Trayvon Martin, President Obama, and Transracial Adoption

Dawn Davenport


9329431439_323795e361_nThe day after the Trayvon Martin verdict, someone asked on the Creating a Family Facebook Support Group why it was that her Facebook stream was full of talk about the verdict, but she had seen little mention of it by whites on Facebook in general and by white transracial adoptive parents in specific on the Creating a Family Facebook Group.  She wondered how parents through interracial adoption viewed the verdict and if racism was a topic of conversation in our homes.  Well, as you might imagine, we were off and running on that one.

Everyone who posted said that race was absolutely a topic that they discussed in their homes. And really, doesn’t it have to be? How can we possibly raise black and brown kids in this world without discussing race? As parents we must at least try to teach them how to handle themselves as African American, Latino, or Asian teens and adults living in the US in the early to mid 21st century, and like it or not, race is a part of that.  Of course, white parents are at a disadvantage since we haven’t lived the experience.

How Can a White Parent Prepare a Black Child for Racism?

Although it may be harder for white parents to teach our kids about racism, it can be done. We have to talk about race, even when it makes us uncomfortable–especially when it makes us uncomfortable. We have to surround ourselves and our kids with books, movies, magazines, etc. showing diversity. Most important, we must have diversity in our lives and friendships, and we must find role models of color to help us help our kids. We’ve talked about this on many Creating a Family shows/podcasts, including this really good one on Becoming a Transcultural/Transracial Family Through Adoption. This show was specifically aimed to help adoptive parents understand how to find role models. One mom told exactly how she went about finding friends of color and role models for her child even when if felt forced and awkward.




A Great Role Model For Our Kids

I’ve listened to President Obama’s talk last Friday on the Trayvon Martin verdict twice, and will probably listen again. He blows me away. We (and by “we” I mean all Americans, especially trans-racial adoptive parents, and most especially interracial adopted kids) are fortunate to have him as a role model for how to be a black man in America. If you prefer, you can read the transcript rather than watch the video, but I think you will miss the essence—the talk came from his heart.

President Obama put into words something I couldn’t articulate in response to the original question on the Creating a Family Facebook Support Group about why blacks and white responded differently to the verdict. President Obama hit the nail on the head when he said.

I did want to just talk a little bit about context and how people have responded to it and how people are feeling. You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African- American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African- American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that — that doesn’t go away.

There are very few African-American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me. And there are very few African-American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me, at least before I was a senator. There are very few African-Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.

And you know, I don’t want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African-American community interprets what happened one night in Florida. And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear.

White parents adopting black children must understand those sets of experiences to help our kids know how to walk the streets of America with pride and safety.

Reason for Hope – The Next Generation

President Obama said, “I don’t want us to lose sight that things are getting better. Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race.” Again, he’s so right.

A month or so ago I blogged on the controversy surrounding the Cheerios commercial featuring an interracial couple and their biracial daughter. Check out this video of kids’ reaction to this commercial and the controversy surrounding it. My favorite part was at the beginning when the kids were just watching the commercial. It was so clear that the fact that the mom was white and dad was black didn’t even register—they were simply parents. There is hope for us yet.

Did you talk about the Trayvon Martin verdict with your kids?

P.S. One of the reasons I love the Creating a Family Facebook Support Group so much is that it’s a safe place to talk about all sorts of sensitive topics. If you haven’t joined, you should. Click on the “join” button on the top right of that page.


Image credit:  jaroslavd

23/07/2013 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 15 Comments

15 Responses to Trayvon Martin, President Obama, and Transracial Adoption

  1. Eric Anglikowski Eric Anglikowski says:

    My dad was an electrical engineer with AT&T. I spent 1 summer working for a local moving company making about the same as Ray. Another summer I got “hooked up” with a job in the testing lab at AT&T, but still made almost nothing. We were definetely not on the same playing field as those we worked with.

  2. Ray Harkness Ray Harkness says:

    We are both Americans. I was from North Carolina and my dad was in the technology sector. During the summers I got to work with locals. The law mandated we have jobs or go home during the summers. One summer I worked for Burger King for US$.99/hr and another time I worked for Esso Gas in their mailroom. It was a real culturally eye-opening experience to hear about your country through the lens of those who live in another

  3. Ray Harkness Ray Harkness says:

    @Dawn – Eric and I were classmates in Singapore

  4. Eric Anglikowski Eric Anglikowski says:

    Adults had money and jobs. Our parents contributed to the local economy. The un-employed (still in school) didn’t contribute. This was back in the 80’s and many Asians still had vivid memories (or had heard stories) of Americans activities during the Vietnam War. Young Americans were “wild” and had “disregard for Asians and their culture”.

  5. Eric Anglikowski Eric Anglikowski says:

    Ray, remember only sitting in the back of the bus or not sitting at all. The only white-guy on the brown bus. Race discrimination at its finest. My kids have a hard time believing these stories (but they’re true). Luckily my children have a very blended group of friends and love all equally.

  6. Ray Harkness Ray Harkness says:

    Being a parent of a child adopted from china and white, I do feel that I have a slight advantage in regards to understanding racism in the fact that as a teenager my family was expatriated to South East Asia.

    While living there, I experienced many of the things President Obama described in the quote you provided. I’ve was followed in stores, people locked their car doors or denied us entrance into stores, women clutching purses on elevators or getting off.

    For a few years, I got a taste of what it is like to be minority in a country that didn’t really like us there (as a side-note, they had no problems with the adults, it was just the school-aged kids)

  7. In my most recent blog I addressed my frustrations with this case and wept like a newborn when I wrote/yelled the part that is in all caps. There’s so much I wanted to say to young black men to conter-act what the justice system tells them over and over and over.
    I sat motionless when President Obama spoke about this case and his experience and it was so comforting as a black male for someone in such a high office to validate our experience. One of the most frustrating things about racism is that many in the majority want to dismiss our experience. The quiet voice in me simply said “thank you, Mr. President!” So much of the pain of racism comes when I share my experience and the response to my experience is an hypothesis as to how I wrongly or unjustly interpreted things. The President was able to share where such pain comes from in this case and I was so proud that he did. He said what I want all black men and boys to hear, “I understand and you do matter!”

  8. Avatar Addie says:

    The verdict – along with the exposure to Kevins “My Mind on Paper” blog has really helped my husband and I (both white) how we need to not be color blind around our transracial son. We have one black/hispanic adopted child and one biological child. Growing up, my parents always taught me to be color blind, love all, and equality. That’s fabulous, but through education through Dawn and Kevin I’ve realized that we can’t be color blind in raising our eldest son. He needs to own and love his color, and we need to teach him the realities of being raised in a predominatly white/midwest community. He needs to realize also how black people will look at him differently as well. I wish I could keep him in his sweet 2 1/2 year old bubble forever. I pray for those who fear people who look different have a different ethnicity from them, or maybe have too many tatoos. I also pray for those parents, like Travon’s parents, who have lost their child because of such an unexplainable fear.

  9. Avatar Cyndi says:

    This murder and verdict has changed me, and all the preparing I did for transracial adoption did not prepare me for this. I am so very glad you addressed it – was afraid you might not. I am so angry that my son will probably be called the N word at some point in his life, but even angrier that racism does not seem to be abating…with these concealed carry and stand your ground gun laws, it seems murder is legal, or at least more likely to be forgiven if you kill a black person.

    I look at my white (liberal) friends differently – the ones who didn’t follow the story or don’t relate to my anger and sadness. I took my son to a Trayvon Martin vigil as his first protest event. I don’t want to over-emphasize race as I raise him but I don’t think it’s possible. Since this verdict, I think about guns and racism all the time.

    My white privilege will not protect him. And if you don’t understand class and race privilege than you cannot understand the black experience. Honestly I want to be with and make new black friends more than ever before. I am struggling with what to tell him…that he was born “suspicious” or “guilty”? And that to this day I still deal with my own learned prejudice against people of color (like Obama’s white grandma confessed to him, that she held her purse more tightly around a black man…). Talking about race is not racist. So many are scared to.

  10. Eric, oh, I get it. Ray, what an interesting upbringing. Where were your parents expatriated from?

  11. Ray and Eric, I guess prejudice knows no geographic boundary. So, they were suspicious of white tweens and teens, but not older whites?

  12. Avatar Cyndi says:

    I could have just been more succinct and said: This case doesn’t seem to matter much to most parents of white kids, because like the jurors, they do not empathize with the Martin family, and instead relate to Zimmerman’s ‘fear.’

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