We were warned that we would be a conspicuous family. Obviously, when we are all together in public, it’s pretty obvious that our kids are adopted. And I was prepared for a rash of comments and judgement about that. You know what? It hasn’t happened. Even when we were living in the South, people weren’t all that much surprised to see us as a family. I was actually surprised at how many people automatically assumed that I was the kids’ mom, not the babysitter or foster parent.
But that doesn’t mean that having African kids hasn’t caused me to do a lot of thinking about race relations in America.
Since we’ve been parents to black kids,
- George Zimmerman murdered Trayvon Martin and walked away free.
- Oberlin College cancelled classes due to racial incidents on campus.
- A kid dressed up like a KKK member for Halloween.
So to all of you who say that racism is in the past…you are wrong. In fairness, outright hostility is not as common. People use more politically correct terms. But the truth is that in this country, black people are not equal to white people.
I’ve started playing a new game when in public with my kids.
I play against myself and try to beat my own score. But, if you’d like to play along, here it is.
Round 1 – Take your African child to a public place. I recommend playgrounds, malls, children’s museums, restaurants, ice skating lessons or any other busy place. The more people, the higher your chances to score.
Round 2 – Move away from the child. Don’t go too far, or you may miss some of the scoring possibilities. But you can’t be holding hands or talking to the child. Just let them play. Find a bench where you can see your child.
Scoring – Tally your total score using the guide below.
- 1 point for every person who starts to look around with the “where is this child’s parent” look. You know the one…the glance around the room looking for a person of color who must be with this kid.
- 2 points for every person who asks another random person if they know where the child’s parent is.
- 5 points for anyone who actually asks your child where his/her mom is.
- 10 points if someone comments to the random black woman in line about how cute her kid is. Only it’s your kid. (Yes, this really happened. Andrew got the 10-pointer.)
I play this game with both Lucy and Ayub. Although Ayub’s behavior sometimes warrants a “where’s your mom” comment, it is actually Lucy who scores higher.
So the sad part of this is that it shouldn’t be a game. I should be able to sit on a bench and watch my kids play the same way the other parents do. I have come to the sad conclusion that most people assume that a black child was brought to this location by black parents who just left them there. Because we all know black people are bad parents, right? No one is checking to see who the little blond girl belongs to. Am I right? (Unless, of course, the little blond girl steals toys or throws sand.)
The other thing I’ve noticed since having African-American kids is that I was missing out on a lot before. I never noticed that African-Americans weren’t talking to me. They were never UNfriendly. But now, they seem much more comfortable with me. We carry on conversations about hair care with the cashier at Target. We chat about politics with the guy at the baseball field. We chit-chat about child development with the (only) black mom at the library. It makes me sad for all the years that black people thought they couldn’t talk to me. I know, weird. File this under “Things I Didn’t Know I Didn’t Know.”
As for me, raising children of color, it’s a tough road. I want my kids to be comfortable with who they are, but the reality is that they are stuck between two (maybe three, depending how you do the math) cultures. I can’t help them be African-American. I can give them opportunities and try my best to be aware, but I’ve never had to walk in their shoes. I can avoid buying them monkeys on their clothes and take them to African cultural events, but I’ve never been looked at suspiciously in a convenience store. I can learn about African hair and put them in racially diverse schools, but I’ve never been judged by my skin color. I will continue to do all I can, but I also recognize that I can’t change the way the world sees my kids.