Racism is an ugly thing. Though the U.S. has done a great job at eliminating slavery and ratifying the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments and even though the Civil Rights Act of 1964 guarantees rights for all, individual racism still exists. As an adoptive or foster parent, we must be prepared when racism rears its ugly head. We cannot isolate our children from bigotry, but we can insulate them when they are hurt by prejudice. As a foster or adoptive parent, your job is to protect and provide for your child during tough times. Here are some things you can say to your foster/adoptive kiddo:
1. “You don’t overcome hatred with more hatred”
Even though you may feel like saying something mean back or even if you feel angry, don’t let your anger control you to retaliate in wrong ways. People like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. responded with nonviolence. Their actions inspired people to follow them and ultimately led to positive changes in their governments. Overcome evil with good.
2. “No one is born racist”
Racism is learned. Either by family, community, or the media, racism is learned. Babies from two different races only know their buddy looks different; it would never occur to them that they are supposed to dislike their buddy because of the differences. As an adoptive father of six and of two biological children and one current foster child, children of different colors are the same. An African American child’s laugh is the same as a Caucasian child’s laugh. A Native American baby loves to be hugged the same as an Asian Indian baby. We are all the same inside.
3. “No one can stop you from doing great things”
Rather than focusing on how you have been wronged, focus on how you can fulfill your dreams. Yes, this country has a long list of wrongs, including slavery, the Trail of Tears, Japanese Internment, and Jim Crow Laws. And it still has a way to go. But the great thing about this country is that your birth does not determine your destiny. If someone puts a roadblock in your way, there are ways around it, under it, or over it to become successful. Which leads to my 4th point:
4. “There are others who have overcome racism”
Racism didn’t stop the following famous people from accomplishing their goals. For example, Rosa Parks refused to give her seat to a white man while riding a bus in the deep south during the 1950s, defying the Jim Crow laws at the time. Her actions would later inspire Martin Luther King, Jr. to boycott the Montgomery Bus Company, which would be the catalyst to the Civil Rights movement in the 50s and 60s. Billy Mills, the Native American athlete, overcame racism to win a Gold Medal in the 1964 Olympics. George Washington Carver was a freed slave to later become a botanist, a professor, and inventor of more than 100 uses for peanuts. Ben Carson was raised by an illiterate single mom in the projects in Detroit to become the world’s most renowned neurosurgeon and later to become Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian Civil Rights leader, led the Indian Independence Movement against British rule. And one of my favorite baseball players, Jackie Robinson, did not let death threats and racial epithets stop him on his way to breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball in 1947. If these people endured great disadvantages and prejudice in their early years to do great things, so can you!
5. You were chosen”
An adopted child who has experienced prejudice has another trauma to deal with in addition to previous ones. It is the adoptive parent’s job to help their child recover from that trauma. Adoption is a family of one culture taking in a child of another culture. That is the beauty of adoption. It may be shocking to some to see a black kid to call a white lady, “Mom.” But it actually speaks volumes to the community at large that there are greater things at stake than the color of our skin. Adoption is the ultimate wall-breaker. It does not discriminate. It tells a child, “You are loved. You are wanted. You are chosen, even if you don’t look like me.”
The good news is, if racism is learned, it can be unlearned. Learning from another culture, focusing on what values and traditions we have in common, and racial reconciliation should be our goals. Our job as foster or adoptive parents is to be a calming presence when things are not going right for our kiddos. As a foster/adoptive parent, you are their safe space.