After the July 2016 shooting deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, conversations about race and police brutality have been springboarded in our country. Contributing Writer April Swiger doesn’t have the choice to ignore the injustices against the black community anymore because she’s raising two black children in her own home. Here are three ways you can support transracial adoptive families.
By April Swiger, Contributing Writer
(Portions of this post are from chapter five of my recently published book Dignity and Worth: Seeing the Image of God in Foster Adoption).
My husband and I never considered adopting children of ethnicities different than our own. I don’t believe we were fully naïve when we jumped into transracial adoption, but we definitely weren’t fully versed on the complexities of adopting a black boy (or two) into a white family in America.
Until Jayda, our 4-year-old son, came through our front door two years ago through foster adoption, Adam and I never batted an eyelash at the issue of race in our country. Because we didn’t feel it affecting us directly, we didn’t give much thought to issues of race or racial injustice at all. Of course, we would affirm that racism is sinful—and it is—but we didn’t have any personal experience as victims of discrimination.
We now know that this ability to ignore race is a symptom of our privilege as white Americans. As I began learning and listening to the experiences of people of color, my eyes began to open to the complex system of racial inequality we have in our country. I’ve come to see the reality of injustice, and I can never un-see it.
Families who have grown through transracial adoption need support. Here are three ways you can love them well:
1) Seek to understand the challenges
For us, one of the most difficult aspects of transracial adoption has been the reluctance of others to see the complexities of race in our country. I’ve been discouraged a number of times as I’ve walked away from a conversation with someone who won’t acknowledge that black males—like my boys—will probably face more difficulties growing up in our community and in our country than their white friends will face.
Having a real conversation, with humility and compassion, with a person of color about his or her experiences is a great start to understanding what it’s like to be a minority in America. Bearing another person’s burdens and seeking to understand his experiences with an open heart is a tangible way to honor the image of God in him.
I don’t personally have a category for the experience of black individuals in our country, but that doesn’t mean their experiences are not legitimate. I may not have a category for experiences like miscarriage, cancer, or losing a job, but this doesn’t mean I can’t work to empathize with someone else going through these trials.
These conversations are incredibly hard, though, and it takes humility, effort, thought, and wise word choices to navigate them. I’m willing to engage in these conversations because I’m convinced it’s important to God and honors those who bear his image.
2) Resist the temptation to be “colorblind”
Colorblindness is the practice of disregarding racial characteristics in a person. Proponents of colorblindness believe that seeing everyone as equal, choosing to be “blind” to their particular ethnicities, will promote equality in our society.
Our family is not colorblind, my sons are definitely not colorblind (they can’t afford to be), and the general white population isn’t colorblind either (even if they think they are). Of course we see skin color! We are not blind to it, and saying that skin color doesn’t matter disregards something God created and ignores injustice related to racial prejudice.
God purposefully created every race and ethnicity. Let’s teach our children that people with skin colors different than their own are a beautiful expression of God’s creativity.
3) Talk to your children about race
I’ve noticed that in white American culture, children are often “shushed” in public when they ask a question or make a comment about race. Maybe we don’t know the answers, or we believe race is a taboo topic, or we don’t think our preschooler ought to be thinking through those concepts yet.
Whatever the reason, when white parents silence their children—in the process, discouraging them from asking hard questions about race, ethnicity, and identity—we are teaching them race is something that we shouldn’t speak about. We don’t embrace the image of God in other people when we ignore our children’s questions about the way God has created individuals.
I find it helpful to think through exactly what I want to teach my son about race, so when the conversation comes, I am not completely caught off guard. It’s helpful to remember that we will make mistakes (I have made a lot!), and there is a ton of grace. We, as parents, need to learn how to have these tough conversations, even if it makes us uncomfortable.
For more about foster adoption, race, special needs, and navigating relationships with birth parents, check out Dignity and Worth: Seeing the Image of God in Foster Adoption.