Top Ten Things White Parents Can Do To Help Their Children of Color
Did you see the Profile I wrote about the Grammy-nominated singer Amerie? If not, check it out here. In the Profile, I ponder a hypothetical David Letterman style “top 10 list.” White adoptive parents are constantly asking what they can do to help their children of color grow up well adjusted. I, and many other adopted adults, have a steadfast answer. (Insert drum roll here.) And the number one thing white parents can do to help their children of color is….Move to a diverse area. Move out of the all-white world within which you are so comfortable. Lessen the likelihood that your child will grow up feeling like an anomaly.
One of the things that struck me about Ameriie, who has a Korean mother and Black father, was how happy her childhood seemed. I often think that the similarities between mixed race people and adopted people of color who were raised by white parents are striking. I base this belief on all that I have learned through talking with both groups, and reading works by both groups. The parallels in emotions and experiences are undeniable. More often than not, there was confusion, there was a self-hatred, there was a wanting to be other than who we are. Ameriie is the first mixed race person with whom I’ve spoken that, overall, had a happy childhood -and who has always been strong in her identity. “I am who I am,” she said. She is Korean and Black and she embraces the halves which make her whole.
As children grow up, one of the last things they want, is to feel unusual, different. No one wants to feel like an anomaly. Everyone wants to fit in somewhere, especially children. Those of us who grew up in a white world, but not of that world, know what it is like to constantly feel like an anomaly. For us to hate ourselves becomes a natural consequence. Add to the fact that we were abandoned by our mothers and fathers – and the anomalous feeling is exacerbated. Growing up in American society has inherent difficulties for a child of color, difficulties that are not likely to change anytime soon. We are bombarded by advertising that is saturated with white, unnaturally skinny faces and we begin to think this standard of beauty is real. Children of color with white parents do not have the advantage of having parents of color who have already experienced childhood in America. Hopefully, parents of color are able to equip their children with an armor of self-love and self-worth. Hopefully, children of color feel a sense of safety within their own homes and colors of community.
And there’s the rub. It’s about community. Ameriie grew up in many different places all over the world. She was exposed to and lived amongst other mixed race people. She grew up knowing that the world was not just white. This may sound simplistic but when one grows up in a typical American suburb as a child of color, one believes that the majority of the world is also white (and Christian.) Ameriie was used to seeing other faces of color, both mixed and not. I was not. Ameriie did not feel like an anomaly. I did. And it sucked. I hated it. I hated myself because of it.
As a parent, all I want in this world is for my precious babes to grow up happy and well-adjusted. I want them to love themselves. I want them to fully embrace both their Korean half and their Black half. My four year old daughter has a song that she made up over a year ago. It goes, with varying order of players, except for the last line which is always consistent, like this: “I love Mommy, I love Daddy, I love my brother, I love Creamy (our deceased pit-bull), I love Grandma…AND I LOVE MYSELF!” The first time she sang this song tears wet my eyes. The song is beautiful in so many ways but the proclamation of self love is so starkly different than what I experienced growing up. And that is exactly what I want for her and for my son.
Recently on a Korean Adoptee Yahoo Group, an adoptive mother asked where would be good places for her to raise her children of color. She wanted specific names of cities and towns. I was impressed that she was asking the question. She was given some suggestions by a few adopted people and from these answers a discussion of racism in America ensued. It was a natural progression from the responses. Racism exists. Often times, it exists much more than white adoptive parents realize. I am not suggesting that moving to a diverse town will eradicate racism from your child’s life. It won’t. But I am suggesting that you take Ameriie as an example and learn from her that the more exposure to those who look like your child, the better off she or he will be.
Sorry to disappoint white adoptive parents but I do not actually have a “top ten” list. I do, however, have my steadfast number one thing though…And the number one thing white adoptive parents can do to help their children of color is, and will remain – move to a place where your child will not feel like an anomaly. Your child needs to see other faces of color. No, this will not insure that she will grow up to be a perfectly contented child but it will help a whole heck of a lot. Promise.