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Don't Be an Ostrich to the Reality of Racism

This blog was originally published in 2013 at MLJ Adoptions. It is re-published with minor updates. 

Sometimes parents in the midst of the adoption process think I exaggerate when discussing racism and what still occurs in the United States. I ask them how they will respond when someone says the n-word to them or their child, and many can’t imagine it would ever occur in our current society. The recent event on a Delta flight is just one example of things that do happen every day, and I hope that the story of this mother and child joined by adoption will catch the attention of other adoptive parents. Unless you have thought about how you might respond and exposed yourself to such slurs, you will likely have difficulty responding well in the moment, likely standing frozen in shock. While I think I would be prepared to address a racial slur directed at my child, I would likely be stunned by someone physically assaulting my child like the toddler who was slapped by a stranger while trapped on an airplane.

  • A child that was adopted transracially was physically and verbally assaulted by a strange man on a plane.
  • A medical specialist with an advanced degree was told by a patient, "I won’t let a nigger touch me."
  • A highly educated, polite, and professional biracial man was called "nigger" by his father-in-law, supposedly without the intention of malice.
  • A recent college graduate, pulled over for speeding, received a ticket with "N" written in the box marked race.

All of these stories were shared with me in the last thirty days alone. Only one of these stories was in the news. How many other stories have I not heard? How many other slurs were used by how many other people? How many times have children or adults been treated with prejudice?

As a therapist, I understand the emotional need to hide our heads in the sand like an ostrich. Each of the above stories hurt my heart to hear and hurt my heart to share. We want society to be further evolved. It is distressing and frightening to consider our children growing up surrounded by prejudice and sometimes hate. We would rather pretend such things do not occur or do so only rarely. We want to believe the news stories make the news because they are so unusual. We want to believe that better behavior can protect our kids from being targeted by law enforcement. As white parents with non-white children, we simply do not have the luxury of hiding from the reality of racism.

Professional photographer Danese Kenon who has shared her own stories of racism with me, believes, "it is important for (parents) to realize that these things still happen because at some point in that child’s life they will be made fun of or hurt by the ugliness. They need to decide how to handle it and combat it before it happens. No matter how you try to shield that child, it will happen. The child won’t have an understanding of it, but the parents should. Just knowing that the ugliness and pain are prevalent will prevent it from shocking them when it does happen"

Dr. Darron Smith, author of White Parents, Black Children, states "before, I believe, white adoptive parents can be effective at raising healthy and psychologically balanced children they must analyze the very concept of race, which has not been an everyday part of their reality…. Adopting transracially may increase the awareness of the parents, but until these concepts are fully understood and embraced, transracial adoptees will continue to struggle with identity issues." He suggests that adoptive parents start to "re-learn history through the eyes of the oppressed" and read books by black authors. On this topic particularly, he suggests Randall Kennedy’s book Nigger is very helpful.

If you are a white parent of a non-white child, how aware are you that these things do still occur? How are you preparing your child for when it will impact him or her? How are you preparing yourself for when it impacts your child? I hope that you are reading books from a different perspective and digging deeper than what you were taught during Black History Month. I hope that you seek out movies and powerful plays about racism in American history. I hope that you are reading frightening and disheartening news stories and reading reactions from Black writers, not other adoptive parens. I hope you are putting yourself in uncomfortable situations. I hope that you are seeking out people with a different perspective. I hope that you are asking people who look like your child tough questions.

I have chosen, with the encouragement of black friends, to use "nigger" in this article rather than "nigga" or "the n-word". While I have no intention of offending those who do not know me, I am okay with shaking up white parents of non-white children who may not have heard "nigger" spoken out loud, but must prepare their children to hear such slurs. I think we need to be honest about the exact words being used and intention behind them just as we might use accurate language in discussing difficult topics like "the birds and the bees".

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