The Day Cute and Brown Became Black and Threatening

Dawn Davenport

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Kevin Hofmann and his adoptive parents via transracial adoptionKevin Hofmann, was adopted in 1967 by a family in Detroit. Kevin was bi-racial (black/white) and his adoptive parents were white. He talks about transracial adoption from the been-there-lived-that perspective in his moving and often humorous book Growing Up Black in White. Kevin has been on an Adult Transracial Adoptee Panel on the Creating a Family show and whenever we talk I have always been impressed with his ability to capture the reality of his experience in words.  He agreed to share some thoughts with us.

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At 8 years old I stood in line waiting to get a ride in the little cart attached to the small donkey at Upland Hills Farm summer camp. This was a farm/day camp located in a rural area just outside of Detroit. While Mom and Dad worked during the summer months my brothers and sister and I and several other inner-city youths were bused Monday through Friday from Detroit to a farm. It was a program designed to allow inner-city children the opportunity to experience fresh, clean, farm living. Although at 8 years old, this farm seemed much more dirty than any city street I knew. I vividly remember trying to avoid cow and horse pies all day long hoping my Range Master shoes wouldn’t sink in a freshly made pie. Looking back on it, this program was designed for the “inner city” youth, but it doesn’t appear any of the black families got the memo because I remember being the only child of color on the 45 minute morning bus ride, at the farm all day long, and on 45 minute ride home at the end of the day.

It was here at this farm while waiting in line to ride in the donkey buggy that I matured from a cute little brown boy, who could flash a smile and get my way, into a black male adolescent.

While getting in line, I mistakenly cut in front of an older white boy and when he pointed out that I “took cuts,” I flashed him my cutest smile. The same smile that made color disappear in the past. But that day, I grew out of cute and no longer would the smile cover my darker skin. The boy looked at me with such disgust, anger, and hate that I instantly felt myself shrink. It was the look I would come to learn and understand exactly what it meant as I continued to mature in this color conscious world. This was the look that could call me all kinds of names, and demean me without a word being spoken; the look that I still see today as I walk through life as a black man.

At the farm, I learned that my white privilege I had benefited from living in a white household stopped for me at my front door and once cute and brown dissolves into black the world becomes a different place… a much different place, especially for black males.  My parents never had the talk with me to prepare me for this, but my black friends had the talk with their black parents. The talk that told them when this day comes that the person trying to shrink you with their eyes is the wrong one and that you are just as valuable as anyone. Instead, when this day came for me, I walked back to the end of the line several inches shorter than when I got up that summer morning.

What White Parents of Brown Children Must Do

Talking about race is the one dynamic that is interestingly very different in black versus white households. Statistics show nonwhite parents are about three times more likely to discuss race than white parents; 75 percent of white parents never or almost never talk about race. White parents must become comfortable with this topic and should start the conversation early and often (as early as 2-3 years in an age appropriate way), so when (not if) incidents like my donkey buggy story happen your children are comfortable telling you.

One of the best ways to talk about race in a less personal way is to use the TV. When a show or the news has a racial topic, start talking. From personal experience you can never totally prepare for something like my donkey buggy incident or when my son was called the “N” word in a basketball game. You can only be there to let them express what they are feeling, tell them how great they are, and work with them to resolve it. This can mean a whole lot of helpless feelings as a parent.

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I encourage you to check out Kevin’s excellent blog–My Mind on Paper. To listen to Kevin and other adult transracial adoptees talk about being raised by parents of a different race, check out this Creating a Family podcast.

 


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Image credit: Kevin Hofmann

03/04/2013 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 18 Comments



18 Responses to The Day Cute and Brown Became Black and Threatening

  1. Kevin Hofmann says:

    Dawn, I would be happy to be a part of the book reading just let me know. As a side note I am not familiar with Better World Book but assume they are buying my book as a distributor at a deeply discounted price and reselling it to make a profit. Which means they are making a profit off something they didn’t have a hand in. I would prefer you buy the book at my website, ( I sign each one) or on amazon.
    Sorry I got off the subject. I would love to be a part it you get enough interest!

  2. DZS says:

    Man. I hate that this is even an issue. I am so glad though that people are talking about it. As a white household I will be sure to include race conversations so that hopefully it will not be my children making a cute brown child, adolescent or adult feel the way Kevin did that day.

  3. Vickie says:

    I am so happy to see this topic come up. My 3 year old hispanic son has started noticing skin color and that his 1 year old mixed (black/white/hispanic) sister is much darker than the rest of us (my husband and I are white). I am going to check out Kevin’s blog tonight and definately will get his book and am interested in joining the book club.

  4. Kathryn says:

    Dawn, thanks for pointing us to Kevin’s blog. Kevin, thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences. Our daughter is Hispanic, so she will face some similar and some very different responses from those you’ve had. Are there any blogs or resources you’d recommend that particularly discuss transracial adoption from the perspective of a Hispanic adoptee with white parents? We’ve already (she’s an infant) run into a couple responses from people that left us blinking and a bit stunned. Sigh. So, even though we had excellent pre-adoption training and attended relevant workshop sessions, etc. it’s already been brought home that, as expected, we’ve got a lifetime of learning, listening, practicing, and supporting ahead of us now that we’ve moved from being a potential, theoretical transracial family to living as one.

  5. Elaine says:

    Me too!

  6. Debbie says:

    I’d also be interested in a Book Club, Dawn.

  7. Debbie says:

    http://www.betterworldbooks.com has the book for sale for $18.15/shipping is free. With each book purchased from betterworldbooks donations of books are made around the world. It’s a great way to buy and give books.

  8. Tara says:

    Ah, this is my obsession lately, the point where my beautiful baby boy becomes a menacing threat…kindergarten? I take every story when a Black unarmed teen gets shot personally. I’m looking forward to reading more of Kevin’s writing.

  9. Jennifer says:

    I’d join in and read it

  10. Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

    I’d love to if there is enough interest.

  11. Kristina says:

    i’d do it!

  12. Kristina says:

    excellent. i’ll pick it up. thanks!

  13. Dawn Davenport says:

    If there is enough interest, we could do a first – ever Creating a Family Book Club & read Kevin’s book. Interest anyone??

  14. Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

    Kristina, it is a memoir, but inherent in every page is advice. He is very close to his parents & family, so his advice is given by example & in a gentle loving & often funny way, I recommend it.

  15. Kristina says:

    is his book a memoir, or does it slide in advice too?

  16. Kelly says:

    excellent post. thank you!

  17. Thanks for the kind words Boo Boo. What an interesting way to grow up! I so enjoy reflecting back on incidents like this and deciphering them for those that walk behind me. Thanks Dawn for the opportunity to share! If any one has any ?’s I’m happy and anxious to her them.

  18. BooBoo Justthemomforthejob says:

    Kevin ROCKS!! When we brought James & Chaniya home, I read his posts almost daily and have gained much wisdom from them. He is right about not “if” but “when” as our 7 year old was racially profiled by the police for riding his bike on our street with his 14 year old cauc. brother. Grrrrrr. Race is not one of “those” conversations in our family…it’s something we talk about frequently and openly so that when things happen, the kids will come to us. I am thankful for Kevin’s wisdom!!

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