Transracial Adoption: Why parents of Black children need to support Black Lives Matter.
Please note. This post was written in two sessions four years apart. The first part is from July 2016. The second part is from July 2020.
(Original content from July 2016)
I know you have a lot of viewpoints on race inundating your newsfeed these days. And so take or leave mine. But I have been thinking a lot about the issues of the past few weeks. And I wanted to chime in. And so without further ado, I am just going to lay it out there--
It is scary to be the mom of a Black son in today's social climate. Further, there are unique challenges that present themselves when it is white parents raising Black children. (I am in no way implying that the challenges of being a transracial family are harder or more severe than being Black parents raising Black children, I am just saying that it's a different kind of challenge.)
I will never forget telling a friend about our impending adoption of our son Nico back over a decade ago. I had returned from my first trip to Haiti earlier that year (2005) and I was sitting down with him and talking about the trip. I brought out the photo album of I had put together after my trip to Haiti and very quickly a confused look passed his face and he said, “Oh! So will your child be "a Black"?” He didn't say, “Will your child be Black?” He said, “Will your child be a Black?” I felt a little bit uneasy because this was the first time I had felt a twang. To me, what I felt like he was saying was this, “Oh, your child will be one of “them” not one of “us.” Being that this was my first experience like this, I didn't really know what to say. I think I said, “Well, yeah. Considering our child will be Haitian, I think there's a pretty good chance our child will be Black. In fact, I'd be surprised if it was white.” This was a fully grown person. He was in his 50s at the time. He was a professional and I worked with him in a business setting.
A few months later, I was at the Kinkos getting some passport photos taken for our immigration dossier. The woman who was checking me out noticed all my paperwork and asked if I was going on a trip. I told her that eventually I would but these photos were for our adoption from Haiti. We talked briefly about it. I showed her a picture of Nico. And she said, “Well, God bless you for doing this. Lord knows there are a lot of “unwanteds” in this world.” That is how she referred to my son. I assured her he wasn't unwanted. He was/is very wanted.
Fast forward several years. Our family was going through immigration on one of our trips back from Haiti. Nico was probably about 8-9 years old at the time. So we all walk forward. The four of us white, and then Nico, who, obviously, is Black. The immigration officer gives us a puzzled look. Then she looks through all of our passports and says, “Oh! So he's (and then she whispers the next word) adopted?” I laughed and said, “Yes, we adopted him. You don't need to whisper, he knows he's adopted.” Then she asks the question that every adoptive family has to field at least once, “How much did he cost? Because I think I want to do that sometime-- you know, give back. I have heard there are a lot of Black moms that give up kids. But I heard it's a lot of money. ” I briefly explained that I didn't think it was a good deed we were doing, that we didn't buy a kid-- these were legal expenses, and I don't know how much an adoption "costs" because each adoption is different and that it's a long complicated process that isn't for everyone, but it was worth the expense and complication because he is an irreplaceable member of our family, AND, about those passports I need you to stamp???
I tell these anecdotes to say that being a transracial family means you're often being noticed. It's just the way it is. I don't mind being noticed, and in many ways, I would prefer people not pull the “I'm colorblind” scenario on us. I sort of hate when people say, "I don't see your kids as Black." Because come on, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize we are not the same race. Noticing differences isn't a bad thing. We look different.
We lived most of Nico's life so far in Haiti. It was good for our family. It allowed us to give him to the experience of being fully Haitian and still fully our son. One of the things I am most proud of is that our whole (nuclear) family has a decent knowledge and understanding what it means that Nico is Haitian. (And now Sam, too.) We all speak their native language. We all understand their culture. (Well, to the best of our ability we do those things.) Our family is American and our family is Haitian. And we've been extremely fortunate that our entire family has gotten to experience both of those realities.
However, we're back in the US now. And that's a whole different reality. I don't have much experience raising a Black son in America. (Let me just throw in a quick aside here. I realize that Nico and Sam are Haitian and not African American. But for the majority of people in America, they will look at Nico and Sam and just see Black kids. They will not necessarily see him being different in any way from any other Black person.)
Pretty much everyone accepts children without fear. They are little and cute. They say adorable things. But Black teenage boys aren't perceived as cute and adorable are they? Where there white counterparts are seen as annoying, rascally teenage boys, Black teenage boys are perceived as “thugs in training.” We see a couple of white teenage boys with long greasy hair riding their skateboard in the parking lot and we might think they are annoying, but we also think, “Good for him for getting exercise and not being inside playing video games.” But we see their Black counterparts and we start wondering if they are in a gang, and watching to see if they are messing with any of the cars. We pull our small children, (and our purse) in closer to our bodies. And in our heads we can say, “I am not racist. I am just being wise.” But here's what I would say to that. “Actually, yes, you are being racist.” You don't even realize that what you're feeling comes from a place of racism and fear. Congratulations that you don't use the N word. That's great. But not being racist is about more than just not using the N word.
Nico's getting older now. He's eleven and just starting to hit puberty. And this is what makes my heart race with fear at times. Because my tiny son is turning into a Black man. And because of our love affair with our technology, we (white people) are getting to see the reality of what it's like for Black men. What it's ALWAYS been like. It's not just STARTING to happen, it has always been happening and we are just now starting to realize it. But if you don't believe me, feel free to ask any Black person about it. Because here's the thing. As I have been doing that more and more, I am getting the same exact answer.
Black people are being followed in stores. Black people are being pulled over more for no reason. Did you see the article on NPR about Tim Scott, a Republican Senator from SC? He was pulled over SEVEN times in one year. You guys. I have been pulled over once in my life. One time. I actually thought I was going to get pulled over a couple days ago in Cary because I was speeding a little bit and passed a cop. He pulled out and put the siren on. And as I was starting to pull over, he went right past me to the car in front of me and pulled it over. As I passed I noticed that it was a Black man driving. Now, I do not want to make a judgement call on that situation because that's a lot of blanks to fill in. Maybe he happened to see that car speeding first. Maybe he saw an expired tag. I don't know. I don't know why he was pulled over instead of me. But my first thought (which I quickly dismissed) was, “I should pull over and videotape this. Just in case.” Because now that I have awakened to this, I feel like a Mama Bear.
I do support the police. The recent police deaths are absolutely inexcusable. There is absolutely no justification for what happened. I know that we need police and all of them put their lives on the line in a way for which I am ever able to thank them enough. And I think rule of law is important in a society. I have lived in a society for several years without a functioning rule of law. It's no picnic. But the problem in the States is becoming untenable. If the way the rule of law is enforced in our country is not just for all people, is it just for any of us?
Several months ago I heard this story from 2014 replayed NPR's Weekend Edition about Chad Goller-Sojourner. He is a black man who was adopted by white parents in 1972. And Chad talks about how he didn't really shed the white privilege he had as a member of a white family and his “descent into Blackness” (as he puts it), until later in life. He had to learn how to be a Black man with no experience in Black culture, other than what his parents could expose him to from their home in the white suburbs. And though they did try, it certainly wasn't seamless and he believes that parents today can do better. I love this quote, “If you don't have any close friends or know people who look like your kid before you adopt a kid then why are you adopting that kid? So your child should not be your first black friend. You know? Where are you living? It's interesting, you know, people cross the country for a job, but they won't move two neighborhoods over so that their kid can go to a more diverse school. Somebody's going to have to be uncomfortable. I think it should be the parent.”
One of the realities of being white parents with Black kids is that you have to side with your kids. You have to. That's your job. It doesn't matter that the rest of your family (including your family of origin) is white. You side with your kids. Period. You could say that Nick and I made the decision to support Black Lives Matter movement back in 2007 when Nico came into our family. (Despite the actual named movement not starting until 2013.) Choosing to parent a Black child means his well-being is your priority. And so I don't understand how a parent (or the aunt, uncle, cousin, friend, neighbor, etc.) of a Black child (or adult) could NOT support Black Lives Matter. That may get complicated for us in the future. I am okay if it gets uncomfortable, so long as Nico and Sam know we are in their corner.
And so that's why we do what we do. It's why strive to know and understand the issues. It's why we support Black Lives Matter. We have a real deep desire to help bridge some of these gaps for Nico and Sam (and our entire family) while they are still in their formative years. I want to try to shed my white privilege so that we can join in the fight for justice not just from the outside looking in, but because we have skin in the game. Nick and I do not think of these tenuous racial issues in our country as something we can “fix.” (Believe me, six year in Haiti humbled us enough to realize we are not the saviors of the world. Got that one loud and clear.) None of us can “fix” these problems. The problems are big and systemic and huge and will take all of us. We just want to be a part of the fight to take clicks towards narrowing the gap.
Nick and I often talk about the motto of Haiti (which has it's origins in the French Revolution)- Libertè, Egalitè, Fraternitè. (Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood) It's written on the back of Haitian coins. Nick made the astute observation is that liberty (freedom) is a legal issue. In 1863 Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation and declared liberty for slaves. Equality is a social issue. Even though people may be “technically” free, is there equality? Because if not, is there really freedom? Some would argue that the Civil Rights Movement started things going in the direction of equality. Obviously, recent events show us that there still isn't equality, and so that's what we work for. Because if we can't attain equality, can we really evolve to the point of brotherhood? If not, we won't see change.
It's easy for me to support the Black Lives Matter cause because I have Black children. Our family innately has brotherhood between races. And so we work towards finding solutions (even within our family) because now that we are family, we have no other choice. Josiah and Nia have Black brothers. Nico and Sam have white siblings. That's actual brotherhood. But here's the thing. It's probably easy for white families to read what I am saying and think, “Well, that makes sense for her family. She has skin in the game.” I guess what I would want you to recognize is that YOU have skin in the game too. This is our country. This is NOT just about Black people getting equal rights and equal treatment. It's about creating a space where it's safe for everyone. Where it's safe for my kids and your kids to play together. Where it's safe for me to send my kids over to your house to play, and where it's safe for you to send your children over to my house to play. And that only becomes safe for all parties when we achieve brotherhood.
Update from July 7, 2020
I am very much still in the student phase of this learning. I do not offer this post today as something to point to or speak on behalf of Black people-- not even on behalf of my children. I am speaking on behalf of me. I share this to try to give you a more nuanced view of my own story and what I mean when I personally mean when I say Black Lives Matter.
This morning Nick and I were taking a walk and talking about the social shift on race (we hope) that is happening in our society. Nick made the comment, "I am embarrassed that it took me having "skin in the game" to learn about begin to understand these issues a few years ago." I related that I agreed with him. And I said I wanted to write about it. But then I remembered I already did four years ago.
I dug up this old post and am re-posting it now. It has aged fairly well. (I see some things that are a little iffy-- it's a journey). But this was towards the beginning of our public support of the BLM movement and I feel like it encompasses why we are (and have been) vocal about issues of race and equity.
One thing I now worry about as a white person is appropriating the Black struggle. My pain about these issues is not Black pain. It's different and less severe. My anger is also different and less severe because I am not operating out of a place of trauma (other than the secondary trauma that my kids experience). I am aware and fully acknowledge that my pain and anger are different and do not compare to being victimized because of the color of my skin. But I am still the mother of Black kids. And the problems with our country have a real impact on them. Which drives my Mama Bear rage-- something I (personally) need to learn to channel in productive ways.
But until my Black children are adults it falls to Nick and I to provide them an environment that is safe and nurtures a healthy sense of self. (Not that we don't have the obligation to do so after they are adults, but we feel it's critically important and acute during their developmental years). This means we never want our children to wonder how we stand. This means challenging/disrupting racism in comments, in relationships, and, most importantly, in systems. We've received push back that we're too obsessed with the idea of Black lives mattering-- that we care more about it than our actual (Black) kids do. That's a correct statement. Nico and Sam (and the other kids, too) are up for coming along to marches or reading books about race/equity SOME of the time. But we don't make them go. Because #1- they are children. And #2- they shouldn't have to be the ones fighting this nonsense when it's a system of advantage for white people created by white people. It's OUR job to fight it and dismantle it. We can do that by taking the work and risk to our own bodies that has traditionally been left for Black people to bear, at the same time as we follow the leadership of Black voices.
A lot of white people with good intentions are asking themselves what they can do to help. I have even gotten the explicit question, "How can I stand in solidarity with your family?"
My number one answer that question is that you consider using your votes in November not on behalf of what would benefit you (or maybe your bank account) the most, but what would benefit marginalized people. Don't throw away your shot. That is your power in every level of our representative democracy. That is how we leverage power.
If that means voting outside of your party (or your chosen "issue"), that can be a hard pill to swallow. But, if you are a friend or family member of mine (which, let's be honest, are the only people who read my blog) think about these two young men when you go into the booth and remember their faces. And then remember that they are just 2 of 47.8 million Black people who have to live within a system that has never fully embraced them. It took Nick and I having "skin in the game" to realize how serious this is. My challenge to you is that you do the work to embrace this struggle even without skin in the game. Maybe you can do that by asking yourself, "How would I vote if these were my kids?"
|Sam and Nico. July 2020. Their image is used on this blog post with their permission.|