Thank you for beginning this topic in your post on this forum. I have become rather consumed with the topic as of late, and feel an incredible shift in how I see witness and respond to the world as a result. As the mother of a AA son adopted at birth, and a biracial biological son, I feel that my job as a white mother is one of constant surveillance, education, adaptation, and confrontation. I am so glad that you offer your audience in the blog an example of an event that you met the discomfort head on, and waded through it. Talking about race can be frightening to many adoptive parents who are not of color. It is hard to be in a position where we may not know what to say. But of course it is our job. We would not avoid explaining that you don’t ice skate on thin ice, just because we have never fallen through before. It is never too early to open a dialogue with our children as long as it is developmentally appropriate.
My son Sam who is almost 5 came home from school recently, obviously on edge. Of course asking him what was up is never the way in. Later on while playing soccer in the playroom he asks me; “Do I look like a brownie to you?” The ball slams against the wall just missing my head. This is a loaded question as his skin color is a cocoa brown, and he loves to tell me that he needs more chocolate syrup on his ice cream to “keep his color up” an expression he learned from his Haitian babysitter. I get close to him, and tell him no, he looks like a beautiful and very talented soccer star named Sam. “Then why did George tell me at school that I was the same color as the crumpled up brownie he was eating at lunch?”
These moments make me want to flee, because I am afraid of saying the wrong thing. But, saying nothing, and not stepping inside that five year old’s body is much more frightening for him then it is for me to do the work necessary to answer the question. I was armed with advice from the biracial family therapist I see once a month, and lots of common sense.
“George said something to you that hurt your feelings, because he didn’t know any better. George loves you, (this is true) and when he looks at your beautiful brown skin, and his creamy peachy skin he might wonder how your skin got to be your color, and how his didn’t.”
“How come it is browner then his?”
At this point we talked about melatonin, and Sam’s African descent. We also talk about how there are people who want to learn new things, and people who say things out of ignorance until they learn the truth. And, we talk about the people who are ignorant, and do not choose to learn anything other then the truth they know.
I could go on.
What do I do then? I follow up with more books to his preschool-like “The Color of Us”, and “Shades of People” (the first is on the Adoptive Families book list, and the latter is reviewed on my blog) and meet with the teacher to discuss how they can handle these conversations at school when they hear them.
Furthermore I am ALWAYS modeling for my children when something appears in front of us that seems to be presenting a view of the world that is not favorable to people of African descent—like a picture book where all the characters are white. I also go out of my way to notice when the world appears right like a soccer video where as many people of color as creamy skinned people are illustrating their phenomenal skills; “Sam did you notice how many brown skinned boys are playing on this team? What does that tell you?”
“That I am going to crush you the next time we play!”
And he did.
It is always so good to write and think about this topic. I have a blog devoted to race and parenting which can be found on my AFC profile. I look forward to reading other people’s responses to this thread. It is in my opinion our life’s work.