5 Things I Wish My White Parents Understood About Growing Up Black
Originally posted on www.onlyblackgirl.com
You know, being black and adopted into a white family has it’s own set of difficulties for everyone involved. The worst part however, is not being able to talk to your parents about your experiences because they, as white people, have no clue what living as a black person in America is like. This for me, was one of the most alienating things about being transracially adopted. Of course, my family loves me, and I ride for them (y’all can catch hands if you wanna try it), I never felt like they were racist or that they loved me any less than their biological kids, but I’d be lying if I said there aren’t a lot of things that I wish my parents did better in regards to adopting transracially. Things that would have made me feel more included, equal, closer to my family. None of us can go back in time to change anything, but I can share some of the key things I wish my parents had understood about growing up black in a white family, so that others may learn from our mistakes and do better. So let’s just get right on into it, shall we?
1. We Are Not White
SURPRISE! We’re not white. We are people of color, in my case black. Blackity-Black. Black, a dark skin black, at that. We ain’t white. We don’t look white, we don’t act white, we don’t connect with anything white, we don’t fit in anywhere white, we are not white. I know you think you can be colorblind and just love all your kids equally and then race won’t matter, but that just ain’t realistic. We are people of color living is a racist ass world and you pretending that we’re all just one big white family, just contributes to erasing us and makes us feel like we don’t belong in this family or this world.
2. Being Colorblind Isn’t’ Helpful
Similar to the previous point, being colorblind as in “I don’t see color, I just see people”, “We all bleed red” and whatever other third grade, basic ass cliche of choice you use. It ain’t helpful to anyone. You do see color, you see what color the sky is, you see what color your curtains are, your walls, your dog, your yoga mat, you see color. You see that my skin color is brown and yours is white. I get you think (think being the keyword here), that you’re doing the right thing by “seeing past race” but you’re not. By pretending like you don’t see color, you’re saying you don’t see racism and that the experiences we, your brown kids face. You’re saying we are not valid, our struggles are not valid, our lived experiences are not valid, and furthermore, you erase and demonizing our skin color. Ain’t nothing wrong with my brown skin, you erasing it and acting like it’s an issue, is exactly why racism exists today.
3. Listen, Don’t Dismiss
We all have had that experience when you’re trying to tell someone something that happened to you, and they immediately brush it off with some condescending comment like “oh I’m sure isn’t what they meant” or “I think you’re just overreacting”. This is probably the worst thing you can do as a parent to you child of color. When we trust you enough to try and talk to you about whatever racist experience we just faced and you dismiss it, you’re showing us that our experiences and feelings are not valid. Hence why many of us do not feel close to our adoptive families, because you do not allow us to be normal people with normal feelings. So, when we try to tell you how uncomfortable is was being the only ____ person in school, or how an old white lady at the store makes a comment like “I haven’t seen one of those in a long time” while pointing at you, (true story), was unsettling and offensive; don’t dismiss it. Eventually we’re just going to stop trusting you, because you’ve already shown you don’t care about our experiences. If you’re not sure what to say or how to handle it, you can still just be quiet and listen. Say “Wow that was terrible, I’m sorry that happened. That person really was an old raggedy bitch”. Most of the time we aren’t coming to you asking for you to solve the problem, we are coming to you to get reassurance that we do matter to someone. Our parents, I would hope, would be the number one people we could turn to for unconditional love.
4. Representation Matters
I got the American Girl Doll, Addy when I was probably around 8 or 9. I was in love with her. Never before in my life had I seen toys, or any kind of real representation of me. I had all of the Addy books, the paper dolls (remember those?), the family tree, anything that Addy had, I had. Addy was me, or at lease she was representative of me. Addy was so special to me because I never got to see people that looked like me succeed. I had no one to look up to. Yeah there are white leaders doing good things, but that isn’t inspiring to young people of color. If all you see is white people succeeding and all your people at the bottom for years and years, you’re going to assume that your only worth is to be at the bottom. It’s important for any child to have people to look up to, people they can see and be inspired by. For white kids, and white people in general, there are so many people they can look up to and be inspired by. People of color also have amazing leaders both current and historically we can be inspired by, however our people are not represented to us in media which means you as a parent, might need to work a little harder to make sure that representation is happening in you family. We go to school and learn about whiteness, and get the basic washed down history of “well there was some slavery, MLK & Rosa Parks happened, end of racism” that’s it. We aren’t taught anything else. We aren’t taught about Katherine Johnson who got white folks into space, or Charles Drew who invented the modern day Blood Banks, or Patricia Bath, who invented the Laserphaco Probe which is what is used in Lasik eye surgery today. All these inspirational figures and no one tells us about them. So, as a parent, you need to take the responsibility of making sure you are teaching your children of color, about their history and about the great people who look like them. Be encouraging, go out of your way to make sure you have books, toys, media, music etc that is representative of them and their culture.
5. The Family Needs to Be Multicultural
My family is of Scottish and Danish heritage…and man are they are proud of it. That’s wonderful, truly it is. I loved going over to Grandma & Papa’s house and helping her cook her Swedish meatballs every holiday. We all anticipate the great honor that was receiving a brand new cast iron Ebelskiver pan when you got married (I have yet to accomplish this). Hearing the stories about how their families immigrated over here, struggles, success, bagpipes at the weddings and all that jazz. I love that they have stayed connected to their culture however, it is not my culture. I can respect their culture and enjoy celebrating it with them, but what about mine? My black culture and heritage isn’t worth celebrating and being proud of too? We never celebrated black history month, MLK day, Kwanzaa, Juneteenth or anything black at all. Language, black history, black contributions, black traditions and values that are the foundation of everything popular in America today. It was never acknowledged, that was hurtful and alienating. Just imaging looking around your family…FAMILY, the people who are supposed to ride for you, and seeing all the love, laughter and support for certain people and then complete erasure of the others who look different. This is why making transracial families, multicultural is important. Celebrate everyone’s different cultures. Like I said before, we are not white and we do not connect to white culture. Include us in the family but treating us like family.
I don’t expect white parents to know everything about race or our experiences, but the point is you have to be willing to listen, learn and then put in the work to make changes. Simply ignoring us and brushing aside race like it doesn’t exist, only goes to distance yourself from us, creating a tension within the family. You’re not only a parent but also an ally, learn to be both. Put out some effort to make the child that you decided to adopt, feel like you actually, love them unconditionally. Make them feel like they are a part of the family too.
About the author:
i am Rebekah, the real person behind the screen name OnlyBlackGirl. I am originally from Olympia, Washington, one of the whitest places in the west, and I am a writer, activist and consultant. As you have probably figured out by now, I am a black transracial adoptee. Adopted at birth from Houston, TX and raised in a white family, I talk about my experiences growing up quite literally the only black person (girl) in my town. And my experiences as an adult black woman living in white america.
My blog and social media platforms are to uplift and share the raw and real experiences of transracial adoptees. Not the sugar coated, filtered, white-centric bullshit that has been pushed as the narrative for decades.
I consider myself an advocate for adoptee voices and for all marginalized groups. As Maya Angelou said “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” I live by this. I hate the state of the adoption industry today, I hate the way black women are treated across the globe, and I use my platform to discuss these issues in my own words.