Race and Adoption
Below is an example of a typical after school conversation with my son.
Him: Mom, do white and black people ever marry each other?
Me: Of course, all the time. Why do you ask?
Him: A friend at school told me I couldn't marry the girl I like because she is white.
No one told me you guys. No one told me raising an African American boy in a country whose history has never had his best interest at heart, would be this hard. But then again, no one should've had to.
He was two years old when a neighbor at a playgroup asked all the kids to go around the room and say what color they were. They all laughed when it was Eli's turn and he said he was white like everyone else did. They made sure he left knowing he wasn't.
He was four the first time some kids told him he couldn't play with them on the playground because he was black.
Since the day they laid his tiny black body in my white arms there have been more wounds to his personal identity and sense of belonging than I could ever imagine in a lifetime.
And I wasn't prepared for any of it.
Ten years ago there was no required research, reading or training to qualify for transracial adoption. Even if there was, he was in our arms less than a month from the date we decided to adopt and we didn’t have time to prepare. Instead his differences became my biggest teacher each day and opened my eyes to the truth that racial barriers are real and biases still run deep in our society.
His birth mother believed in our love and ability to raise him to be a successful black man and my husband and I got to work keeping our promise to her. We soon realized that we had just enough collective wisdom in our pockets to talk (or write) our boys through most of the struggles they might face in life.
Except for being black and adopted.
We will just never know what that feels like and trying to help them through those feelings is like walking someone across uncharted territory while blindfolded. I can preach that we are "the same kind of different" all I want, but the truth is, it is easy for me to say that I am not familiar with the feeling of being surrounded by a sea of faces that hold no resemblance to my own or of having my worth measured by the color of my skin every day. For us, he was only ever our son. Not our black son or adopted son. But we knew raising him would require stepping outside of our comfort zone and even our zip code to bring more diversity into our life. It required seeking out others of his race that we could learn from. Researching, listening, traveling to more diverse parts of the country and world and joining groups to help him experience being the majority and relating to those around him. We are not a colorblind family. We love and celebrate the shades we see and we want him to be so proud of the skin he is in. I’m so fortunate to be able to peer into the eyes of this beautiful boy who holds no gene of mine every day & love him with an overwhelming love that makes me want to change the world for him. Loving him has changed my world & challenged the stereotypes that still lingered in my mind. While we figure out how to best help him find his place in life; our hearts, our ideas, our perception of race and all that it entails are being shaped right now and there's a big "under construction" sign hanging over our hearts.
Research suggests that transracial adoptive parents are some of the most ideal allies for pushing social change and breaking down walls of bias. I think this has something to do with the fact that we are some of the lucky few who get to see the world through eyes that are not our own every day. From the minute our babies are placed in our arms, we quickly discover that our privileges no longer blind us to the daily battle of racism that the African American community faces. Discrimination has suddenly hit very close to home, where our child, our truest love in life, is exposed to stereotypes, bias and hate regularly and in the process we are given the unique opportunity of seeing both sides: The privilege and the prejudice.
We also see that in this world there are still many people, both black and white, who do not accept this togetherness.
But I'll tell you what. There are many more who do, and for every time he’s faced any cruelty or ignorance someone was right there, repairing the damage with love and restoring my faith in the goodness of human beings.
And nothing. Just nothing, empowers me to believe that a white girl from Utah like me can raise my son to be a successful man, quite like someone in the African American community showing up in my messages or coming alongside me in person to cheer me on and offer their support. Sending me tips on how to do his hair or take care of his skin. Or allowing me to approach them without judgment to ask advice about the hard conversations I will have with him and the unfair rules he'll have to live by and the things he'll have to do differently to survive. Or the very real possibility that his little blonde haired, blue eyed, brother might have more opportunities in life than he will. They let me know that even though most folks find him adorable right now, they might feel different when he shows up to date their daughters or when he walks through the mall with his hoodie on. When he is a grown man and they cross the street just to avoid him at night. They suggest going with him to job interviews just so he can benefit from our privilege. They make sure I know to tuck a family photo of his white parents behind his driver’s license for officers to see when he gets pulled over.
Did you know mothers of black sons have to worry about these things? Did you know it took me becoming one to realize they did?
This. Kills. Me.
And I hope it kills you too.
Because I cannot imagine a life without this incredible boy in it and it makes me wonder how many amazing people I have missed out on knowing in life simply because of the giant wall of bias I’m still trying to break down.
If you are reading this, thinking “I’m tired of hearing about race” or 'this doesn't relate to me, I don’t have a child of a different race” Please think again. Because I do. And your neighbor might. The parents sitting with you in a school assembly do and the people behind you in church do and we've got to be willing to stop sheltering our children from the ugliness of racism when black parents don't have the luxury to do so. It's okay that the worries keeping you up at night are different from mine, (and mine much different from others) but we cannot let this keep us from doing the work in our own homes to root out systemic biases that you may not even realize are there. Your kids are picking up on them friends. And they are bringing those biases to school and church and the playground and planting them in the hearts of little boys like mine who have to carry that weight home to their moms who then spend days and lifetimes trying to repair the damage with therapy visits and books about loving the skin they are in and searching for truths that will unravel the lies.
Let’s carry this weight together so that it will be less of a burden for the mothers of black children to bear on their own...or for any child growing up differently than the norm for that matter. Read YOUR kids these books & bring more diversity into YOUR circle. Talk to YOUR kids about how they would want to be treated if they were visibly different from everyone around them. SHOW them that underneath all of our uniquely beautiful differences we all just want to be loved, to feel safe & to feel we belong. Then learn what those differences add to our lives and love others well for them. And then just maybe, you will start to see this message spread to their friends--with the lonely kid on the playground, the minority at school and then eventually out into a world and a future that so desperately needs more conscious, big-hearted humans like them.
I hope one day that racism won't exist for my son anymore. I hope he gets to walk down the street at night and have others approach him with loving interest in who he is as person. I hope he gets to do and be whoever he dreams of and to easily marry whoever he falls in love with.
I am not black. I cannot possibly know what it is like to live in the shoes of someone who is. But I am surer than ever that I will do whatever it takes to help create a more loving and inclusive world for my son and for all who are being withheld love and equality because of their differences.
I'm realizing that the only way anyone can begin to change these things about the world is by changing the hearts and minds of those we are sending out into it. Ultimately overcoming this complex system of racism has to begin right here at home. I am powerless to rewrite the past of our country and even more so to reroute the path of it. But I can chip away at the barriers I see around me. Because today is the day I’ve been given, and I want it to count. I want to believe that it can.
Follow Kortni on Instagram at: @born.from.my.heart