just "someone" these are our sons, our daughters, our nieces and nephews. I want a better world for my children so please, stop demonizing Black men and sexualizing Black women. Please see that institutionalized racism exists in this country. And please try to make it better in your own world.