“This is an example of a typical after school conversation with my son.
Him: Mom, do white and black people ever marry each other?
Me: Of course, all the time. Why do you ask?
Him: A friend at school told me I couldn’t marry the girl I like because she is white.
No one told me you guys. No one told me raising an African American boy in a country that from the start, never had his best interest at heart, would be this hard. But then again, no one should’ve had to.
He was 2 years old when a neighbor at a playgroup asked all the kids to go around the room and say what color they were. They all laughed when it was Eli’s turn, and he said he was white like everyone else did. They made sure he left knowing he wasn’t.
He was 4 the first time some kids told him he couldn’t play with them on the playground because he was black.
Since the day they laid his tiny black body in my white arms there have been more wounds to his personal identity and sense of belonging than I could ever imagine in a lifetime.
And I wasn’t prepared for any of it.
We were not required to research, read, or train in any way to qualify for transracial adoption. Instead his differences became my biggest teacher and opened my eyes to the truth that racial barriers are real and biases still run deep in our society.
His beautiful birth mother believed in our love and ability to raise him to be a successful black man and my husband and I got to work keeping our promise to her. We soon realized that we had just enough collective wisdom in our pockets to talk (or write) our boys through most of the struggles they might face in life.
Except for being black and adopted.
We will never know what that feels like and trying to help them through those feelings is like walking someone across uncharted territory while blindfolded. I can preach that we are ‘the same kind of different’ all I want, but the truth is, it is easy for me to say that when I am not familiar with the feeling of being surrounded by a sea of faces that hold no resemblance to my own, or of having my worth measured by the color of my skin every day. For us, he was only ever our son. Not our black son or adopted son. But we knew raising him would require stepping outside of our comfort zone and even our zip code to bring more diversity into our life. It required seeking out others of his race that we could learn from. Researching, listening, traveling to more diverse parts of the country and joining groups to help him experience being the majority and relating to those around him.
After a 10-year closed adoption, his birth mother found us and we immediately flew her out here because we knew how beneficial that connection to biological family would be to his identity. We are not a colorblind family. We love and celebrate the shades we see, and the skin he is in matters very much. While we figure out how to best help him find his place in life; our hearts, our ideas, our perception of race and all that it entails are being shaped right now and there’s a big ‘under construction’ sign hanging over our hearts.
Ten years in and we are still no experts. I still have no simple words of encouragement for him, no easy fixes, and I don’t pretend otherwise. But his differences have added so much to our lives and the people around him. For all the times the world doesn’t recognize this, I hope he comes back to the truth that God made him into the exact person he was supposed to be. He placed him in the exact life he was supposed to have. And I have a hard and heavy hunch that maybe, just maybe, God wanted him to come live in a place where a lot of people look and think the same so that he could remind them all that there is so much more to see and love in the world. We do our best to remind him that people do and say cruel things when they are afraid of what they don’t understand. It’s not our job to change them though. That’s Gods work. Our only job is to teach them with love along the way. We love them because they don’t know what he knows. That he was hoped for and fought for and loved from the start for exactly who he is and that it will be this way until forever.
Multiracial families are some of the lucky few who get to see the world through eyes that are not our own. I’m fortunate to be able to peer into soulful eyes that belong to a beautiful boy who holds no gene of mine and love him with an overwhelming love that makes me want to change the world for him. Because in this world we see many people, including black and white, who do not accept this togetherness.
But I’ll tell you what. There are many more who do and for every time he’s faced cruelty and ignorance someone was right there, repairing the damage with love and restoring my faith in the goodness of human beings.
And nothing. Just nothing, empowers me to believe that a white girl from Utah like me can raise my son to be a successful black man, quite like someone in the African American community showing up in my messages or coming alongside me in person to cheer me on and offer their support. Sending me tips on how to do his hair or take care of his skin. Or allowing me to approach them without judgment to ask advice about the hard conversations I will have with him and the unfair rules he’ll have to live by and the things he’ll have to do different to survive. Or the very real possibility that his little blonde haired, blue eyed, brother might have more opportunities in life than he will. They let me know that even though most folks find him adorable right now, they might feel differently when he shows up to date their daughters or when he walks through the mall with his hoodie on. When he is a grown man and they cross the street just to avoid him at night. They suggest going with him to job interviews just so he can benefit from our privilege. They make sure I know to tuck a family photo of his white parents behind his driver’s license for officers to see when he gets pulled over.
Did you know mothers of black sons have to worry about these things? Did you know it took me becoming one to realize they did?
This. Kills. Me.
And I hope it kills you too.
Because I cannot imagine a life without this incredible boy in it and it makes me wonder how many amazing people I have missed out on knowing in life simply because of the giant wall of bias I’m still trying to break down.
Friends, if you are reading this, thinking, ‘I’m tired of hearing about race’ or ‘this doesn’t relate to me, I don’t have a child of a different race,’ please think again. Because I do. And your neighbor might. The parents sitting with you in a school assembly do and the people behind you in church do and we’ve got to be willing to stop sheltering our children from the ugliness of racism when black parents don’t have the luxury to do so. It’s okay that the worries keeping you up at night are different from mine, (and mine much different from others) but we cannot let this keep us from doing the work in our own homes to root out systemic biases that you may not even realize are there. Your kids are picking up on them, friends. And they are bringing those biases to school and church and the playground and planting them in the hearts of little boys like mine who have to carry that weight home to their moms who then spend days and lifetimes trying to repair the damage with therapy visits and books about loving the skin they are in and searching for truths that will unravel the lies.
Let’s carry this weight together so that it will be less of a burden for the mothers of black children to bear on their own…or for any child growing up differently than the norm for that matter. Read YOUR kids these books and bring more diversity into YOUR circle. Talk to YOUR kids about how they would want to be treated if they were visibly different from everyone around them. SHOW them that underneath all of our uniquely beautiful differences we all just want to be loved, to feel safe and to feel we belong. Then learn what those differences add to our lives and love others well for them. And then just maybe, you will start to see this message spread to their friends–with the lonely kid on the playground, the minority at school and then eventually out into a world and a future that so desperately needs more conscious, big-hearted humans like them.
I hope one day that racism won’t exist for my son anymore. I hope he gets to walk down the street at night and have others approach him with loving interest in who he is as person. I hope he gets to do and be whoever he dreams of and to easily marry whoever he falls in love with.
I am not black. I cannot possibly know what it is like to live in the shoes of someone who is. But I am surer than ever that I will do whatever it takes to help create a more loving and inclusive world for my son and for all who are being withheld love and equality because of their differences.
I’m realizing that the only way anyone can begin to change these things about the world is by changing the hearts and minds of those we are sending out into it.”
Read about Eli’s adoption here:
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