I will start by saying this… I support Black Lives Matter, both as a concept of civil/human rights and as a movement. If that makes you angry, or uncomfortable, or causes you to roll your eyes at your computer screen… then you 1) are probably white and 2) should still read on because this is important to me and my family, but know that I’m just going to go into more details from here on out.
“WHAT THEY DON’T FEEL, THEY CAN’T COMPREHEND.”
In the transracial adoption world, I am what is known as a WAP, a White Adoptive Parent. Being “white” is an important part of this moniker because my son is a different race from my husband and me. It doesn’t make me any less his mother, any less in love with him, or any less willing to care, support, and protect him. What it DOES mean, is that as a white person who has only lived in my white skin, there are going to be experiences my son has in his life that I won’t be able to fully comprehend or relate to for a simple, yet profound reason… because our skin is a different color. I have to painfully sit with that and remind myself regularly how important that aspect of our relationship will be in my parenting.
IT IS NOT OUR DIFFERENCES THAT DIVIDE US. IT IS OUR INABILITY TO
RECOGNIZE, ACCEPT, AND CELEBRATE THOSE DIFFERENCES.”
– AUDRE LORDE
To be completely honest, I thought there would be a “learning curve” when our son came into our lives, but being the Type-A person I am, I thought I could educate myself, expand my cultural horizons, and train myself to see the world through different eyes and it would all work itself out. But now, almost 27 months into my son’s life, I am just scratching at the surface of realizing how naïve and potentially dangerous that mentality truly is…
Like, if I can love my son enough, it will protect him. WRONG!
If I minimize his race as “no big deal”, then no one else will really notice the difference either. Or, if I really celebrate his race, then people will really want to celebrate it, too! WRONG! and WRONG!
If I dress him the right way and keep his hair perfect, then people will automatically accept him. WRONG!
That somehow, being raised by white parents will shield him from the ugliness that is in the hearts and minds, and sadly on the tips of the tongues of so many people. WRONG!
If I live openly and without judgement in my heart and engage and befriend people of other races, that will keep people of color from looking at me and my son with worry in their eyes thinking, “is she going to do right by this child?” WRONG!
“THE BIGGEST COMMUNICATION PROBLEM IS WE
DO NOT LISTEN TO UNDERSTAND. WE LISTEN TO REPLY.”
I have had to force myself to sit and listen and sit and listen some more to things that make me very, very uncomfortable (anyone who knows me knows I like to argue and debate and “but…what if…” things to death). But the things I’ve had to sit with and acknowledge are things that as a white person I’ve never had to endure, and as a mother shake me to my core in fear and acknowledgement that it will at some point happen to my son.
For instance, the other day, a friend of my husband’s—a grown man in his late 40s—posted on Facebook that he’d had a recent experience at a McDonald’s when he’d held the door open for an older man. The man looked at my husband’s friend and said, “I don’t need some half-breed n—-r holding the door for me!”
When my husband relayed this story to me, my first thought was, “What in the actual fuck is wrong with people?!?”
My second thought was, “Holy shit, inevitably, someone is going to say something like that to our baby one day!”
My third thought was, “OMG, am I prepared for that? What will I do when someone calls my child…my baby…this person who I love more than anything in the whole world, a racial slur—or does something worse?!?!? What will happen to my baby? How will something like that affect him, change him, possibly define his view and outlook on the world?!?”
The fact is, I just don’t know. I like to think I’ll rise up when the time comes, but I just don’t think I’m prepared—which pretty much translates to, I’M NOT PREPARED, right?? But I’m trying…
“WHEN A PERSON TELLS YOU YOU HURT THEM,
YOU DON’T GET TO DECIDE YOU DIDN’T.”
I’m trying to shut up and listen to the voices of people that have been marginalized, or in some cases, completely silenced. And in not being so ready to respond, I can hear the sadness and frustration that underlies what many only choose to see and hear as unwarranted anger, or even hate. The underlying messages are powerful and if there comes a time when my son feels hurt, marginalized, and unheard, I want to be able to truly hear him, too.
“DO THE BEST YOU CAN UNTIL YOU KNOW BETTER.
THEN WHEN YOU KNOW BETTER, DO BETTER.” – MAYA ANGELOU
I’m trying to be less fragile and less uncomfortable when confronted with experiences of racism that are shared with me by people of color. This serves not only as a wake-up call to things I may consciously or unconsciously be guilty of myself, and as a highlight of hateful things happening in our society that I didn’t even realize were “still a thing,” but hopefully it will also prepare me for things that could happen to my son as he grows older. Losing some of that fragility and comfort in denial (it’s an onion with lots of layers, people) is allowing me to see how I previously ignored or minimized or tried to justify racism as it existed within me and around me, and helps me to keep from sweeping important issues that may impact my son and how I respond, support, and parent him under the rug.
I’m baby-stepping my way into advocating for my son — being his voice to make sure he is treated fairly and justly (not special treatment, just equal treatment), so that when he’s older he will have the confidence and courage to do so for himself. I do this as it applies not only to him as a child of color, but as an adoptee, and a deaf person, as well. I want my boy to grow up and be so proud of and educated about who he is and all the elements of his person that make him, HIM!
And as difficult as it is, I’m wondering what I can do to ensure that my son, with his brown skin, his big brown eyes, and his dark curly hair, is never on the receiving end of a police officer’s gun simply because of the way he looks.
Now, some of you may be saying, “But certainly you will raise him to never be in the position where something like that could happen.” My response is that I can’t afford to make the assumption that how well I raise my child is going to be the determining factor in what happens. There is evidence—real evidence—to support that it doesn’t always matter.
“IN THE END, WE WILL REMEMBER NOT THE WORDS OF OUR ENEMIES,
BUT THE SILENCE OF OUR FRIENDS.” – MLK, JR
And even if by the grace of God my son is spared so many of these trials, there are plenty of mothers and sons out there that aren’t given that same luxury. So my bigger thought is…
To what detriment is it for me as a white person to say, “Something is wrong in our world and it has to change?”
It’s literally the LEAST I CAN DO.
Seriously, to open my mouth and say, “No. I don’t think people are treated equally and that’s not right…You know what? Black Lives DO Matter!!”
To what disadvantage does that put me or any white person to advocate for another human being’s fair and equal treatment??
It’s not like by doing so you’d be forced to have your white person membership card revoked or anything like that. You still get to go to sleep white and wake up white tomorrow. No whiteness will be harmed in the process, I promise.
So, yeah… when countless voices are crying out for support… I’m going to listen. When black people share their experiences and challenges and hurts and concerns with me directly or in a public forum…I’m taking it to heart. When evidence supports that people of color are treated differently—whether they’re holding the door for some nasty bigot at a McDonald’s or in the eyes of the systems that run our society… I believe it. When it comes to using my voice to say black lives matter (because until they truly do, all lives don’t matter)…I’m gonna do it every time! And finally, when it comes to being fiercely and ferociously protective of my son, his happiness, and his emotional and physical well-being…don’t ever doubt it or challenge it!!