Raising A Multicultural Family
It Takes More Than Love: Steps to Raising a Truly Multicultural Family (For White Adoptive Parents of Black Adoptees)
Adolescence is hard enough without the huge added perspective of being a black child with white parents. White parents must learn some essential steps to ensure that their transracially adopted child will still accept them when s/he goes through the identity seeking times of teen age years.
My husband and I have raised six children. Yes, you read right, six children: one birth son, one step-daughter, one African American son adopted her in Denver, two birth sisters adopted in Haiti, and a Haitian daughter who adopted us. Yes, there are others who call me Mom but they were adults when they claimed me as a mother.
One of the limitations of white adoptive parents raising black children is that the parents are viewing race through the lens of whiteness.
When they are young, kids just want to fit in but as they become teenagers, they start exploring their identity.
As a transracial adoptive parent (aka TRAP), you must become part of the community of your child’s race or ethnicity: friends, art, groups, neighborhood, religion, festivals, schools and events
Most of my examples are Haitian because that is my experience but I am sure there are transferable points that apply to other countries and ethnicities.
Where Do You Live? Live in a diverse community where there are many people of your child’s race. This is one of the most important things you can do! It opens up the doors to so many other crucial elements such as neighbors, schools, friends and events of your child’s culture. We moved from a white neighborhood to a black neighborhood and our children blossomed. They went from feelings of isolation to enrichment.
Who Are Your Friends? Make sure your close friends are the same race as your child. This means first degree of separation. The people you invite to each other’s home for dinner and parties. You can’t choose your birth family but look at the people you have a choice in selecting—your friends. How many of your close friends are of your child’s race? If none of your close friends are of a different race or ethnicity, what underlying message does this send to your kids? Analyze the reasons why. Why do you not seek out friends of color? Do you limit yourself to Anglo-oriented activities, neighborhoods, or employers?
Where Does Your Child Go To School? Send your child to a racially diverse school. When we lived in the suburbs, our daughters were the only black child in their classrooms and in their entire grade. Since we moved to a diverse neighborhood, they have classmates, friends and teachers who look like them. Big difference in self-perception!
If you are limited to a predominantly white school, advocate for un-biased learning materials. One of the best known authorities on minority student achievement in predominantly white school systems is Beverly Daniel Tatum, President of Spelman College. She is the author of Assimilation Blues: Black Families in a White Community and Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?.
According to studies conducted by Dr. Tatum, there is documented evidence that institutionalized programs that proactively encourage the network and support of students of color result in improvements in both academic performance and social relationships. IN other words, a Black Student Alliance. Yes, even in elementary school but especially in middle and high school.
How does your birth family accept your children? Educate your extended family about your child’s race and culture. This means your parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins.
Find a black mentor or role model for your child. Find same-race role models and mentors (aka as racial mirrors) for your child. They can be mentors or if they are close, name them as god parents. They can give your children a whole new perspective with a racial identity lens that you cannot provide.
Learn to speak your child’s language of origin. Encourage your child to retain as much of their first language as they can. Do not prohibit them from speaking it. I know some adoptive parents of Haitian children who would punish their kids if they spoke kreyol. Not cool. Speak krenglish.
Choose vacation spots and camps where your child’s race is well represented. A good one is the African American Caribbean Heritage Camp They are an award winning organization and have adoptive camps for other ethnicities, too.
Fight racism. Let your child know that you will not tolerate racism whether it’s subtle or overt. We will talk more about racism and white privilege later.
Incorporate the art, music, food, and holiday traditions of your child’s race into your family life.
What is the art on your walls? Do you have art from your kid’s culture? In our house we have Haitian paintings of market scenes, beaded vodoun flags, Haitian flags, textile and metal art.
What about music? Have you ever explored reggae, konpa, rara, or world beat? Some of the best known Haitian music is by Wyclef Jean, Sweet Micky, RAM, and Boukman Esperyans. Wyclef Jean’s “Proud to be African” and Miriam Makeba’s song “Africa is Where My Heart Lies”, James Brown’s “Say It Loud – I am Black and I’m Proud” go a long way to instill African pride.
Food! How often do you fix meals from your child’s culture? Best Haitian cook book is A Taste of Haiti by Mirta Yurnet-Thomas. Ethiopian restaurants abound in Denver: Axum, Queen of Sheba, The Nile, Abyssinia, Africana Café and others. Good cookbooks are in the resource list at the end of this blog.
Flags are extremely important in Haiti and other countries. You can google several flag sites to buy some. Flags, Tshirts, books, kreyol dictionaries are available on the websites in the resource list.
What about cultural events? Go to social events attended by adults and children of your child’s race. Some of the most important Haitian and African American events are:
- Haitian Independence Day – Jan 1. Visit homes, make soup joumou
- Martin Luther King Jr. Day – third Monday in January. Parades, films, festivities.
- Haitian Flag Day – May 18. Picnics, parties, potlucks. I like to play Jean Dominique’s short piece about Haitian Flag Day on Wyclef Jean’s CD “Welcome to Haiti: Creole 101”.
- Juneteenth (June 19) is the day African Americans in Texas found out they were freed from slavery, one year and six months after the fact. This date is marked by numerous celebrations in the African American community all over the country.
- Kwanzaa is an African American cultural celebration from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1. Each day represents a different principle (unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith).
Keep up with media aimed at people of color. Research local newspapers aimed at people of color. Many communities have newspapers targeting African American communities. Most public radio stations and alternative radio stations have special programs hosted by diverse hosts and dealing with a variety of cultural issues. Google your local radio and TV stations and find out when these programs are aired. With the internet, it is simple to do a quick search of websites devoted to different cultures. The best source of news about Haiti is the Haitian Times .
Learn the history of your child’s culture. If you have never seen the award winning civil rights documentary “Eyes on the Prize”, rent/borrow the DVD. PBS often airs it during February, Black History Month. It is also available in book form. “The Agronomist” is a good video about Haitian activist Jean Dominique. You can learn about the Haitian Revolution in “The Black Jacobins” by CLR James
Visit the church of your child’s culture. A good way to learn about another culture is by sharing in their worship service. They say the most segregated time in our country is Sunday morning. Attend an African American, Haitian or Ethiopian worship service.
Support minority owned businesses. Do you shop mostly at white owned businesses? Try some affirmative action with your pocketbook. Is all the art on your living room walls Anglo art? Try some diversity in your home decorating and check out local shops that specialize in ethnic art. Join the Black Chamber of Commerce and get a copy of their business directories. Support minority vendors whether it is for furnishing your home or for business purchasing decisions.
Support non-profit organizations that empower people from your child’s country of origin. Volunteer time, donate money, or attend special events sponsored by such groups as the Lambi Fund of Haiti, Ethiopia Reads and other groups organized to empower people of color. Check out local non-profit organizations that are specific to your community. Remember your goal is empowerment, not patronization. Don’t volunteer with a condescending attitude that you’re going to “save these poor people”.
While it is good to socialize with other parents who have adopted transracially, it will become even more important for you to connect with people from your child’s country or ethnicity. We are active in the Colorado Haiti Society which is open to anyone who has a Haitian family member. It is mostly Haitian American families but more and more families that have adopted Haitian children are joining. I know my kids love the Colorado Haiti Society because it gives them a chance to be in the company of other Haitians and share the food, music and language of their birth country. You can find them listed as Societe Ayisyen nan Colorado on Facebook.
If there are no established groups where you live, start one! We actually co-founded the Colorado Haiti Society with a couple of Haitian nationals about ten years ago and it grows steadily each year. It was founded because there are very few places that Haitians can go in Colorado where they are the majority. They appreciate it because this is one place they can go, relax and socialize with other people who not only look like themselves but also share their language, cultural values and tastes.
Join an organization oriented towards African American culture. National organizations like NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and the Urban League welcome all sincere supporters and have local chapters in most major cities. The best organization for white people to unlearn racism is Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) and can be found at Introduce your children to Black Lives Matter. There are chapters in most major cities. Search for them at https://blacklivesmatter.com If you think Black Lives Matter is not meaningful, you need to read carefully the rest of this blog about racism and white privilege. And read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.
Which leads to the question – what is it like to be the only white person at a black event? Until you get used to it, it can be uncomfortable. One time when I was younger, I went to a SCLC conference with over 1,000 blacks and 2-3 whites. I was very uncomfortable being in the minority and felt like I was shunned by those who didn’t know me. I misinterpreted a lot of things. For example, I went to the women’s luncheon in jeans and shirt while all the ladies were in their hats and Sunday best. Couldn’t wait to get back home where I would be in the majority.
Have you ever been to an event where you were the only white person there? How did you feel?
Now think of the converse — What is it like to be the only black person at an event or school? Some of your children live this experience every day.
DEALING WITH RACISM
What have you trained your child to do when s/he experiences racism? What do they do when someone calls them nigger?
For older children, have you trained them about Driving While Black?
Our white son drove our family car and was never stopped while our black son was stopped within a week of getting his license while driving the same family car. The tail light was out so it was the car, not the driving behavior – but the black driver was pulled over and the white son was not. This happened time and time again. Great book by Kenneth Meeks called “Driving While Black”.
Have you had “The Talk” with your black children?
This is one of the most critical lessons you can teach your black child and can mean the difference between life and death. It’s no secret that police disproportionately kill more unarmed black people than any other race. If you don’t believe me, view my friend Alex’s video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3P9-BjYxTu8
Most common recommendations by black men are:
- Avoid getting pulled over for small infractions like a broken tail light by keeping your car up to date.
- If you are pulled over: Keep both hands on the steering wheel or in the air.
- Try to stay calm and be “overly” respectful.
- Look straight ahead.
- Loudly say what you are doing, and explain every movement.
- Do not reach for anything, and if asked make sure you are verbally saying what you are doing as you reach.
Always pay close attention to your surroundings, especially if you are in neighborhood with few black residents. Understand that even though your kids are not criminals, some people might assume they are, based on the color of their skin or the clothes they are wearing. Once my black son was playing paint ball with some neighborhood boys. I saw him running through the neighborhood with a gun. It was a paintball gun but we were living in a predominantly white neighborhood where they might shoot first and ask questions later. I called him home and made him quit the game. He was mad at me then but at 20 something he now understands why and thanks me for it.
How do you ensure that your son is not treated like Trayvon Martin was?
What are the implications of saying “I am color blind” ? Our children’s godmother always says “Don’t say you are colorblind. This is who we are, so don’t act like you don’t see it. As a person of color, I like who I am, and I don’t want any aspect of that to be unseen or invisible. Instead, recognize and value our differences. Acknowledge and support our race and ethnicity.”
Solicit the help of black people in teaching your kids something you will never experience – how to deal with racism and racial identity.
Read The New Jim Crow by Michele Alexander, especially if you have black sons. Black role models and mentors are needed for transracially adopted children, and even more for the boys.
Now we are going to talk a little bit about racism and white privilege. It is a repeated theme in the adoption book Inside Transracial Adoption.
Be honest about racism. Racism is race prejudice plus the power of the institutional system to uphold that prejudice. In this country the institutional system supports the prejudice of white people. If you doubt this, answer the following questions: How many Latina Presidents have we had? Black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies?
Racism is a systematic form of oppression by the dominant culture in power in which people are oppressed economically, socially and politically solely based on skin color. Since people of color do not have the institutions to empower their prejudices, they cannot be racist. In other words, people of color can be prejudiced but they cannot be racist without the institutional support.
There are varying degrees of racism just as there are degrees of sexism ranging from rape to tasteless jokes. Racism can range from overt violence such as lynching to more indirect examples such as insensitive remarks. Most people exhibit more subtle forms of racism but it is important to acknowledge conscious or unconscious participation in a racist society.
Types of prejudice: based on skin color, gender, sexual orientation
Institutional power + prejudice = racism, sexism, heterosexism
Race prejudice + institutional power = racism
Acknowledge white privilege. More frequently than not, white people take advantage of privileges generated by a racist society. White people are often unwilling to grant that they are over-privileged, even though most are willing to concede the flip side of the coin, that people of color are disadvantaged. Most white people are in denial about the advantages that white people gain from the disadvantages of people of color.
Who has read the famous article by Peggy McIntosh called “Unpacking the Knapsack”? Read it at https://nationalseedproject.org/white-privilege-unpacking-the-invisible-knapsack
In this article on white privilege, Peggy McIntosh describes white privilege as an “invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day. White privilege is like an invisible knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, code books, visas, tools and blank checks.”
White people are given no training in seeing themselves as the oppressor, as an unfairly advantaged person. Whites are taught that racism is violence or meanness such as the Ku Klux Klan but are not taught that racism can be systems that allow dominance by whites. Author Beverly Daniel Tatum defines racism as “a system of advantage based on race”. It is up to aware white people to open their eyes and show other white people the consequences of being a participant in a dysfunctional racist culture.
What are some examples of white privilege I can rely on but my African American friends cannot count on most of the time?
- I can be sure of being able to rent or get a mortgage for a house in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.
- I can be sure that I will be welcome in that new neighborhood.
- I can go shopping and not be followed or harassed.
- I can go shopping and get waited on promptly.
- I can turn on the TV or read the newspaper and see people who look like me depicted as leaders, influencers and experts
- When I am told about our national heritage, I can be sure that I will be told that people of my race made it what it is.
- If a traffic cop pulls me over, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.
- If I ask to speak to the person in charge, I can be pretty sure I will be talking to a person of my race.
- If I have to go to court, I can be sure my race won’t be held against me.
These are just a few examples of privilege that white people take advantage of every day. Most people have seen the comparison done by 20/20 news show, sending a white male and black male with equal credentials to buy a car, look for a job and hunt for an apartment. Time after time the black man came back empty handed or cheated while the white male got the job, the apartment and the best car deal.
Perhaps former Texas Governor Ann Richards described best the privilege of being male, white and wealthy when she quipped, “George Bush thinks he hit a triple when actually he was born on third base.”
Start to heal. Racism is a disease like alcoholism. You never recover from alcoholism and heal until you first admit you have a problem. The same thing goes for racism. You are never going to heal until you first admit there is a problem. This step is mandatory in order to continue to learn and grow. Acknowledge your privilege and participation in a racist society, begin healing and continue down the path of growth and awareness.
Think globally, act globally. Remember that the majority of the world lives on less than a dollar a day. The environmental and economic conditions in other countries are beyond your comprehension. Make an effort to plant a tree in Haiti, support a school in Ethiopia or help people in developing countries become self-supporting. Plant hope, trees, dignity and self-determination. These are ways you can truly make a difference.
Make a commitment to broaden your perspectives beyond your narrow euro-centric world. You will be amazed at how enriched your life becomes.
Websites – Transracial Adoption
Books – Transracial Adoption – Adults
In Their Own Voices: Transracial Adoptees Tell Their Stories by Rita Simon and Rhonda Roorda
In Their Parents’ Voices: Reflections on Raising Transracial Adoptees by Rita J. Simon and Rhonda M. Roorda
White Parents, Black Children: Experiencing Transracial Adoption by Dr. Darron Smith
White parents need to learn the art of black hair care, especially for girls.
My girls have sister locks and they love them! I do too because there is little every day maintenance by Mom. Find out more at http://www.sisterlocks.com
Books – Adoption – Children
Happy Adoption Day by John McCutcheon
Books – Multicultural Families – Adults
Of Many Colors: Portraits of Multiracial Families by Peggy Gillespie
Beyond the Whiteness of Whiteness by Jane Lazarre
Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? By Beverly Daniel Tatum
Books – Multicultural Families – Children
It’s Ok to Be Different by Dr. Mitch Golant
Under Our Skin: Kids Talk About Race by Debbie and Tom Birdseye
Families: A Celebration of Diversity, Commitment & Love by Aylette Jenness
Black, White, Just Right by Marguerite Davol
Blogs,Essays – Transracial Adoption, Multiculturalism
A Taste of Haiti by Mirta Yurnet-Thomas
Ethiopian Cookbook: A Beginner’s Guide by Rachel Pambrun
The Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavors of Africa by Marcus Samuelsson
The African and Middle Eastern Cookbook by Josephine Bacon and Jenni Fleetwood
Haitian Independence Day – Jan 1. Visit homes, make soup joumou
MLK Festivities –All cities. Every MLK Holiday (third Monday in January)
Haitian Flag Day – May 18.
Juneteenth June 19. Celebration of freedom from slavery. Celebrated all over the country in African American communities with music, food, dance, festivities
Kwanzaa – Dec 26 – Jan. 1. Can celebrate in your home or most large cities have daily Kwanzaa events for each of the Kwanzaa principle (unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith)
Haitian Items internet (T shirts, etc)
Books – African American – Adults
The New Jim Crow by Michele Alexander
Driving While Black by Kenneth Meeks
Books – African American – Children
You can find many of these at your local library, Black bookstores or on Amazon
Shades of Black by Sandra Pinkney
Spin a Soft Black Song by Nikki Giovanni
Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman and Caroline Binch
Marie and her Friend the Sea Turtle by Nicole Weaver
Black Like Kyra, White Like Me by Judith Vigna
Happy to Be Nappy by bell hooks
Nelson Mandela’s Favorite African Folktales
Pan Africanism for Beginners by Sid Lemelle
Kwanzaa by A.P. Porter (there are a lot of books on Kwanzaa but this is my favorite)
Media – African American
Radio – urban contemporary format is the name for most R&B, rap and soul genres
TV – This is Us is an award winning show on NBC about a transracial adoptive family and their struggles
Magazines – Essence, Ebony
www.Colorlines.com News and current events impacting people of color
The Root Black news, opinion, politics and culture website
“Eyes on the Prize” – Civil rights movement documentary. Available at local libraries or often airs on PBS during Black History Month
Haiti Books – Adults
Anything by Edwidge Danticat: Krik? Krak?, Brother, I’m Dying, Butterfly’s Way, Breath Eyes Memory, Farming of the Bones, Behind the Mountains
Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder
Walking on Fire by Beverly Bell
The Black Jacobins by CLR James
Haiti Books – Children
Anything by Edwidge Danticat: The Royal Diaries, Anacaona; 8 Days: A Story of Haiti
Popo and Fifina by Arna Bontemps and Langston Hughes
Behind Tap Tap by Karen Williams
Painted Dreams by Karen Williams
The Magic Orange Tree: and Other Haitian Folktales by Diane Wolkstein. Bouki and Ti Malice are popular folk tale characters in Haiti
Selavi, That is Life: A Haitian Story of Hope by Youme Landowne
Toussaint L’ouverture: The Fight for Haiti’s Freedom by Walter Dean Myers and Jacob Lawrence
Taste of Salt: A Story of Modern Haiti by Frances Temple
Bel Peyi Mwen – Great coloring book about Haiti!
Haitian Music – all available on iTunes
Haitian Times www.haitiantimes.com
Ethiopian children’s books
E is for Ethiopia
Grandma’s Humongous Suitcase
The Perfect Orange
Little Lion’s Bedtime
Zufan and the Flower
Fire on the Mountain
Explore Ethiopia coloring book