There’s a pretty steep learning curve for new parents. It doesn’t matter how many books you read or classes you attend, when that little bundle of poopy joy comes home things get real. And real doesn’t always translate to a page from What to Expect When You’re Expecting.**
** Full disclosure: I actually used this book often when the kids were younger and found it pretty useful, but it gives the impression that every question has an answer. Parenthood isn’t an exact science, which tends to freak new parents out.
Sometimes real sounds like “gee, that sort of/kind of/maybe looks like the picture of hand-foot-and-mouth disease, do I call the pediatrician?” Sometimes it looks like “I’m pretty sure that spot was there yesterday, unless she’s getting chicken pox.” Sometimes it feels like “the thermometer only says 99.2 but he’s burning up” followed by three more methods of taking a temperature.
Becoming adoptive parents has that same crazy learning curve, but there are some situations that feel like you’ve launched yourself off a cliff with the blind hope that you’ll land on your feet.
One facet of our adoptions that has a pretty steep learning curve is being a transracial family .
I don’t mean to say this was a surprise. We were open to adopting a child from a different racial background than ours because we believed things would work out as they were meant to. Our social worker recommended an excellent book that talked about some of the issues transracial families face, so we felt like we were going into this experience with open eyes.
But preparing for a concept is extraordinarily different from living a reality.
I know this is a sensitive topic. It’s talking about the hard stuff, but we’re walking through the fire and I’ve found that talking about the hard stuff is the only way to make things work here. If I say something that offends you, please know that’s not my intention. This is our truth.
I talked in this post about how my perspective changed once we were raising biracial children. Today’s blog is about going from zero to sixty in 2.4 seconds, which is pretty much how it feels every time a new issue pops up for our family. Important issues. Things we didn’t even realize were going to be “issues.” At least not in the way they turned out to be.
Ack! I’ve tried half a dozen times to start this post and keep hitting the wall so let’s just drive through it, shall we? We’re white. Our kids aren’t. (Yes, they’re half white, but the world treats them as black. Especially T-man. Bear looks biracial, but unless T-man tells people about his birthparents they just assume he’s African-American.)
And despite my kumbaya, love transcends all, race-doesn’t-matter-when-it-comes-to-family attitude, there are times when my whiteness does matter. And how quickly I can adapt is absolutely crucial.
I grew up a typical product of the public school system. The extent of my black history knowledge came from the month of February over the years. I had only the most basic understanding of black history in our country – slaves were brought to the colonies, their widespread use as unpaid labor on plantations, terrible mistreatment at the hands of plantation owners, the Underground Railroad, and the civil rights movement to end segregation and discrimination. That looks like a long list, but these topics were taught to me in only the broadest of strokes.
As far as important people in history? Rosa Parks. Ruby Bridges. Martin Luther King Jr. Possibly Malcolm X. And that was pretty much it.
But then T-man and Bear arrived, and everything changed. They’re biracial – half black and half white – and we felt both sides of their heritage should be honored so I suddenly needed a much more comprehensive understanding of America’s history, both white and black. Knowing more than a timeline from a history book was essential; I needed a deeper appreciation for African-American culture, and an understanding of the black people’s struggle to maintain that culture through unspeakably difficult times.
Our beautiful son and daughter had finally joined us, and suddenly I was plagued with the fear that I was too white to raise them.
When the kids were young it was simple to find ways to talk about race. We read books about Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks and Barack Obama, talking about the importance of civil rights in our country. Things got more complicated as they grew older, though.
We found ourselves facing a difficult task: teaching T-man and Bear more than just the sanitized version of slavery. BrightSide and I needed to share an authentic history with them, one that teaches them the ugly truth of what black people have endured in this country without causing an instinctive hatred of whites. Rousing that kind of hate brings ruin – they could feel that loathing toward us, damaging our bond as a family. They might also turn it inward, hating the white part of themselves.
How on earth was I going to explain slavery, and plantations, and the concept of owning or auctioning off people as if they were belongings? How could I possibly explain how white people did this to black people, and that African-Americans are still challenged in a million different ways today? Ways that aren’t as obvious as slave labor but are also devastating.
It’s a terribly fine line I’m trying to walk. Sometimes it feels like I’m riding the swells, words washing over me as I try to keep my balance:
- White people visited terrible injustices on black people over the years, far too much evil to recount, but things are better than they were.
- There’s still hatred in some people’s hearts based solely on the color of your skin, but not every white person feels that way.
- Keep doing what you’re doing and be the best person you can be, but if you’re approached on the street or pulled over or simply make one of the stupid mistakes teenagers make for the love of God be respectful and don’t give anyone a reason to doubt your intentions.
- The N-word is a hateful, repulsive word that has no place in this world. Here’s where it came from, and here’s how you might hear it used today. I’m ready to talk about this word in any way you need, but I’d better never hear it pass your lips in conversation.
- You are going to be a tall, beautiful, smart black man and that is a wonderful thing, but sometimes a person will only see what they already imagine you are. When that happens you need to be very careful.
I blanch when I think about the issues still to come: the savagery of slavery…the violence endured during the civil rights movement…white privilege and how to this day blacks are discounted in small but meaningful ways in daily life, not to mention the fact that there are people who vehemently deny this privilege even exists.
The learning curve is steep but it’s imperative we lean into it, each and every time.