One Sunday afternoon, I was chasing my one-year-old son around the foyer of our church building while services were taking place in the chapel. He was a bundle of energy, running in circles, climbing on and off the couches, and smiling with his beautiful smile at anyone who would look his way. As I chased him past a woman who was also waiting in the foyer, she suddenly asked, “So what’s it like, raising a child of another race?”
Her question caught me off-guard. While it’s true that my son is black and I am white, right at that moment, he wasn’t “a child of another race.” He was just my adorable child. I responded by telling her that, right then, it wasn’t any different than raising a child of the same race. He was just over a year old, so at that time in his life, “raising him” meant I changed his diapers, fed him Cheerios, cheese, apples, and milk. I tickled him, built block towers, sang songs, and, currently, chased him around the foyer at church.
Seeing past my own white privilege takes lots of patience, practice, and failures. Many times I’m so blinded by it, I don’t even know it’s there. But, don’t fool yourself. It absolutely IS there.
However, the reality is that raising a child of a different race is not the same as raising a child of your same race. Of course the basics are the same. You fiercely love them, as only a mother can. You feed them, clothe them, teach them manners, kindness, and how to look both ways before crossing the street. But, you can’t teach them what it means to be a race you don’t belong to. As a white woman, I can’t teach my son what it means to be a black man. I can read all the books, listen to all the speakers, and watch all the movies, but it won’t matter. I’ve never lived it. Seeing past my own white privilege takes lots of patience, practice, and failures. Many times I’m so blinded by it, I don’t even know it’s there. But, don’t fool yourself. It absolutely IS there.
Raising a child of another race means stepping outside of all my comfort zones: physically, mentally, socially, and emotionally. It means being willing to attend activities, churches, schools, and fairs where I am the minority and my child’s race is the majority. Surrounding him with people who look like him is essential to helping him become comfortable and confident in himself.
Raising a child of another race means being willing to learn how to care for his skin and his hair in the proper way. It means researching products, styles, and methods. It means I can’t simply take him to any salon or barber shop for a haircut, because most people around my town are not familiar with how to cut his kind of hair.
Raising a child of another race means listening to the voices of the people who have lived similar experiences; whether they be transracial adoptees or simply grown men of the same race as my son. It’s realizing that their stories are hard to hear. It’s realizing that I can’t protect my son from many of the things the world will throw at him because of his race. It’s realizing that these things may make me feel uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean I can ignore them.
Raising a child of another race means being the “poster family” for adoption. It means we are looked at, recognized, and questioned about our child and our family every where we go. It means being willing to navigate those questions with respect to our child’s privacy. It means being okay with the fact that, according to the world, we don’t “match.”
Raising a child of another race means being the “poster family” for adoption. It means we are looked at, recognized, and questioned about our child and our family every where we go.
Raising a child of another race means having my eyes opened to the world around me; both the good and the bad. It means experiencing things in a way I never have before. It means that familiar sayings, jokes, songs, and stories that meant nothing to me previously suddenly become racist. It means being willing to stand up for my child in the face of ignorance and educate those around me. It means learning to be courageous.
Raising a child of another race means that some nights, I lie in bed and cry over what was reported in the news that day. It means I worry about the kinds of things that will happen to him as he gets older. It means I know I have to prepare him for the world he will go into. It means I feel excitement for the great things he will accomplish, and fear that he will be held back from accomplishing them.
If I ever get another chance to answer the question of “What’s it like to raise a child of another race?” I know what I’ll say:
“Raising a child of another race means that I have learned more about life, love, and the world around me than I ever anticipated. It means knowing, without a doubt, that God created each of his children in unique, yet equal beauty. It means feeling gratitude for the diversity in this world. It means learning to love a new culture: its food, its music, its traditions, and especially its people. It means adding a fullness to life that I didn’t know was missing. It’s beautiful, hard, amazing, and agonizing. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
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