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Adoption Blog: Be Bold or Go Home
One fall afternoon, the kids and I were out running errands. As always, my daughter, Lemlem, and my son, Gobez, danced ten feet ahead of me on the sidewalk, and my oldest daughter, Didi, lagged ten feet behind. Suddenly, Lemlem spotted an ATM. She dashed to the machine and merrily started punching buttons. Gobez raced after her, but before he could commandeer the second ATM terminal, an actual bank customer, a woman about my age, got to it first.
Like most seven-year-old boys, Gobez has almost no sense of personal space; he’s as eager, clumsy and curious as a Labrador puppy. However, he’s taller and more muscular than many ten-year-olds, and he is Black. Lately, I’ve been sensing an occasional weird vibe from white strangers towards my son, as if they are already wary of the man he will become, and so I almost panicked as the woman, who was white, slid her bankcard into the ATM, and Gobez crowded close to her, leaning in to watch the magic machine spit out money.
“Gobez,” I shouted. “You’re in that lady’s space bubble!”
Maybe the woman heard the edge in my voice. She looked up then and half-shrugged, half-waved to me, and I saw in her face that she was a mom, and she understood little boys. I felt so relieved I could have hugged her, but the woman had grabbed her cash and moved on by the time Didi and I caught up to the other kids.
In the car on the way home, I reminded Gobez and the girls that bank information is private. I told my son, “That lady didn’t think you were trying to rob her, but someone who was cranky or nervous might have thought so.”
I hesitated. Should I take the lesson a step further, or was that enough for now?
I remembered then the older white man we’d encountered the week before at our health club. That day, all three kids had been galloping five steps ahead of me through the hallway, despite my warnings to slow down. They’d taken the man by surprise as he entered the building. Seeing their brown faces, he’d stopped in his tracks and glared.
“Do those kids belong here?” he’d barked.
“They’re my children,” I’d said, and kept walking.
The kids hadn’t seemed to hear the man’s ugly remark, but the bitterness of the exchange stayed with me. And so I made myself continue talking.
“You know, Gobez,” I struggled for the right words. “Honey, some people who don’t know any better think that brown people commit most crimes. That lady at the ATM today didn’t think that, but a person who had the wrong idea about brown people might have called the police when you got too close at the bank, even though you’re just a little boy. You could have gotten in trouble, even though you didn’t mean to do anything wrong.”
A knot of sadness welled in my chest. I’d taken on the challenges of transracial parenting thoughtfully, but no one warned me that someday I would have to teach my son that people might fear him because of the color of his skin, or that I would have to help him understand how their fears may put him at risk. Now I realize he will learn these lessons with or without me. It’s better for both of us if I’m there.
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