White Parents, Black Babies

 I was reading a post at Womanist Musings about transracial adoption last week. I left a brief comment, but decided to post my somewhat lengthy thoughts here because a) my thoughts are more related to multiracial families rather than transracial adoption and b) I think she makes several excellent points that are relevant for biological parents of multiracial children.

I know what it is to love a child. I know what it is to hold their little hand and see the world through their eyes but children of color require more. This is not about special treatment, as much as it is arming them and protecting them from the certain cruelties ahead. The first time my child was demeaned because of his color, it was to me, his Black mother that he poured out his soul and not his White father. Children know intuitively who can be of help. Without a parent of color, each assault is new and shocking.

When I taught my child that officer friendly wasn’t necessarily friendly, it was with the passion of Black mother that has heard far too many laments of Black mothers, who have lost their children to police violence. When I inform him that his behaviour must be different than his White friends, it is with the knowledge that though they are both children, the world will see my gentle Black child much differently. When it comes to children of color, there are harsh lessons that must be taught and to believe that a White parent is prepared to do that is to deny the racist culture in which we live. Children need love and they need a sense of community to grow, though these things are quickly forgotten when a White person steps up to adopt. Whiteness may be the dominant culture, but it is not the only culture or community of value.

I think Renee makes some really, really excellent points. I do agree that when it comes to transracial parenting, whether by birth or adoption, white parents are often poorly equipped to address the cultural needs of children of color, or prepare them for a racialized society. But (yeah, I know… you saw this coming) I disagree that it’s the black parent by default or that it’s impossible for a white parent to handle. When my 10yo daughter was troubled by a classmate dropping the n-word in conversation, she did know, intuitively, who could be of help, and it was her white mother, not her black father.

It happened because I am parenting with purpose, and not depending on luck (or love) to get us through.

I think first and foremost, she came to me because I initiate dialogue about race and she knows that I am open to discussion, that I am going to stay calm and LISTEN to her, whereas her father tends to overreact to the most benign scrapes & bruises. Secondly, there’s the whole African vs. African American dynamic in our family. Like many African immigrants, Dad has picked up a lot of negative stereotypes about Black Americans; furthermore, he has no ties to the African American community. Between the two of us, I am more familiar, for lack of a better word, with Black American culture and history than he is. That’s not to say that as a white woman I know what it’s like to be black or that I have more experience with racism, but his experience in this country is as an African man in America, and my daughter’s is that of a biracial/Black American.

I have no experience with transracial adoption, but I ran into the challenge of raising a COC without a COC (community of color this time) when my then 3yo’s dad moved to the opposite coast and took the “color connection” with him. I worried how my son was going to develop a healthy sense of self during summer visitations. Over and over in multiracial parenting bulleting boards & support groups I ran into white mothers who dismissed the importance of actively providing their multiracial children with a healthy culture of color when the father wasn’t playing an active role. “Well, his (absent) father doesn’t consider himself african american, so I don’t worry about it.

kids - dittoSo I tried not to, and I told myself love would be enough (love, and the massive stack of books featuring black children of various cultures). And it was pretty easy at first, because my son wasn’t much darker than I was. We didn’t get many comments from strangers. But I was about to give birth to my second child… and then the cat was out of the bag. After Halle was born, it suddenly became glaringly obvious that Tyler was biracial. People were suddenly very curious about where Tyler’s curly hair came from, and I began to worry that Tyler was going to slug some well meaning white lady in Target who loitered too long and gushed too many compliments.  Strangers aren’t supposed to talk to kids! or Strangers aren’t allowed to touch my sister! he would tell them.

Like you should need a four year old to tell you that.

2008-11-29 Fun & Games 003As the years went on, and the zooing got worse, I began to contemplate “reverse white flight.” So I moved. And I thought, that was that. My children had love, a community of color that included teachers and peers, tons of black children’s books, and I’d thrown in brown baby dolls and a Ruby Bridges movie.

But all that wasn’t enough, because I still didn’t get it. I still had to let go of what I believed about race, and accept someone else’s reality.

via Womanist Musings.

  1. October 21, 2009 at 7:56 AM

    Great post girl!

    I cannot tell if I agree with you or not on every point. I am truely dedicated to giving my children a bigger world view and where they fit in when it comes to people of color. I don’t think one parent of a specific race is naturaly more qualified to guide a child through an issue of discrimination. I know too many people of color that don’t handle those situations effectivity and should to banned from ever teaching their kids those strategies. You mentioned the ability to ‘address the cultural needs of children of color’. The cultural is the family they were brought into. My husband is angry at black men who pass down to their children that ‘the man’ is holding them down. We both became furious when a black male counselor explained to my teenage son that he will always be looked down on by society and needs to change his behavior depending on who is around. As his parents, we have taught our children to be repectful of them and others, compassionate, and to live your life with integrity. That is not based on color and should not be changed depending on who is watching.Race is what they look like. We pass down the culture that comes from each side of the family. Children get hurt from more than just words of racism as they grow up. We don’t teach them to expect it. We teach them to be bigger than it. I want their energy to go into being the human beings they can be. Anger and defnsiveness is rarely heard.I have never heard of ‘zooing’ LOL! Constant attention has been made to all of our children, but that has not turned out to much of an issue. They adopted the attitude of my husband and I. Answer the questions. It gives you the opportunity to meet new people.

    • October 29, 2009 at 9:51 PM

      I think that parents who have experienced discrimination are usually (but not always) better at guiding or comforting a child through the experience than the parent who hasn’t experienced it (and often doesn’t even recognize it).

      I don’t like “the man” theories either, I think because the only people I’ve personally heard cite them are making little effort (want to start a business, have no business plan, won’t make an appt with the SBA, etc). But I do think it’s important to talk candidly with kids about how they may be perceived in different situations. I’m sure you know about the disparaties between nearly identical resumes when the name is changed from somethign that sounds white to something that sounds black.

      The only caveat I’ve put on how the kids act around people is… you can talk how you want around your friends… but when you are talking to me or any other adult who takes time out of their day for you, you stand up, you look at them and not your feet, and you enunciate your words clearly. I don’t care if it’s a police officer or the cashier at Safeway.

  2. October 21, 2009 at 11:56 PM

    Interesting post….but, Laura, I gotta tell you, I really loved your comment. Very thought provoking.
    Thanks to you both!

  3. October 22, 2009 at 12:17 AM

    Laura :

    The cultural is the family they were brought into.

    More shortly, but I don’t agree that family – culture. Family is part of one’s culture, but culture includes a whole lot more than family does.

    The totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought.
    These patterns, traits, and products considered as the expression of a particular period, class, community, or population: Edwardian culture; Japanese culture; the culture of poverty.
    These patterns, traits, and products considered with respect to a particular category, such as a field, subject, or mode of expression: religious culture in the Middle Ages; musical culture; oral culture.
    The predominating attitudes and behavior that characterize the functioning of a group or organization.

  4. October 22, 2009 at 8:19 AM

    Yes, I agree culture IS more than just family.

  5. October 24, 2009 at 10:04 PM

    Interesting – but are they missing out on any of their white culture as well?
    Or are they Black By Default?
    My maternal grandparents made sur I knew all there was to know about my Native American Tribe and my Mexican history as well.
    They didn’t wish to limit my definition of what being “Black” meant.

  6. October 29, 2009 at 9:38 PM

    uglyblackjohn :

    Interesting – but are they missing out on any of their white culture as well?
    Or are they Black By Default?
    My maternal grandparents made sur I knew all there was to know about my Native American Tribe and my Mexican history as well.
    They didn’t wish to limit my definition of what being “Black” meant.

    LOL I don’t think they’re missing out on white culture. We’re UU’s so we also get a hefty dose of it every Sunday 😉 And even though they don’t live locally, I’m close to my parents and my kids spend a few weeks with them and/or my sister and her family every year.

    As far as them learning white history, they go to school in a predominantly white neighborhood, where there is only one black teacher. I find myself correcting “whitewashed” history more often then not.

    The kids know they’re Euro-American blend on my side, Tyler knows his dad’s family is African, Native American, and Irish (and is convinced his ears a just a little pointy because he’s part leprechaun) and the girls know they are Sudanese on their dad’s. I won’t tell my kids what they are, in terms of how they choose to identify. I don’t feel like that’s a decision I can make for them. It’s my responsibility to help them as much as I can to determine their own identity, and to be proud of who they are, but I won’t define them as anything by default.

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