Kristen Howerton, a woman in a transracial adoption support group I belong to on Facebook, was recently interviewed by Yahoo! Parenting about what it’s like to be the white mother of two black boys (she has two biological daughters as well). This wonderful article + video was the result of that interview.
I relate to so much of what she said. Her boys are older than Miles–age 10 and 6–but reading her words reinforced for me the complicated issues we will have to deal with as Miles gets older (and bigger). Unfortunately, young black boys are forced to grow up faster than other children because they tend to be taller and look older than white kids their age–and this makes society sometimes view them with racial bias and as dangerous. Not at all fair, but unfortunately reality. Her oldest isn’t even a teenager yet, but Kristen says in the article that she is already having to take precautions that white parent’s don’t:
“How her sons are viewed by strangers, for instance, recently become an issue. “They’re perceived as older, and research shows that to be true,” she says. “They are perceived as more threatening than their white counterpoints. And that’s a steep learning curve [for us] because you’d like to think that society is better than it is on this issue.” If her sons go to a playground, she notes, “There’s this sort of ‘Where are the parents?’ feeling that I don’t feel like is the same for my girls. And I’m always very on alert and making sure that any interaction with them from another adult is on par with what’s appropriate for their age.” Then, at home, the family talks about her sons’ race and their height. She says she tells the boys, “‘People are going to have different expectations of you, because you are 10 and look like a teenager.’ These are conversations that we have a lot.””
I really like what she says below about having the talk about discrimination be an ongoing conversation:
“Kristen doesn’t shy away from the reality of discrimination. Talking with her sons about it, she says, is “kind of like having the sex conversation, in that it shouldn’t be one conversation. It should be an ongoing conversation about things as they are developmentally appropriate.” Regardless of skin tone, “everyone is nervous about having these conversations with their black sons,” she adds. “It’s a heavy weight for everyone. Is there a pit in my stomach about those conversations? Absolutely. There’s a weight and a sadness to it, but I think it absolutely has to happen at the same time, because that’s how I prepare them to negotiate the world that they live in.””
I’ve been thinking a lot about how to approach this with Miles when he’s older. It’s not going to be easy, the first time I tell him that people will look at him differently because his skin is brown. I hate that I will have to tell him that at all. But I absolutely must. He needs to know about racial bias from me and his Dad before he encounters it out in the world and is surprised. We need to prepare him for it, just like black parents would do.
At 19 months, I tell him every day how beautiful I think he is and how much I love his brown skin and curly hair. His favorite book right now is Chocolate Me by Taye Diggs, which is all about how special and wonderful and beautiful “chocolate” skin is. I don’t know if he notices that the main character looks like him yet, but I think he might. We read kids’ books that feature black characters like Spike Lee’s Please, Puppy, Please all the time. It’s not much, but these are simple things that I can do (in addition to building a community of color) while he’s still very young that I hope will help lay the foundation for confidence and pride in his blackness.
Kristen says it best in the article: “My job for 18 years is to just pour into them and give them every resource that I can so they can mitigate this and be the best person they can be.”
Watch the video if you get a chance. It’s worth the time.
Photo credits: Yahoo! Parenting