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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.
My friends daughter at age three announced at the grocery store that a man was black. VERY BLACK! (Her words) Like you said, you shush your child and try not to make eye contact with the person. But this man walked over to my friend and her daughter and said, “Yes, I am black! Didn’t God do a great job? And guess what? My hands are pink!” That sweet man went on to explain to her that God made everyone and loved everyone. What a wonderful expression of God’s love!
Wow! What a great response he had. I’m sure your friend, and her daughter, learned a lot from his gracious response. Thanks for sharing!
We are in the process of adopting through foster care and there is a good chance the kids will be black (we are white with 2 biological children). Thanks for this… I will be following your blog now!
So glad it was helpful for you, Amanda. And I’m so excited to hear that you’re in the process! Reach out anytime. I love connecting with other foster/adoptive mommas 🙂
Good points! I will never forget the first time my three-year-old noticed race. He was describing someone who had walked past our house as “a man who ate a lot of chocolate. “I was baffled by this description and kept probing until I realized he attributed skin color to diet LOL it made me wonder if he thought The milk in our diet made our skin white. It opened the door for a good conversation about how God created different skin colors.
Haha! Kids are so funny 🙂 I will never forget the first conversation about race that I had with my (then) three year old. That seems to be the age where they begin commenting about differences. So glad you embraced the conversation!
Thank you for being accepting and caring for these children.
My husband and I are the ones who are blessed, Rachel 🙂
It really bugs me how people think we should be colour-blind. Several years ago we were in Ghana, and every day people would come up to us on the street and say, “You’re so white!” When I replied to one woman that I actually had a very good tan and was normally several shades lighter she keeled over laughing. There’s nothing wrong with noticing skin colour. It only becomes wrong when we treat people differently because of it.
I would caution, however, that any conversations with someone of a different ethnic background about their experiences should be grounded in friendship. You know, don’t just go up to a random person on the street and say, “So, tell me what it’s like to be black.” That turns that person into a token, and nobody wants to be tokenised. (I say this as a white immigrant to a predominantly white country. I wouldn’t respond honestly if a stranger asked me what it’s like to be an immigrant, because I know, after nearly two decades of experience, that they usually don’t like my answers, and I don’t really fancy getting yelled at by a complete stranger when I say something they don’t like.)