This post was written by Tony Hynes, an author and adoptee. His life story includes his birth mother’s mental illness, a tumultuous battle in the court system when his adoption was challenged by his birth family, and the unique perspective of being raised by two moms in a transracial household. His book “The Son with Two Moms” is available on Amazon in print and electronic editions. Check out Tony on Facebook.
It is amazing how quickly our news cycle works. One month ago I wrote about the events in Charlottesville. Today, fresh news stories dominate our focus. Charlottesville has already begun to fade in memory, and perhaps in importance, in our minds — but it shouldn’t, and for that reason, I will hearken back to what I wrote on that day.
Sometimes white parents of minority children ask me how they can engage in productive conversations centered around race with their children. Essentially, what some are really asking is “How can I show my child that I will fight for them? How can I show them I am an ally?”
Today is one of the many days you can show them. Have a real dialogue with them about the events leading up to the White Supremacist rally in Charlottesville. Speak to them about how we got here: to a place where statues of confederate soldiers could represent symbols of pride for individuals miffed at the notion of a non-Aryan majority country. Speak to them about the difference between the Black Lives Matter movement and a hate group.
Most importantly, tell them that you will not stand for hate, and that you will speak out on it in your own community — no race, religion, or sexuality excluded. Affirm how much you love them and tell them that if hatred is cast upon them, the whole family will rally around them and fight as hard as they can to ensure justice is served.
Kids do not need to have conversations about race every day. However, if you are silent today, and on days like it, you are sending an equally powerful message.
If you are silent when race-based incidents appear on your television screens and in your communities, how can your child expect you to speak up for them when they are called a racial epithet? Many adoptees are people pleasers by nature. They may feel that talking about a racial incident places a burden on you, and may decide that in order to protect you, it is best for them to remain silent. It is up to us to show our children that listening and engaging in an open dialogue about any topic that is bothering them is one of the privileges of raising them.
However, in order to better assist our children, it is important that we recognize how to engage in racially positive dialogue. For instance, we teach our children to be advocates for themselves when they are called something sexually derogatory. Are we teaching them to advocate for themselves when they are called something racially derogatory? We teach our young children to tell an adult when someone makes a comment that makes them feel threatened or uncomfortable in their own skin. Are we expanding our conversations to include discussions about when to talk to an adult when another child makes our child feel threatened or uncomfortable because of the color of his or her skin?
Finally, we teach our children to speak up for themselves when their peers practice microaggressions. When a peer says “her actions are not ladylike,” in reference to an outspoken women, we teach our children to correct the speaker, either in public or in private. We teach them to remind the speaker that the concept that women should be seen and not heard, and that women should be soft spoken, is an outdated, sexist, incorrect notion. Are we telling our children to speak out on racial microaggressions in the same way? When our black son is told by his peer that “black people are always great athletes,” do we encourage him to speak up in the same way?
What is important to remember when thinking about these interactions is that we will not always be able to be there for our children. When they are mistreated, we may be at work, or home sick. Many parents think we should arm our children with the tools to stay out of harm’s way when we are not around — and they are correct. However, we must also arm our children with the power they already possess within themselves — the power to lift themselves up. True, they should feel comfortable turning to us after a trying experience. However, do not let them perceive you as their first white savior. Let them perceive you as their first — and their best — ally.