Tag Archives: Racial Identity

Race Issues in Adoption-Part 1

I recently had the pleasure of doing a long form interview with TraumaMamaDrama! I’m grateful for the opportunity to talk about these race, adoption and parenting with her.

Take a looksee at Part 1 of my interview!

Race Issues in Adoption – Part 1

Thoughts on Racial Identity Development

I’ve been fretting lately…fretting about Hope and her Blackness or rather her racial development.

Did you know that moving from the initial stage (pre-encounter stage) of racial identity development to the second stage (encounter stage) is usually precipitated by a negative encounter around race for people of color?

In lay terms, we all are getting along peachy keen until some dingbat says/does something racist, pointing out that the brown or black kid is different and that difference is bad.

For me, this happened when I was little, before I even started kindergarten. It’s a moment that I have long likened to eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The evil is knowing that people hate me because of my skin color and might go so far as to hurt and/or kill me. The good is having this knowledge and avoiding the naiveté that might get you killed. Racial identity is built on this foundation. If you are privileged not to have to this experience then your identity as a racialized person is stunted, and your privilege is allowed to bloom, so says the research.

I know that there have been events in Hope’s life that meet the criteria that would push a regular kid to the next stage of racial development, but given all that she’s endured it doesn’t seem to have registered. So much of her development in general was negatively affected. The racial piece, well, maybe it just didn’t register when she was just trying to survive.

I get all that. I really do. That said, racial identity development then is recognized as just another area that has to catch up.

When Hope first moved in 2.5 years ago, I remember being a bit put off because all the posters of pop stars were white, with very, very few exceptions—Selena Gomez, the Black girl in 5th Harmony and Bruno Mars. Turns out there aren’t really any teeny bopper pop stars of color these days. Hope’s not really into Beyonce or Rihanna so…yeah, white kids on the wall it is.

We dealt a little while with colorism and issues around Hope wishing she had lighter brown skin. Ughhhhh, she still vocalizes this when we go shopping for tinted moisturizers (#damnmakeup).

Then I noticed she only liked white or Hispanic boys; there aren’t many Black kids in the band and only like one or two boys and ok, they aren’t her type. So there aren’t many kids of color in her social circles here; they heavily populated her circles back home, but it’s like she left it all behind.

Recently, I realized during a social outing that she deliberately avoids kids of color; she doesn’t even want to associate with them. Same with my efforts to have us “friend date” other families with kids of color. She wants nothing to do with it.

I know she struggled with my version of Blackness; I was really different than the Black folk she had previously experienced. She even told me one time that in some ways it was like I wasn’t really Black. I struggled with that, and I don’t know if it’s my perceived unicorn status or what, but she is ok with me and my bougie, upwardly mobile, educated black folk. But she doesn’t seem interested in accepting the black diaspora.

And maybe it’s too much for me to expect from her at this point. She is still healing from all her trauma, embracing Blackness as an identity is probably not even on her subconscious list of things with which to grapple.

It doesn’t stop my fretting though, as I watch my beloved Hope cloak herself in social Whiteness. Even if I hope it never happens, I know that something will happen, something that will hurt her. I hope that her friends will be wonderful allies. They are good kids, but they aren’t forced to think about the things I think about, the dangers that our color expose us to, they don’t have to think about it unless they choose to.

From a parenting perspective it’s odd; I am glad that she’s bridging some of her social challenges, but I feel some kind of way about her not having any brown or black friends and her refusal to pursue any of those kinds of relationships. I’d love to see a mix of folks in her life who love her and support her. I want her to have safe spaces—sure her White friends can offer that, but I fret that having no friends of color limits her safe spaces if and when something goes down.

Add to this, my abject horror in thinking about police brutality, microaggressions, the resurgence of laws codifying acceptable discrimination and a nation’s willingness to increasingly accept racist discourse.

I worry.

Actually, describing my emotion as worry is an understatement. I am afraid. I’m also aware that all of this has a huge impact on my own well-being. I think the current political environment has exacerbated my emotion around Hope’s racial identity development. It’s complicated. I also know that this process is a natural one; it is not something I can control. I can’t control when, where or how it might happen.

I can only be there for my daughter. That’s it.

But it doesn’t feel like enough. Hugging her tight and soothing her over what might feel like an enormously painful betrayal, just doesn’t feel like enough. Teaching her how to move past it doesn’t feel like enough. Nurturing her healing doesn’t feel like enough.

I wish I could make it all go away. I wish I could make racism all go away. I wish I could make the need for this kind of identity development vanish. I just wish I could protect her from every other thing that might make her path hard; she’s suffered enough. I just want to keep her safe.

But I can’t, not from everything.

I know that, but it still breaks my heart.


Talking about #Ferguson

Oy!  My mind has been in a million places this week.  Apologies for the mistaken title and reference.


Hope and I were in a bit of a bubble for the last week and half or so. After I made the decision to say goodbye to The Furry One, I just kind of shut down. Truth be told I’m still kind of closed for business, but that’s for another post. We certainly were aware that Michael Brown was killed by a police officer. I was aware of the decline of Jefferson into a bit of chaos over the last week, but mentally and emotionally I was elsewhere. There was a lot of Disney Channel watching. There was a lot of Shark Week. There was little news watching, together anyway.

I would watch the news late at night. Read the news articles, watch videos, read blogs about Brown, his death, the frustrated, hurt and angry town besieged by tanks, snipers and a media circus. My heart hurt. My head hurt. I’d turn it off and return to my own grief. I’ve done this every day for 10 days.

Last night I told Hope we were going to watch Anderson 360 to.

Sigh. She whined. And then she started to watch. Then she started to wonder out loud and the questions came.

The questions she had. The commentary on race. How she described what she was hearing, thinking, seeing, believing. It’s disheartening. She deconstructed *everything.* I hardly know what to even say about it all.

The idea that somehow she has to be less threatening to others as a young black child…we talked about that. There was a lot of, “…and that’s why mom tells you to…” do something that is a tactic to be as non-threatening as possible. You have to earn the right to be completely authentic, delightfully and meaningfully confrontational and candid as a brown child. Not everyone will be comfortable with that you. These were difficult things I told her.

She hates the police. She sees them as the “system.” She’s always been very data-driven and evidence based, and Hope’s evidence says, most compellingly, that the system and all its players are not to be trusted. I wonder whether she will always have such distrust. I shudder at how she might react to being confronted by law enforcement. I cry when I think that she might be killed because of her lack of trust in those who are sworn to protect and serve.

Her anger, and mine, about an unarmed young man, just 5 years her senior, being shot in the street and left there for hours was palpable. I think she would march in the streets if she could. I would so be there with her.

I’ve been thinking about all the code-switching I’ve been trying to teach her. These lessons are second nature to me, but she questions me all the time about them. “But why do I have to….” “Because,” I reply, “You don’t want people thinking XX about you.” What I really mean is, you will find a lot of White people who think XX about you already, and you can’t give them any reason to keep believing that or worse: you need to make the White people around you feel comfortable.

Grammy has long told me this world is made for the comfort of a dominant few.

I don’t want to teach my kid to not like or trust any group of people. But I also have a responsibility to talk about and teach her ways to navigate in brown skin. I wish it wasn’t different, but it is. It’s a blessing to be privileged in so many ways, but to lack privilege in something so obvious as the color of our skin…

Sigh. It’s hard to discuss and explain to a 13 year old who’s only lived with me since January. I remember when she asked me months ago why was it ok to kill Black boys? It must be ok because it happens with alarming frequency followed by narratives that paint the kids as deserving of their plight and a killer walking away into the sunset. That’s what she sees. A lot of times that’s what I see.

I’ve been doing diversity work for more than a decade. I’m good at it too. But now, with my own kid, with her unique history…it’s a whole different ball game.

There’s so very much more I could stumble through on this topic in this space but I’m going to just have to leave this right here for the moment.  There’s been another shooting in St. Louis.

Sigh. #JusticeforMikeBrown


Hope & Whole Self Love

Hope doesn’t like her hair; she says it’s too short and too nappy.

She doesn’t like her nose; she says it’s too broad. 

She doesn’t like to smile with her teeth showing; she says it makes her lips look too big and her teeth are crooked.

Hope says her cocoa brown skin is too dark; she wishes she were lighter.

Hope is enamored by lighter skinned women of color who have looser, wavy curls.  She says they are pretty.  She is not light, and her hair has tight curls, so she’s not pretty. 

She says she’s ugly several times a day.

Sure, some of the critical, self-doubt is normal for kids her age, but I fret that she hasn’t heard how beautiful she is much during her short time in this life.  Her smooth skin is such a lovely brown shade.  She has beautiful features that would look so lovely with long or short hair.  She could rock a teeny, weeny afro and look divine.  Her large almond shaped, brown eyes are so gorgeous.   Her full lips give her such a beautiful countenance. 

She doesn’t need to be light, and she shouldn’t want to be either.  

One of my goals during this visit is to make sure she sees the variety of women of color in the DC area.  I point out beautiful afros and dark skin and say, “Wow look at how pretty she is; she reminds me of you.”  I encourage her to moisturize her lovely skin (she seriously will allow herself to develop scales) so that it glistens and shines like a cocoa bean.

There’s something particularly painful to me to hear her say she doesn’t like the features that are most associated with people of color.  Such features often are a part of our core racial identity.  I had parents who told me all the time how pretty I was.  My dad still does.  He liked my hair relaxed, and he likes it natural.  Honestly I don’t know if he really likes either of them, but he has always, always told me that I was pretty.   He has always said my brown skin was beautiful.   I might’ve had lots of problems with self-esteem over the years, but loving my brown skin, African American features, and various hair stages has never been a part of my low self-esteem story.

When I got to college I met girls who really struggled with developing into young women of color.  They did all kinds of things to appear lighter (whiter) in every way—skin, hair, some plastic surgery.  It was so….extra.  The self-hate was so real, and it was deeper than just this awkward discomfort of adolescence.  Hating the skin you’re in is bad, so bad.  It’s bad on a good day.  I don’t want to imagine what it’s like to be an awkward tween, who’s been bustled around foster homes, who’s experienced all kinds of crazy ish, and to hate your brown skin and kinky hair on top of everything else.  It makes me sad.

So, I will continue wearing my hair natural; I may even cut it low for her.  I will try to take care of my skin.  I will point out other naturalistas.  I will show her all the colors, all the textures, all the diversity that the African diaspora has to offer.   I will tell her she’s beautiful.  I will get her cute brown girl T-shirts.  I will take her to events that affirm her existence as she is.  I will hold her hand as I lead Hope to a healing place on this issue and many others.  I will promote whole self-love as much as I can.  For me, this is a real part of the ABM journey. 

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