I want my son growing up proud of his blackness.
I hope he claims it, celebrates it, finds confidence in it.
People often ask me, "What is he?" And from talking with my friends of color, I know this question won't stop when he's old enough to respond for himself, and will continue through his life.
I usually say, "Biracial," unless I'm feeling really snarky, then I smile and say, "A toddler."
Saying my son is biracial is true, yes, but often times I wonder if I am doing him a bit of a disservice in the long run: our world is very black and white. We can argue about whether or not this is helpful or if this is how it should be or yada yada...but in the end, it just is and to ignore that is neglect.
Recently, I was reading a blog post from a black mom's blog, My Brown Baby, and something she said struck a chord in me because I want it too: "I hope my son leans toward his blackness instead of riding down the middle of his biracial identity."
Ultimately, it is my son's choice how he identifies himself, what boxes he checks on whatever form is asking him, and how he answers to people's questions.
Most definitely, it is my utmost and deepest desire that he would first identify as a follower of Jesus and find grace to rest in that space when the world is unkind to him. But something my white self would have failed to see not too long ago, was that he doesn't get to identify only as a follower of Jesus. It is simply not the world he is growing up in, and there are consequences to not owning his blackness.
In the macro, as his mama, it is my honor and duty to help him define what his blackness means, so he can be comfortable in his own skin. I want more than anything for my son to be confident in how God created him and who he is, but that won't come without necessary conversations about his racial identity.
In the micro, me helping my son define his blackness looks like raising him in a diverse community, choosing a church-small-group with kids and parents that mirror his racial identity. It means picking a school and neighborhood where families and peers mirror him. This means offering him a church with black leadership, people he can grow up seeing as mentors and role models, and talk to when I or Loren simply won't understand. And they will help him define what it means to be a black man in America.
I'd be lying if I said I'm not fearful of failing my son in this way. I know far too many adults, transracially adopted, who were raised to "not see color,"—to suppress their need to identify as a black person—raised with the notion that love is enough, raised in an entirely white community...and have suffered years for it.
Let’s pretend for a moment that you truly do not see color or any social/racial differences in your child. By not acknowledging what the rest of the world does see, you are leaving them vulnerable to real prejudice and discrimination. I’ve heard/read so many defensive adoptive parents claiming that their transracial adopted children have NEVER experienced racism or bigotry, and that discussing things like that are “too negative” and unnecessary. I’m sorry, but WRONG. I believe that it is nearly impossible for any school-age child of color not to have experienced some form of implicit bias in their life. Even if we pretend for a moment that they indeed haven’t, there is no guarantee that they won’t someday in the future. (source).
I refuse to be defensive simply because this is a new way of thinking. Defensiveness helps no one, and is only a reflex to attempt to protect my own heart and ego — but if this is truly not about me or my ego, then choosing to listen and defer to adoptees and people of color is easy.
Nicole Blades pens my very own thoughts perfectly: "...how to come up with a plan to make him aware, but not suspicious; open not naive. How do I develop the right messaging so that he never feels like he's not enough of one thing or too much of another, like he's living at some drifting intersection, feeling unmoored, and worse, unwelcome by either culture? How do I make sure that he doesn't start to question who or what he is after being accused of 'talking white'? Or being told that he's not 'really black' because, for instance, he is into skiing over basketball, punk rock music over hip-hop? .... he can like none or all of those things and still be black. Black Life is made from a multitude of identities; there is no single, authorized way 'to be black.'"
I grew up with the colorblind mentality. It wasn't like I was overtly taught it constantly, it was simply ingrained into me. I grew up in an incredibly white town—I remember three girls of color who were all adopted from Africa and one boy of color—and a conservative, evangelical church. It's where I came from and helped shape who I am, but I recognize there was a great lack of understanding or wisdom when it came to racial or cultural diversity. No city or church or family is perfect and we are all learning and growing (I would hope).
Until I went to college, I pretty much (blissfully and ignorantly) believed racism died with Dr King was assassinated (which doesn't even make sense).
And I get it, from my white privileged and comfortable stance: colorblindness is so comfortable for us. It means white remains as the default, as supreme, and we don’t have to change.
But in choosing "colorblindness," I would be choosing to forsake my son as well as many of my friends. I would be choosing to say "Your culture and race and color and ethnicity are not worth celebrating and noting to me. I'd prefer to default to and keep everything white. KTHANKSBYE." But choosing color blindness is not a problem just because we don’t celebrate other cultures and color, it is problematic because we as white people absolutely benefit from not acknowledging it. It’s painful admitting you are participating—even unintentionally—in systemic oppression and racism. It's humbling realizing your good intentions aren't actually good enough. But my goodness, is it necessary. Especially as a Jesus-following Christian.
If I do anything in this life, I hope it is to love well and give others value, especially my children and especially voices who often get shoved aside and drowned out. The voices that are silenced are the very voices Jesus spent most of His time with.
I've always been a bit wary talking about this from a social media/internet standpoint. Mainly because the internet is a cruel place, people misunderstand anything you say, and also...I really don't want to get out of my lane. I'm no expert and I'm mainly listening, I have so much to learn. If I'm sharing anything, I hope to share how I've been humbled, what I am learning, and how I hope to raise a son of another race. I hope to share how Jesus is transforming me more into His image through the reality of transracial adoption and living in community with diverse voices.
I am cautious to share and speak online about these things, yes. But, I am a white mom, raising a son of color by adoption, listening to black adult adoptees and black moms. I am on a journey of unpacking myself and learning what it means to be a white follower of Jesus in a very unwelcoming to everyone-but-white-people nation. So as I unpack and learn, I hope to share a bit more of where I'm at and where I'm going.
And maybe, maybe you'll learn something along with me. Maybe you'll see the world through a new perspective, have a layer of what you thought was be stripped away so you can see what is. Maybe you'll find there is a whole lot of freedom in surrendering your defenses so you can instead humbly defer. That is certainly what I have found: freedom through surrender.
Maintaining our current worldview might feel safe, but it's a false sense of safety. It also means we are stagnant and not growing or transforming—I hope to consistently grow, transform, shift, and change more into who He has made me to be.
And as I uncover hidden biases or beliefs I didn't even know existed in me, may I chase grace and invite others into that race, knowing it's okay to be in process. It's okay to be imperfect, to have missteps, and recognize the need for grace. We don't know what we don't know...until we know. But once we know...we sure as heck better be doing better.
For now, I know to the depths of myself that I want my black son to grow up feeling seen, celebrated, and known by his white parents.