The Realities of Racism and How to Help Your Child

We have six adopted children and two biological children—Barbadian, Puerto Rican, Irish, Norwegian, Jamaican, East Indian, and Native American, all under one roof! We never planned on having such a colorful family; it just happened. But here’s a sad reality: racism is real. It’s ugly. It’s a blight on our society, and it hurts both sides. If you are white and you have never had racial epithets hurled at you, consider yourself lucky. However, if you have a transracial adoption, the likelihood that you or your child may experience racism is not a question of if, but when. How do you help your child through that?

Overcome Evil with Good

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” As a foster or adoptive parent, your job is to protect your child. They may have come from horrible circumstances, so they do not need to be thrown into another situation that causes more trauma. I teach my children that evil exists in this world, but so does good. No one is born racist. It is learned. We sometimes fear things we don’t understand. Don’t become racist in order to fight racism. Learn to forgive. Learn from others like Dr. King who battled racism with nonviolence. The bottom line is that your child needs to feel loved in your family and that your home is the one safe place they can run to when times get tough.

Prepare Yourself

If you are white, it’s going to be quite obvious when you show up in public with an Asian child for the first time. If you are a woman of color who is fostering or adopting a white child, be prepared for ignorant questions like, “Are you their nanny?” Or, like me, if you are a black man who has raised white children, be prepared for odd stares. If you are a white mom caring for a black child, be prepared to be stopped in Walmart by an African American women offering to do your child’s hair. Take genuine advice. Develop thick skin. Ignore ignorant statements. Learn that child’s culture and embrace the differences.

Prepare Your Family

I remember bringing home our newborn Jamaican daughter home to my wife’s family (who are white) for the first time. They fussed over the beautiful baby and were in awe. Someone made a comment, “Oooh, her skin feels like velvet!” Sarcastically, I thought, “Yes, a black child’s skin feels the same as a white child’s; a black child’s laugh and cry are the same as a white child’s; their poop smells the same also!” The biggest difference in physical attributes is hair. African American hair is significantly different than Caucasian hair. Regardless of the culture of the child, prepare your family, both immediate and extended. They are not aliens! A child from a different culture has the same hopes, dreams, and fears as children in your culture. Teach your family to get to know them as a person of the human race and things will go more smoothly.

Keep Your Child Connected to His/Her Culture

Your child’s culture has a rich history, and she deserves to know it. Keep your child connected to his culture by keeping him connected to one person in his past, if possible. Perhaps it’s a relative, family friend, or clergy. It has been a blessing to have open adoptions where our children can learn new words, new foods, traditions, clothing, jewelry, and family history. If you are adopting internationally, seek advice from a person of the same culture. They have insights that you could never have dreamed of.

Prepare Your Child to Answer Innocent Questions

Finally, teach your kids to respond when another child asks innocent questions like, “How come you don’t look like your mommy?” “Why are your eyes a different shape than mine?” “Can I touch your hair?” First of all, your child needs to protect her boundaries, so she needs to be taught to say “No” if she does not want to be touched. More importantly, this is a conversation about adoption more than race. Your child should learn to embrace both. They need to know they are loved and wanted and chosen.

Be proactive. Don’t wait for something to happen and then react. Have conversations with your child, your family, and the community at large beforehand. If there is genuine racism rather than innocent ignorance, keep calm and develop a plan of action. Your child will learn from your example and will feel safe from your protection.