Yes. IT is racism. The big issue we all wish did not exist. I will admit that I would like to pretend it was simply a big, bad, ugly part of our history and that it was no longer an issue, but that would be to stick my head in the sand. Lately there have been horrible stories of racism coming out of Europe. And then there was this horrible story in the news of a town in Italy that where all the African immigrants living there had to be evacuated under threats of violence or death. Shocking, but unfortunately not that uncommon.
Last year on Martin Luther King Jr. day I read a couple of books about him to my boys (then 5 and 7). I also read them parts of his amazing "I Have a Dream" speech. I have to admit that I did not like making my kids aware of such an ugly time in our nation's history, but one thing we know is that if we don't learn from history we are doomed to repeat it. But still- I did not like telling them about how African Americans used to not be allowed to go to the same schools, restaurants, churches... even drink from the same water fountain as they would have been. I didn't like it, not because I felt they shouldn't know about it, but because I love their innocence. I love that they don't think a thing about skin color. (To be honest, they don't even know the terms "black" and "white"- they just think everyone is a different shade of brown. Not totally sure this is the right thing to do, but we can discuss that another time.) But again... not talking about it is just not an option, is it? As I read to them and talked to them about Dr. King and his wonderful words and amazing life, there was a dark fear in the back of my mind. I kept thinking that it's one thing to tell this horrible story to my white sons. But what was it going to be like to one day have to tell this part of American history to my black daughter??? That takes on a whole different level of meaning, doesn't it? And quite frankly, it scares the @#$% out of me.
What on earth do I know about teaching someone to handle racism??? How do I tell my daughter that, although things are better now than they were in the '60s that people STILL might judge her not on the content of her character, but on the color of her skin??? Have I ever experienced prejudice in my life? I don't think so. So what do I have to pass on to my daughter about standing up to it??? How can I protect her from something that I have never personally had to face??? Just thinking about someone treating my girl with prejudice gets my blood boiling... but do I have any skills in place to prevent it or help her cope with it???
When we first started our adoption I read a book written by some fellow Gladney adopters about their journey to adopt their son from Ethiopia. One part in particular comes to mind as I am thinking about this topic today. Josh and Amy Bottomly stated much more eloquently than I have the very real concerns about transracial adoption. Here, with their permission, I have copied a small part of their wonderful book, From Ashes to Africa:
"My most salient fears were fueled by thinking through the labyrinthine issues surrounding adopting a black child. I can vividly recall driving home from work and listening to an author on NPR argue that interracial adoption invited in too much confusion for all parties. Families like this would eventually erode underneath the "groundswell of cultural differences and ethnic barriers." As I listened, I began to feel uncomfortable. The author's words created a moment of fearful pause. I thought to myself, maybe adopting a black child is more than I can handle, especially in a part of the country where there are still large pockets of racism. Or perhaps the problems of prejudice are too big, the histories of injustice too long, the feelings of bitterness too deep? How would I ever be able to explain to my son the slave trade and the eleven to thirteen million Africans who died at the hands of white people? What explanation would I conjure when my son came home from school with his American history textbook in hand and asked me to explain the images of burning crosses and children like Emit Till dangling from trees, burned to the bone and beaten to a bloody pulp? Or how would I assure my black son that the stares he felt in the mall or the racial slurs he might hear from the class bully at recess were not him, but them. In other words, how would I protect my son from America's most sordid and ugly sin-- a sin that is tragically still very much alive in some enclaves of our nation?"
Like I said, I honestly wish I could avoid teaching my children these horrible truths. But that is just not an option. Not for any of us.
We will soon be a transracial family. I am trying my best to go into this with eyes wide open, and that includes facing my shortcomings. No. I have never personally handled prejudice and racism. But neither have I handled cyber bullying, internet porn, "sexting", teen depression, drug use... the list could go on and on. Does that disqualify me from parenting? I don't think so, but it does become imperative that I educate myself and learn as much as I can so that should any of those problematic situations arise I can help my children cope. Perhaps the same is true for racism.
And like Dr. King, I too have a DREAM. I have a dream that the innocence I see in my boys and in their friends will result in a generation of people who will grow up with many less prejudices passed on to them from the previous generation and that this will continue until racism is wiped out. I have a dream that spending a lot of time with the many other families we know that "look" like ours is going to will help our daughter to feel it's normal and okay not to look like your parents. And I have a dream that the definition of family will not be limited to those you are related to, but will expand to include all of those you love regardless of their skin color, nationality, socio-economic status, or even political preferences.
Thanks, Dr. King. We are trying to live your words and make them reality.