I’ll be honest: I supported Black Lives Matter before we adopted our child. I’m Latina, the daughter of a Brazilian immigrant mother and a white father. And although my lighter skin means I have rarely experienced racism, my mother did, and we grew up discussing issues of equality around the dinner table.
Becoming a transracial adoptive parent to a black daughter makes my support even more necessary, however. It’s imperative for white adoptive parents to understand that love is not enough when it comes to adopting a child of a different race. Our children WILL experience racism and it’s not enough to just not say racist things or openly discriminate. It’s our job to actively work to combat racism. For those of us with black children (and yes, your child who is half black is still considered black), supporting Black Lives Matter is one way to do that.
I know there is some confusion in what Black Lives Matter is. Let’s start with what it’s not.
It’s not racist.
It’s not saying that ONLY black lives matter.
It’s not promoting violence.
It’s not anti-police.
Black Lives Matter was started by three black women, Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullers after the murder of Trayvon Martin. In Ms. Garza’s words, “Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.”
We live in a country that has often, through its actions, told black people that they are not equal. They used to be counted as 3/5 of a person. Slavery didn’t end until 1865, and the three fifths compromise came a year later. “Separate but equal” didn’t end until 1954. Considering that many of our parents were born in a time when black people had to use separate bathrooms and sit in the back of the bus, it’s not so hard to understand that there would still be lingering inequality issues today.
The Black Lives Matter movement focuses on police brutality and inequality in our justice system, but also increasing recognition for all that black people have done for this country. How many black inventors can you name? What about black civil rights leaders other than Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X? Our educational system does not treat all achievements equally . . . we’re taught a very white-washed history in school. I say this to point out that we’re not talking about just a police problem, we’re talking about systemic issues that need to be addressed.
You have probably seen lots of metaphors to explain Black Lives Matter. One of my favorites is the idea that you go out to a restaurant with a group of friends, order your food, and then everyone’s meal but yours comes.
“Where’s my food?” you ask.
“What’s the big deal? Our food is here,” your friends reply.
“Well that’s great, but I don’t have any food.” you say.
“Look, quit making it all about you. The waiter forgot my drink,” someone says.
“Okay, that’s a problem, but you still have food. I have NO food. My food matters!”
But instead of getting your food, you’re repeatedly told to be grateful you get to even sit in a restaurant, and to quit being selfish, and that your complaining is making other people’s meals unpleasant. Black Lives Matter isn’t saying all lives, including police lives, don’t matter. They aren’t saying that they are the only group of people that experience problems. They are simply asking that the very real inequalities that exist in our society be addressed because it’s a matter of life and death.
I know talking about race and acknowledging racial inequalities can be uncomfortable. It can feel like, by separating people into groups, you’re contributing to racism. “Why do we need to use the term ‘people of color’ to talk about ethnic minorities? People are people!” you might say. Or, “Police brutality isn’t a race issue because more whites are killed by police than blacks!” Even, “Why are we still talking about slavery all these years later?”
White people have been taught for a long time that being color blind is the polite thing to do, and they may push against the assertion that it’s not. Look at it this way: In adoption, parents were told for decades to assimilate their child into their (white) culture in order to successfully bond. The birth culture was not important. We now know this isn’t the case! If you believe that an open adoption is important to your child’s well being, you must also believe that connecting with their birth culture and fighting against racism is vital. Our children need us to recognize systemic racism. Consider the following statistics:
- Blacks are less than 13% of the U.S. population, and yet they are 31% of all fatal police shooting victims, and 39% of those killed by police even though they weren’t attacking.
- A 2007 U.S. Department of Justice report on racial profiling found that blacks and Latinos were 3 times as likely to be stopped as whites, and that blacks were twice as likely to be arrested and 4 times as likely “to experience the threat or use of force during interactions with the police.”
- Once arrested, blacks are more likely to remain in prison awaiting trial than whites; in some places, they are 33% more likely to be detained while awaiting trial than whites.
- According to a University of Michigan study: “[B]lack defendants face significantly more severe charges than whites, even after controlling for criminal behavior (arrest offense, multiple-defendant case structure, and criminal history), observed defendant characteristics (e.g., age, education), defense counsel type, district, county economic characteristics, and crime rates. Unexplained racial disparities exist across the charge-severity distribution, especially at the high end. The most striking disparities are found in the use of charges that carry non-zero statutory minimum sentences.”
- Blacks are 20% more likely to be sentenced to prison than whites. Once convicted, black offenders receive sentences that are 10% longer than white offenders for the same crimes.
- Black students are 3.5 times more likely to be expelled than their white peers.
- Whites are 78% more likely to be accepted to the same university as equally qualified people of color. Emphasis on “equally qualified.”
- Blacks need to complete not one but two more levels of education just to have the same probability of getting a job as a white person.
- Black women make $0.64 for every white male dollar, and Latina women make $0.53 for every white male dollar.
The statistics, all of which were printed on The Writings of J.B.W. Tucker (original sources can be found there), go on and on. We can not ignore the inequalities in this country any more. We as adoptive parents have to get out of our comfort zones, to change things for our children. Our children’s lives and livelihoods depend on it.
Don’t stop your education on Black Lives Matter with this blog post. Learn from black voices who are at the heart of the movement. I linked to websites/Twitter for the three founding women above. See also Shaun King, social justice journalist; Jesse Williams, actor and activist; Ta-Nehisi-Coates, author; Michelle Alexander, author; Goldie Taylor, editor; and R. L’HeureuxLewis-McCoy, author and professor. The Advancement Project is another resource when it comes to addressing inequality. Finally, to read more about Black Lives Matter and to find a chapter near you, go to their website.