Discussing Race with our Children

I’m not one to really be political or to argue my point to a certain extent.  However, I wanted to share my point of view about race.  As you may have learned about our family, we are a trans-racial family.  We have adopted 3 black children, 2 of which are also Cuban, all three have bits of White/Caucasian in them as well.

First of all, I want to say that I am not sharing this to upset anyone on either side of this debate.  I’m simply sharing my view.  since Ken and I are white, I feel that we have a unique perspective, especially viewing black people through the eyes of our black children.  I don’t see race.  I see my children, not the color of their skin.  Seriously.

The other night I was picking up our daughter, Lou Lou from a church activity.  It was later in the evening, around 8 p.m.  Bubba was in the car with me, and I asked him to run into the church and tell Lou Lou we were there to get her.  She wasn’t answering her phone or answering the text messages I had sent.

As Bubba left the car, I reminded him to be careful, that it was dark out and the other drivers in the parking lot might not see him.  As he closed the door of our Kia Soul, he asked, “Why?  Because I’m Black?”

I tried not to giggle.  I believe he was serious about asking that question.  And I definitely never even thought about his race when reminding him to be careful in the parking lot.  My caution to him wasn’t because of his race, it was because he is 9, and it’s my job to protect him.  It was merely an innocent comment to remind him to be careful so he didn’t get hurt.

I was really surprised by his question.  He loves to joke and tease me, so I really couldn’t tell if he was serious or not, but his question caught me off guard and I began to wonder if I had ever played the race card with any of our children.

Had I taught them to be a victim because they looked different than me or their Daddy, or even many of the other people in our small community.  Our three kiddos have discussed that they are the only ones in our church that are black.  I try to explain to them that they are unique and loved and very much wanted.

You see, I’m fascinated with black people.  I love them, I love their race, I love their culture.  I try not to stare at any black person I see because I don’t want them to think I’m staring because they are different because of the color of their skin.  They are simply people I am trying to glean from, to learn more about them so that I can share their culture and race with my own children.

Years ago when Lou Lou arrived home with us, I purchased some prints by a black painter named Ellis Wilson.  I purchased three prints, and this one is my favorite called “A Mother’s Love”.  I really enjoy looking at Ellis Wilson’s art, especially because his art covered the walls of one of my favorite childhood T.V. shows, “The Cosby Show”.  When I told (and showed) a coworker the prints.  She asked, “Why would you put those on your walls?  You don’t look like that.”  I was seriously taken aback.  I simply told her, “I may not look like that, but my child does”.

A Mother's Love_Ellis Wilson

One of my favorite stories about when Lou Lou arrived was the very first time I changed my one day old baby girls diaper.  As I lifted up her little legs, I noticed these dark spots on her hips.  I instantly started freaking out, yelling for my Mother-in-law and husband, Ken, to run into the room because someone had hurt and bruised my baby.  Fear, sadness, and utter despair was brimming in my heart, tears nearly ready to spill over.  But my sweet Mother-in-law reassured me that Lou Lou had not been battered or abused.  She told me that the dark spots were called “Mulatto spots”.  I had never heard of such a thing.  To help ease my stress over the situation, Mom explained it in a way I could grasp.  She said, “It’s basically where the black and white colors haven’t quite mixed together.”  Ok, so now that made sense.  Ken’s Mom and Dad had two other bi-racial grandchildren and had seen spots like those on Lou Lou’s hips before.  Whew, crisis averted, panic ebbed, heart stopped racing, and life that first day went back to utter joy. I will never forget that feeling

Even back then, and still today, I want my children to identify with their heritage and to never be ashamed of who they are, where they came from, or who they will become.  I never want them to use their race as a crutch or to be victimized by their black history.  Racism isn’t allowed in our home, just as persecution should never be allowed anywhere for race, color, creed, or nationality, or definitely religion.  Those of you who are or might know about Mormon’s,  know about persecution from our own church history.  We all have much to be thankful for.

Over the past few years, I loved learning about and purchasing books with black people in them.  I also purchased books about adoption, but I definitely enjoyed sharing books like the glorious book “Corduroy”.  I love that book, my children love that book too.  It’s one of our very favorite books, and the kids still talk about it to this day.

I also love the PBS television show, “Reading Rainbow”.  We watched it faithfully when Lou Lou was little.  Reading Rainbow introduced Lou Lou and I to the book, “Amazing Grace”.  Lou Lou identified with Grace and especially loved the beautiful pictures and still remembers being scared of Grace in a picture of looking like a “spider”.  This book is still in our family library today.  I look forward to reading it to my Grandbabies.

As we have tried to help our children come into contact with their heritage, we have introduced them to some of the most amazing Black Heroes in history!  The greats like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Ruby Bridges, Harriet Tubman, Lionel Richie, Rosa Parks, Mariah Carey, Jesse Owens, Maya Angelou, Miles Davis, Oprah Winfrey, Etta James, Dr. Ronald McNair, Ella Fitzgerald, Michael Jackson.  As they are growing up, their own favorite music is emerging: especially Usher, Bruno Mars, Nicki Minaj, Beyonce, and many others. The list is endless.

When Lou Lou was about three, the “Oprah Winfrey” show was still on regular TV.  I was a faithful Oprah fan, and I guess it really left an impression on Lou Lou because every black woman we saw in town or surrounding towns, (which weren’t many), and every picture of a black woman she noticed, she instantly recognized as Oprah.  She would point to the black woman in the picture or on the street and say, “Look Mom, there’s Oprah”.  It was comical at the time, and I would discuss with her that not every black woman was Oprah, that there are an endless number of black people in her world that will look like her in many ways.

Growing up in a small Southern Utah town, I remember one of the few black boys in my class was Stevie. His Mom was black, his Dad was white.  Stevie was the coolest kid, the best basketball player in our grade, and I seriously loved looking at his brown skin. He was sooo cute.  I was never cool enough to even be noticed by him, but I was in awe of his family dynamics, and wondered what it would be like to be around him. Every once in a while, I think about Stevie and his family.  I wonder what he thought of being the only black boy in our school…I think he might of had siblings, but I can’t really remember.  Stevie’s Dad was a teacher at a nearby school.  Honestly he was one of the coolest teachers I had ever met.

Most of the people who see our family, smile and realize we adopted our kids.  If Ken or I am by ourselves with the kids, we get a lot of stares.   Staring is a way of educating, pondering and peaking curiosity and it’s a completely natural occurrence around our family.  One morning in 2008, our family walked into a Diner in Weed, California, and sitting at a booth near the front door was an older Mennonite couple.  As we walked past them, they stared, smiled, and the sweet woman said with a gentle voice, “Bless You”.  That moment really touched my heart.  I appreciated that one sentence so much, it brought comfort to me as we don’t always receive such praise.  Sometimes, we even get the opposite.  But we smile and continue on our way.  You can’t change ignorance overnight, like everything in life, it’s a gradual thing.  Line upon Line, generation after generation thing can change, and things have changed so much.

Stevie’s Mom would come to bring him lunch and I would stare at her.  As I said, for me, staring is not a bad thing.  But I soon realized it wasn’t something that was socially acceptable, I would try so hard not to stare.  It really was difficult for me. I tried to catch myself and stop glancing at her.  She was like a brown exotic goddess.  Long black curly hair, gorgeous skin, long eyelashes that looked like black butterfly wings fluttering above her eyes…little did I know I would one day raise my own little brown exotic goddess.

During a Human Biology class in my Sophomore year of High School, this class was taught by one of the cutest teachers in my school.  Sorry, he just was…LOL, and it really was a joy to go to class every single day.  I recall learning about “Sickle Cell Anemia”, which is usually a disease suffered by black people.  I remember saying to my friends at my table, well I won’t have to worry about that one.  I never imagined I would need to know about a disease that affected black people.  I never imagined I would have black people in my family.  I wasn’t against it of course, it truly wasn’t on my radar to prepare for.  But after my sweet boys arrived, I definitely asked our Pediatrician if they had been tested.  It is so ironic the things you never imagine will happen, actually completely change your life for the better.  I’m grateful for the knowledge I have gained to better help me to advocate for and help my children.  I’m also very grateful that I can help educate and share some of the knowledge I have received with others who are going through their own bi-racial or trans-racial adoptions.

The family story about race that I want to share is also about Lou Lou.  It seems she had more questions growing up than our boys.  One day we were in a grocery store, she was about 4, and the cart I was pushing her in had a little plastic car attached to it so that she could play while I shopped.  Whoever thought to create those car shopping carts is a pure genius.  At about this time Lou Lou was learning her colors and we would paint with water colors and learn what paints mixed together to create new colors.  As I shopped and crossed things off of my list, she seriously asked me, “Mom, what do you get when you mix black and white?”  I told her, “Grey”.  To which she slowly asked me, “Then…why…am…I…brown?”  I immediately explained I thought she meant paint colors. I stopped the cart, got down at her eye level, and reassured her that when we mix black and white people we usually always make brown.  This seemed to ease her fears, but that moment was ingrained in my memory.  She says she doesn’t remember that conversation, but always asks me to tell that story whenever we talk about her childhood, or in any conversation with people we meet who ask us about race or adoption.  I learned that I needed to be more sensitive to her questions and ask her further questions to get to root of her questions.  She was a deep thinker who always asked questions, she has taught us so much about pondering and questioning everything around us.  I love that about her.

So, I hope I haven’t been on my soap box too much in this essay.  I pray that you will see race through a different lens.  Perspective is important when we encounter anyone.  Walking in someones shoes can be difficult when we don’t even know how to broach the subject, or start a meaningful discussion in the first place.

I won’t bore you with my opinion of the cop killings that have happened in the news over the past few years.  They are however an important part of the race, violence, and guns discussion. I recall the incident with Rodney King when I was in high school.  I pray my children never encounter a moment like those, that there will never be a point in my life when I receive a phone call that my child has been hurt, maimed, or taken from me – but I cannot control those moments, I have to trust that God knows best for me, my children, and all of my family.

Choices always have consequences.  There are choices and consequences in both of the perspectives, and it is difficult to determine what is best.  I’m glad I am not God who will judge or decide the outcome.  I do not envy anyone their consequence of losing their free agency, the life of a child, or their own life because of their choices.  I hesitate to state that race will not affect my children’s world for the rest of their lives. Yes times have changed, our family determines the state of our opinion of race in our small world of Family and Home.  But we cannot and will not be able to change how others see us.  I pray I have given my children the stability of loving parents and family, that they will be able to stand up for others and for themselves if they face discrimination, persecution, or violence.  I cannot stress to you enough that what we teach our children now will determine the people they become tomorrow.  It will also determine the people our grandchildren and great grandchildren, and generations forward become.  I tell my children often that I look forward to more brown babies in our family when they have their own children.  We discuss who they could marry, black, white, mexican.  It doesn’t matter to Ken or I, but it exciting to listen to these sweet children share their perspective of race.

No matter where my children go, no matter the choices they make, we will love them.  We will love them for who they are as our children.  We may not love their choices, but we will always love them.  I do not see them as black, I see them as mine.  I do not notice if I personally treat them differently on purpose.  I know that we have to take extra care to be educated – to know how to help them with their dry skin, curly afro hair, or body odor at an earlier age than my nephews did.  I learn new insights into my children’s race nearly every single day.  Our boys have B.O. at the age of 8 & 9 – I asked my doctor, I guess black boys have more testosterone than white boys their age, so they smell sooner.  I didn’t know that, now I do.  I worried it was a glandular problem, nope, it’s normal.  Jman has very active oil glands on his face already.  He’s only 8, he has to wash his face morning and night.  I can barely get him to brush his teeth, so adding the face washing has been an interesting endeavor.  But we are learning, and that is what life is all about.

I encourage you to learn something new every single day about your child or children.  It’s eye opening to me, because I only see the Nurture portion of the Nature vs. Nurture debate.  And not knowing anything about being a black person has really broadened my desire to learn more.  I’m far from the normal every day Mother.  Yes I have days when I scream and yell.  I mean, just ask my kids.  But I hope they feel loved.  I hope they feel they belong, even if I’m white and they’re black.

I love the movie Tarzan and the Phil Collins song, “You’ll be in my Heart”.  It is beyond the realm of my expressing how spot on that song is for the feelings I have for my children.  This song is like a sound track for this little family of mine.

I am forever grateful for the knowledge I have received through learning about my children’s heritage. I’m also thankful for a God who loves me and my family, who wants what’s best for all of us.  We like our Heavenly Father, have a heart, we all have hands, we all have a soul.  We are the same, and yet we are different.  Love is universal, it can encompass every single being upon the earth.  No matter who we are or what we look like, my ultimate opinion of this topic is:  love is more important than race.  Love crosses borders, religious lines, and devious persecutions. Love can increase in the hearts of all people – but we have to start with ourselves first.  Love is the key that will unlock all race boundaries.  Loving my children, loving their race, honoring their heritage and mine, has truly changed my life.