“How do you plan on raising a black man?” Your transracial adoption may hang in the balance depending on how you answer this question. At least it did for one couple.
Clearly we don’t know all the details, but we do know that this foster care adoption story ends when a pre-adoptive mom responded to this question with “I plan on raising him the same way I would a white man.” The adoption process was halted with that one statement. But as with all stories involving race, we need to understand the context.
The case started when a white Philadelphia couple signed up with a private agency placing children from foster care with the county Department of Human Services. In October 2012, their caseworkers matched them with a two-year-old African American toddler. I don’t know how long he had been in foster care, but his placement goal had been switched from “reunification” to “adoption” in June 2012. He was living if a foster home with a single black woman on disability with several children. The foster mom did not want to adopt him.
The adoption process began with gradual visitation progressing to weekend stays. The couple received “glowing reviews” by the agency, and the child was expected to move permanently to their home in Jan. 2012. A week before the child was to move, a DHS supervisor visited their home and asked the fateful question. A week later the adoption process was stopped presumably because of the mom’s response, although we don’t know for sure, and DHS said that during that week, the foster mother expressed an interest in adoption. Ultimately the two caseworkers that had supported the adoption were fired, allegedly because of their support for the adoption. While it may be irrelevant, it is worth noting since race is everywhere in this case that both social workers were black.
Importance of Words in Transracial Adoption
To be perfectly honest, my first reaction was to cringe when I heard the adoptive mom’s response that she would raise her black son the same way she would raise a white son. I judged her answer as woefully lacking and wondered what type of preparation she had received in interracial adoption. However, when I read more details, I wondered if this one response reflected the reality of their life and preparation for this child. The couple lives in a predominantly black area and had hired a black babysitter to care for the child while they worked. I don’t know what other steps they had taken as a white family preparing to adopt a black child, but they had at least made a start.
How to Raise a Strong Proud Black Man
Oh yes, when I read her response, I was already formulating a much better answer in my head. I would have talked about the importance of incorporating black role models into our life, and establishing a support system to help us raise a strong proud black man in this society where overt and covert racism is a fact of life. I would talk about how I hoped to prevent my boy from being the next Trayvon Martin. I would have answered the question as someone steeped in the nuances of transracial adoption, and I would have meant every single word because all of this is part of raising a black man in America. But my answer would have been incomplete.
The part I would have likely left out in my effort at providing the “right” answer, is that I also would want to teach my son to be honest and kind. To be respectful of all people, including women. To search for meaningful life work that brings him happiness. To be productively busy, but not too busy that he overlooks what’s really important in life. I’d pray that I would be able to raise him to strive each day to be a blessing in someone’s life. I’d try to teach him all of these things regardless of the color of his skin.
“How do you plan on raising a black man?” I would have answered the supervisor’s question emphasizing the word “black”; the mom emphasized the word “man”. Neither answer is wrong. Neither answer is complete.
Image credit: Visionsofgrace
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I think it is a fine place to start… maybe she really would have had included black culture and African American heroes no matter the color son she was raising… I think this is why adoption training is less about a trite phrase and really pulling out, where do you live, who will watch them, how ethnic is your circle of friends, will their school be diverse? What changes are you making? What changes are you thinking about making? Looks like from the info that they were set up in the right direction and that is what counts for any child. I think it is hard for us to relate to, because if our white child was adopted and grew up in an ethnic family… I can’t think really of the white things they would miss out on and grieve what white loss? I would want my child to land in a good family that took good care of her and transformed her into an awesome adult. We lack a frame of reference, or at least I do on a culture that can be lost or something worthy of grief. When you cross ethnic lines in adoption… there is something lost… and that is a new concept. The measure is not where we start but how far we are willing to go for our babies.
I hope what she meant is that she would raise her child to be loving, kind, honest, etc regardless of race. However, I strongly believe that as a parent one must honor the ethnicity, race, and culture of our children.
I don’t think I would have stopped the adoption, but there should be some serious educating around transracial adoption. The worse approach is to parent not “looking at color”. As is cultural differences don’t exist. The differences are real and should be addressed. Providing opportunities to have engagement and relationships with people who are of the same race is important and should be valued.
I think that if she had said it didn’t matter it would have been a different story!
I know! I thought it was really encouraging!
As the parent of a 9 year old male who has hated his color for forever, who has recently struggled, I can tell you that it’s also individual. He had a AA Nanna- my sister married a black man so I have a biracial nephew- I have two foster AA sibs I grew up with who we stay in full contact with- we go to cultural events- we have been told “you did it textbook” well folks, there is no textbook!! (Not that I ever thought there was)
Ann, so often we don’t know what we need to be prepared for when we start on any journey. That is why we have to rely on others who have been there before to help prepare us. Glad you’ve found it helpful 9 years in. 🙂
This is interesting too: http://m.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2013/10/black-boys-have-an-easier-time-fitting-in-at-suburban-schools-than-black-girls/280657/
Dawn, I thought that was a good blog post. 🙂 While I think both aspects are important, I personally feel that teaching a child and raising your child with good values is even more important than cultural identity.
Kristina, that’s a fascinating article. One of the reasons I hear from adoptive parents in preferring to adopt girls is that they think they will be easier to raise and specifically easier to raise in a transracial adoption. This article kind of turns that on its head.
Others. My only hope is that my children love themselves as much as I do!
I have four adopted children. Three of them are quad racial. Yes, they are white, black, native American, and Hispanic. They are biological siblings. Two girls and one boy. I know the world sees my children as black and take the responsiblity of raising a black son very seriously. Not to exclude my beautiful girls but raising a black man in our culture is not an easy task. I think acknowledging that overt and covert racism will inherently be a part of their experience in the United States. There are no clear right answers to the question and how it was posed. We know that racial identity is a phase of life that is inherit to those of minority status. I never experienced the “oh my god, I’m white and that means something” until I was in college and was educated on racial issues.
As parents of “black” children we must include thier black experience into everyday conversation. Speak candidly and courageously about what that means while emphasizing we are all in this life together and moving toward enriching our lives and the lives of
Yes, something is lost culturally and specifically culturally equipping a child, that must be addressed and replaced and cannot be by the adoptive parents… that does need to be addressed by figures close to the family and mentors. In this situation that didn’t seem to be an issue finding someone to step into that role for the child as their life looked like it would be full of great candidates. That is vital.
Tara, yes, yes. It’s about raising kids to understand how to live in a society that perceives them as different and unequal.
Our judge asked us this at finalization of both boys and we were told that our answer could cause our case to be denied. We had to take multiple cultural awareness classes and Prove where we were involved in issues/people of other races. I use to be bitter- now I have a 9 year old and the picture is becoming much clearer. I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to say “it doesn’t matter” but in actuality, it does…
I should add that I would not have stopped the adoption, that was an overreaction, I would require more classes and more conversations with the social worker. If they still insisted on the same answer after being educated on the issues then I would reconsider.
Kimberly, so well said. Also, you raise a good point that she could have meant that she would have incorporated African American cultural awareness for any child of hers, but I do think it is worth pointing out that cultural awareness and info on AA heroes is not the same as equipping our kids of color to live and survive in a race conscious world. I know that you weren’t implying otherwise, but I just wanted to explicitly point it out.
It’s not about treating Blacks differently, it is about understanding that we are perceived by society as different and thus treated in a way that is not equal. Anyone adopting a child of color needs to understand that and be know that they will need to prepare their child for that, arm them with the tools to fight racist assumptions.
Ann-Marie, you must have answered “right” since you’re adoption went through. 🙂
Kendra, while I don’t think her answer was complete, I also don’t think it was wrong. In other words, I agree with you.
I know of a black man raised by a white mother. She did pretty well. He lives at 1400 Pennsylvania Ave.
Dawn you’ve done it again! Great piece!
Wait a minute! I respect black men equally to white men based on their character. Yes a young black man deals with race issues a white man doesn’t. And I am prepared to be honest about that. A better question would be how does this question unify blacks and whites as one society? As I see it, it only serves to break us down into us and them. How can blacks ever be truly equal to whites if we continue to act like they are so very different than whites. They are people! People all bleed the same color. Only the very most outer covering is different. We won’t ever be equal if we continue to base decisions solely on the color of skin. Written by a white lady with no black children.
What not to say. I said “I would do anything my child needs even if the child looked like me.”I really wonder if that is what they meant.