In preparation for adoption, we took multiple classes through our agency. We learned everything from general care of children (the easy part) to honoring our children’s cultures and how to work through the emotional needs of children who join a family through adoption.
With regards to adoption of black children by white parents, they warned us that people might stare at our family, that hair care might be a challenge, that our kids might crave the presence of black people, and that we would certainly struggle to understand important cultural nuances no matter how hard we tried (All have been true).
We graduated from our classes feeling naively prepared for our imminent adoption of two non-newborn siblings from Haiti.
Over a decade later, now that those cherubic little kid faces over which everyone once gushed are looking more like adults, and the world of 2014 is looking more like the world of 1958, I am discovering just how many important lessons those classes omitted.
Here are 12 lessons for white parents raising black children that the adoption agencies can now add to their curriculum:
1. Your black son could be killed just for walking down the street. People will think it justified because someone in the media will announce that he was “gang related”. That’s the catch phrase: “gang related.” Also, he will probably be one of those rare teens who swears and writes crude facebook statuses, so people will think he probably deserved it anyway. He might also be shot for liking his music loud and becoming annoyed when told to turn it down by a total stranger, which—because, as we all know, all black kids only listen to loud thug music—he should be used to.
2. Police officers might also kill your son for walking to his nana’s house while black, next to the curb instead of on the sidewalk, and then trying to explain to the officer that he is just going to see his nana. The officer might try and choke your son and then shoot him point blank, followed by several bonus shots when he tries to run.
3. Riots might ignite over the police having killed your son for walking to Nana’s while black. Some people will be angry because of the injustice of it all, especially that the most important eye witness, the one accompanying your son to see Nana, won’t be interviewed. Other people will mostly be annoyed because they have to close the local White Castle due to all the rioting.
4. Some people, many people, too many people will support the rights of citizens and law enforcement to kill your son for walking with Skittles/to Nana’s while black.
5. Should your daughter make some big teenager mistakes like drinking and driving and then suffer the consequences of those mistakes by having a terrible car accident, she should not under any circumstances seek help. This could lead to her being shot and killed, followed by a media frenzy of people proclaiming that race was not an issue and that she deserved to die because everyone knows that all black people have drug and alcohol problems. When white teens get drunk, it is because they are appropriately rebelling, but black drinking is always “gang related.” People might flock to the internet to express that they wished she had died in the accident anyway. When kind, involved citizens try and comment on that same internet that nobody deserves to die like that, other commenters will tell them do go kill themselves.
6. When white people walk into Starbucks dripping in semi-automatic weapons, the press will call it a political statement and the white people will get coffee. Do not let this fool you. If your black child so much as plays with a toy gun at Walmart, he might be shot and killed. It will so clearly be “gang related” because who else would have a gun out in the open in a store besides gang members? I mean, who else besides white people? Those same people at Starbucks will fight to the literal death for the right of white people to own the kinds of guns that kill all kinds of people in big batches and then jump on their soapboxes of shock and condemnation when a black person shoots another black person.
7. Should your son have some physical challenges that make it difficult for him to run or fight back, like, say, asthma, and should he commit the teensiest tiniest infraction, he might be strangled to death by a police officer.
8. You might have to go on anti-depressants or pay gobs of money and set aside hours and hours of time to seek therapy for yourself and your children to maintain the courage necessary to deal with all the ways your children are profiled, accused, criminalized, sexualized and demonized. White people will tell you you’re over-reacting. Anonymous people online will tell you you’re imagining it because we are a post-racial America. Also they will tell you to go kill yourself, which will send you back to therapy. It’s the If You Give a Moose a Muffin of the interracial adoption world.
9. If your child struggles with a variety of developmental delays and differences, especially social ones, as so many children who were adopted do, your child will be seen as a criminal first, even when their behavior directly parallels that of their white counterparts, who will be offered compassion.
10. You might lose friends, who will fear your children are carriers of disease and assume that they are criminals (the boys) and sluts (the girls), especially as they grow into their teen years, especially if they are muscular or developed. In the case of the latter, make sure your daughter covers every inch of her skin because, otherwise, she is inviting rape.
11. Your children will learn to hate a part of themselves that they cannot change, not because it’s an unpleasant part of them, but because everything around them—the media, music, television shows, movies, billboards, the internet, magazines, peers, teachers, doctors—tells them it is, sometimes overtly and with a painful flourish and sometimes covertly, insipidly, through a series of micro-aggressions.
12. The most heartbreaking exchange between you and your children will not be about the death of a loved one or an impending divorce or the big “good-bye” at college. It will be the one where you tell them that they have to act differently than their white family, friends, and peers because of racial profiling; the one where you explain that the world seems to want them to fail, despite everything they learn on MLK Day and during the month of February about the Civil Rights Movement and how it was supposed to have made everything on this list a moot point; the one where you wonder together which is worse: growing up in abject poverty but surrounded by black people, some who can’t parent more children at that time, but some who accept and love you in all your blackness, or growing up in relative wealth, surrounded by white people, some who love you immensely, but some who judge and condemn you for all your blackness?
Update (8/22/14): Since several have commented on various sites about the examples used in this post, I will address them briefly. Every example is either taken from current events (those have links to read the story) or amassed over time from the stories of black adoptees , people of color, and adoptive parents. None of them is made-up or an exaggeration of experiences with discrimination. Sadly, racism needs no exaggeration. It is big enough and shocking enough on its own.
Update (7/7/17): I wrote this post in a fury of anger after reading about yet another young black boy who was killed by cops. I had no idea my rant would become so widely read. Were I to do it all over again, I would work to understand why I centered so much of this post on my own needs as the adoptive parent. Know better. Do better.
This post was originally published August 14, 2014. An edited version was also published at Scary Mommy.