Recently in the Creating a Family Facebook Support Group someone posted a fairly standard article on transracial adoptive parenting covering the typical topics of discussing race, creating diversity in your life, and preparing our kids for discrimination. The focus, as it usually is with transracial adoption articles, was on the reality of racism.
The discussion in the support group was lively, but one comment by Valarie Chavis, a black adoptive mom, stopped me in my tracks with its wisdom and insight. With her permission I share it here. Read it slowly and carefully because it is chock-full of practical information on raising a child of color in America. (On my personal copy, I’ve highlighted almost every other sentence.)
How to Raise a Strong Proud Black Child-by Valarie Chavis
Teach the Value of Blackness
Affirm your children as black without positioning their blackness against whiteness as the standard. Long before there was racism, black people were black. Creating an image and positive self-identity as a black person should not be as a response to racism. This is the mistake I think transracial adoptive parents make.
In several conversations with white parents who have adopted black children across the color line, the focus on one end seems to be mastering hairstyles and skin care. On the other end of the spectrum is a focus on racism. Somewhere in between is real life and the ability to live it joyfully and abundantly in black skin in spite of challenges like discrimination and racism. Raising a black child to thrive and excel is about overcoming barriers while maintaining grace and dignity.
Many have repeated the great words that, “… a black adopted child should not be your first black friend”, but here is another: To raise an emotionally healthy black child you first you must first learn what is wonderful and inspiring about being a black adult.
The Focus Shouldn’t Be on Racism
Black people are not lighter versions of white people, living in their shadows. The differences between being born black and being born white is NOT racism.
I just can’t imagine teaching my daughter to be a strong and proud woman by focusing our conversations on men’s sexism.
A high focus on racism will make your children weary and angry about being black. Racism tells them how others see them it is a constant reminder that others don’t value them. Parents need to help children understand the value and worth that comes from the black experience.
Racism is a manifestation of “white” people believing that some people have little worth or value. Telling your kids that racism is wrong, hurtful, or life threatening tells them how others see them, not how they should see themselves. It doesn’t tell them who they can be and how to reach beyond fear, self-doubt, and find strength and resilience that is part of their legacy.
Arming Our Kids Against Racism
The greatest armor against racism for black kids is to see themselves as a positive reflection of black hope, promise, and achievement.
White children are affirmed daily in every way. Simple things like advertisements in stores of people who look like them, faces on greeting cards and packaging. They are affirmed in school when white history is taught, and the “white man” is always the hero or the champion. Black children see those things, they hear those things and think well what have people like me every done of worth?
Black people have to understand themselves as to how they came to be.
- Is being black good thing? Why? How do I know that people like me have value? Where is the evidence in my history?
- What have black people accomplished?
- How have black people survived? How have they triumphed in spite of racism?
- What is the history of black people in America that doesn’t include slavery? How/why did they have the determination to read and excel even when it was against the law?
- Who are our black heroes? Who are the black firsts in America? Who are the notables?
- Who can I model myself after who looks like me?
- Why should I celebrate my blackness? How do I honor my blackness, recognizing discrimination but achieving anyway without being bitter?
Black children must know how to love the blackness before they can understand why others try to keep them down. One is a strength position, a position of power rather than one of acceptance of the status quo.
4 Things Every Black Child Should be Able to Do
A child should be able to articulate what they love about being black or their blackness. That is hard for many transracial adoptive parents because they struggle to answer that question themselves. I’ve actually had people apologize to me for being born black without understanding that I think it’s a pretty incredible blessing.
Parents need to help their children:
- See themselves as a part of historical significance. What did my people do in history? What did they do to make America great?
- See themselves as culturally relevant. How/why do “they” do things differently? Are we different and equal or different and wrong? Where can the cultural markers of my people be found in the American landscape (the answer is far more than rap music).
- See themselves as beautiful. What is the standard of beauty in America, where is my image included? Who are the beautiful people who look like me? Why is my face shape different, my lips, my nose, my hair, my body shape, and my cadence?
- See themselves as capable/intelligent. How do I know that people who look like me are smart? What intellectual pursuits do they have? What do they contribute to the achievement of America?
Other Creating a Family resources you will enjoy:
- Ten Things Adult Transracial Adoptees Want You to Know
- Batman Didn’t Make the Cut – Toys for Transracial Adoptees
- Beautiful Photo Essay By Adult Transracial Adoptee
- Books for Transracially Adopted Kids
P.S. This advice applies to transracially adopted kids of all races.
P.P.S. When it rains, it pours. I just read another great blog, this one by AdoptiveBlackMom, a black mom raising a black daughter adopted at an older age: Thoughts on Racial Identity Development. She has a different take on helping her daughter love and value all types of blackness. This thought provoking blog helped me see race from a different perspective.
P.P.S.S. It keeps on raining. I just finished Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I think it should be required reading for all American, but especially for those who have adopted black kids transracially. It is written as a letter to his teenage son where he certainly talks a lot about racism, but he also talks about valuing blackness and recognizing the strength, beauty, and contributions of black Americans.
Image credit: papermoons
Add Your Comment
Brilliant piece. Thank you so much! I really appreciate how you are framing this. As a whyte adoptive parent of a Nigerian boy, I’m reflecting as well on how this advice extends to supporting my son’s love of Nigeria, being Nigerian, being Yoruba, and all of the wonderful ways in which Nigerian Americans have impacted American culture.
Thank you for your kind words and for reaching out to share your son’s story.
I’m very ashame of my child and his seemingly self hate. I wonder if anyone can offer any advice. I was never too restrictive of my son growing up. He is now 5. I always let him choose what he wants to read and watch on t.v. Over the past year, I started paying closer attention to his choices and thought it was time to try and introduce things that were representative of his blackness because we know representation matters. So as I would put on black shows he immediately switches to a white one.. I began picking up black books from the library instead, but I notice that when I pick out a Black book he never wants to read it and they are the only books he turns down. This is an embarrassment to me because I have always been so proud of Black people and our cultures but now I have a son who outright rejects his blackness and even gets upset when I tell him we’re Black. What do I do?
I can hear your frustration and pain. I’m sorry this is so hard for you.
I think you have to offer yourself some grace to start — it sounds as if you are doing your best to provide resources and to create an environment in which your child’s blackness is celebrated and honored. That’s a great start – you are on the right path. However, these little darlings of ours sure do have their own minds, don’t they? We cannot make them think, feel, or do what we want them to or think they should, can we? You don’t say if he is adopted or fostered, nor do you indicate how long he’s been with you if he is. That background context might also have an impact on him and how he sees himself. I’m not sure I would jump yet to his actions equalling self-hate at only 5 years old. For one thing, that assumption can set you both up for “choosing sides” on this topic and thus puts a lot of pressure on you to “get it right” and on him to risk displeasing or upsetting you.
I think it might be more productive to keep offering a wide range of diverse resources – kids’ shows, music, family movie nights, food, community events, books, etc. that are age-appropriate. Offer them to him without condition or expectation. And model your own joy and comfort in your identity as a black person. Celebrate your family’s blackness without pressuring him to also celebrate. Draw him into a relationship with your joy and unconditional love of who he is now, who he is growing to be. Full disclosure, I’m a white mommma raising two Asian kids and I also struggle with what to surround them with, when to offer it, when to let it go, and when to push a little bit. You are NOT alone in your concerns.
We often say around here at Creating a Family that we parents can toss the conversational ball out to them — if they pick it up and keep it, they aren’t ready to have that conversation right now. IF they toss it back – even only once in a while, just keep talking and letting them know the topic is always open and never off-limits. We can apply this parenting tool to identity, to race issues, to sexuality issues, and to almost any “tough topic” we or our kids face. It’s a marathon mentality of helping our kids form healthy self-identity and self-advocacy skills.
I think you might really appreciate this parenting course, even if he is not a transracial adoptee — there are some great nuggets to glean from the practical suggestions offered: How Do Transracial Adoptees Develop a Racial Identity?
Thanks for reading along and for sharing your thoughts and concerns!
This is a good article not just for parents of trans-racial adoptees but also for parents of black children who themselves are black. I think a lot gets lost in the education of our own children in the hubbub of everyday life and daily fires we have to put out. I think many parents don’t know how to teach their children to love themselves as they struggle with it themselves. I subscribed to a service that promotes black figures in history and got a collection of cards with black figures and historical trivia and found very little interest in it among my family. It makes me sad that there are only a handful of people I can name who are key to the history of the world and that they are only mentioned one month of the year. and then there’s Oprah…
Thanks for sharing your experience – it’s a good perspective to bear in mind: “many parents don’t know how to teach their children to love themselves as they struggle with it themselves.”
THIS IS AN IMPORTANT READ.
Check this out Erin.