What They Didn’t Teach us in Adoption Classes about Raising Black children

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.

37 Responses to What They Didn’t Teach us in Adoption Classes about Raising Black children

  1. this post is ridiculous….I do not agree with this information…..I get nothing but positive feedback from everyone I meet…how beautiful she is…..how smart…..how talented…etc…. This may have been true 15 years ago….but definitely not now. So does this also mean Obama is being treated poorly too?

    • This is just ridiculous – as a white mom with 3 black children as preteens I can say this is so NOT the case – we have been all over the country n live outside a metro area n my kids are welcomed intensely n admired by all… Don’t use thugs n their circumstances to define ALL black kids experiences – it BREEDS hate – that is the problem in these inner cities – in this gov’t – this black president does all he can to keep the pot stirring… DON’T b that person – for the sake of your children!!!

      • Actually, I was using “thugs” and other such terms, which I think are hideous, ironically. Sadly, that is the way black people are regularly described in the media nowadays. I used them to make a point about how ridiculous and insulting they are. I tried to convey my point using a combination of sarcasm and realism.

        You are fortunate that your children have not experienced discrimination (or have not conveyed it to you, or maybe haven’t even noticed it), but it is a very real problem. The examples I used come directly from current events. I left many many examples out. Here is a disturbing news video to explain further: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/16/melissa-harris-perry-black-men-killed-by-police_n_5684588.html

    • Rae, I am trying to figure out if this comment is serious or sarcastic. It sounds like you are also a white mother to a black daughter. Is that correct? If so, and if this comment was serious, it might help your daughter navigate the coming years for you to take a good look at current events. Obama has been bashed, demonized, trashed, treated as sub-human, called names, scrutinized… the list goes on and on…since the day people found out who he was. It is important for all people to know this because much of his treatment was so obviously racist (When have you ever heard of the birth place of a white president coming into question? When have you ever seen a white president’s picture replaced by that of an ape?). It is especially important that we let our black children know how wrong this is. No matter what anyone’s politics are, being “okay” with this sort of treatment, of anyone, that is doled out because of the color of their skin is absolutely not okay.

  2. I am raising four black children whom are now all in college. I am very thankful that I have never felt the need to teach my children any of the things you stated, Those are all incidences that have happened, Guess I should have taught my white children to be afraid of my black ones because of certain incidences of black on white killings. Chicago is not too far from me. Maybe I should have taught them to be afraid of each other because of the black on black killing.I guess I have raised my children wrong all these years to stay away from drugs, pull your pants up, be respectful, and above all things….love who you are.The one thing I raised all my children on is that life is not fair sometimes…do not care what color you are. How you react to it is what will make or break you. And I did not make a big deal of the color differences. I never ever defined them by the color of their skin. Maybe that is why they fit in well with whomever they are with.

    • Wow, you have been at this parenting thing for a while. Kudos to you. It sounds like you have a big family — kudos again. We started out wanting a big crew, but felt like we weren’t going to have any patience left after 3 in 1 year. I admire your stamina and patience.

      To begin, I am not advocating that my children fear white people. I did point out all the recent current events that make it frightening to be a black person in America.

      I am assuming there are certainly parts of America where people simply do not see loud, overt racism on a regular basis (they probably see quiet, covert racism, but maybe aren’t identifying it as such. I know that as a white mother, it took me a while to see it). You are lucky if you live in one of those places. For the most part, though, racism is alive and well and, as every single example in this post was taken from real life, shockingly overt.

      It’s interesting that you bring up Chicago as we just moved from there. We lived there 14 years. One thing I noticed over and over again was that when a shooting was done by a black gang member to another black gang member, both gang affiliation and race were mentioned. When any black person committed a crime, the race was mentioned and gang affiliation was presumed. This, of course, never happened when white people committed crimes despite the fact that there are white gang members. In fact, when black people were killed, there was hardly an issue made. When white people were killed, the news was all over it. This affected my kids, both black and white, greatly. Whether they said so to others or not, they noticed and it was very hard for them to watch.

      But really, for the purposes of this discussion, how gang members act is irrelevant (and I will add that gang members are people too). The fact is none of the people mentioned in the post were involved in gangs. And, though some of them had broken the law (some only allegedly) in small ways (smoking pot, selling cigarettes, stealing cigars), their killers did not know this of them at the time. However, if their killers had known it, there was still no reason to kill any of them.

      I’ll take a break here to say that pot is legal in many states; that I once stole a 5 gallon tub of ice cream from the school cafeteria as a prank, and that I had plenty of lemon-aid stands, where I sold unlicensed lemon-aid, all to no consequence.

      Furthermore, every time someone drives over the speed limit, lies about their weight on their drivers license, enters the state of Illinois without first alerting a police officer (http://www.dumblaws.com/laws/united-states/illinois), or kisses a woman in public while sporting a mustache in Iowa (http://www.dumblaws.com/laws/united-states/iowa) they are breaking the law. These infractions are on the same par as the infractions committed by the victims listed in the post.

      I’m not saying these aren’t crimes or that it’s not an issue to commit a crime. But they were not at all connected to the killings, nor did they warrant the killings. Instead, they demonstrate that no matter how clean-cut a person is or how well-raised a person is, if s/he is black, s/he is at greater risk of danger simply because we in this country have been taught to fear and denigrate black people.

  3. I’ve known Paula for 21 years, though I have not met her children (I hope to someday!). I can tell you for sure that no matter how _your_ experience differs, she is telling the truth about _her_ experience and analysis of events. I would hope that future commenters can speak their truths without denying or belittling hers.

    • Thanks, Christine. I have been surprised at how many people are quick to assert that none of these things happen because they did not happen directly to them. And I hope we meet up again soon!

  4. I have heard consistent reports by quite affluent African Americans that they have to have this talk … particularly with their sons … about how they are going to be treated by law enforcement. Not as a matter of “all cops are bad” but that these encounters are *intrinsically* *more* *dangerous* for black children. Individual experiences vary, to be sure. This is the deadly, dreary, reality of “postracial” America.

  5. Well written post. Thank you for sharing your perspective and experience (although #s 8-10 make me particularly sad due to their personal nature.)

    And you’re a brave woman for admitting to the ice cream. I, on the other hand, admit to nothing.

  6. When you say Michael Brown was “walking to Nana” would you please also note that he just robbed a store, assaulted its clerk, and according to any credible evidence (including forensic) assaulted the police officer who shot him? anything less is dishonest.

    When you say Trayvon was shot for carrying skittles, would you please note that he was going to use the skittles to make a drug (a favorite pastime according to his Facebook)? anything less is dishonest.

    When you say Eric Garner didn’t deserve to die for selling loosies (agreed) would you be honest and point out he died because he was resisting lawful arrest (something he did not have the health to do, obviously – not that it is ever a good idea)?

    You are painting these thugs as angels – that is dishonest. Why don’t you focus on real victims of crime, like the ~95% of Black kids killed by other Black kids? is it because that doesn’t fit your victim narrative? be honest.

      • Martin, I feel like you just listed every single unproven and disproved lie and cliche plastered all over racist news sites. Go spend some time with @shaunking or @verywhiteguy or @chescaleigh on Twitter and then we can chat.

    • I want to make sure I understand what you’re saying about Trayvon Martin. Are you saying it was OK to kill him because of what some people have theorized he may have been thinking of doing with a legal substance in the future?

      Just trying to get a handle on how you think. You’d make a fascinating psychological study.

  7. Honest discussion and genuine disagreement with an intention to come to a place of understanding are welcome here. Trolling, baiting, and hatefulness are not. I will delete comments that fall into the latter 3 categories. They neither further the discussion nor benefit anyone.

  8. Thank you for your enlightened awareness and frank discussion on the reality of raising African American Children. I would like to add another important facet to raising an African American child. It is easy to get weighted down by the harsh reality of racism. However as an African American mother I have often told my children when they experienced unfairness that “that which does not kill you makes your stronger.” I would encourage you to impart on your children that the challenges and struggles that one faces builds the muscle that makes them stronger. Adversity is a part of life and although great adversity is toxic, being aware of the challenges one faces can also allow them to create possibilities. Providing your child with a healthy self-esteem and a strong foundation of love and support will give them a foundation to create endless possibilities. The tragic losses of these young African American’s lives needs to be the impetus for ensuring that your children strive to reach their fullest potential and, you, as their parent, need to make certain that they understand that reaching their fullest potential is not an option but a requirement. “To whom much is given, much is required.”. Support them in being victors and not victims. .


    From One Mother to Another

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