Navigating Race and Transracial Adoption

Last October, I attended Navigating the Intersections of Transracial Adoption, with Torrey E. Carroll, MA, LPC & Nikki M. Carroll, MA, LPC, as the keynote speakers at the AKA Virtual Conference.

While I thoroughly enjoyed this dynamic duo couple who were engaging, educated, and provided great material with first-hand experience, this event was more difficult for me to process.

First off, everyone was using the chat feature to comment. I commented and said, “…my mixed race sons…” Someone quickly chatted back with a critique and said “her friend” hates it when someone asks if her son is “mixed”. She said her friend prefers bi-racial. Someone quickly came to my defense and said that people should be able to self-identify how they wish. I appreciated the support.

First, I wondered if her friend was a biological mother or a transracial adoptive mother. There is a difference.

The female, who obviously was not personally involved in an interracial or a transracial family, was attempting to tell me how I should identify MY family. An online stranger was attempting to tell another online mother who knows nothing about her family or their racial identity how that mother should refer to her kids based on a friend’s preference. That is truly disturbing. It is egotistical!

Sadly, this happens often in the adoption community. Everyone is an expert, even those who have no personal connection to or experience with adoption.

Over the last couple decades, we have had white transracial adoptive parents wanting to lead the racial dialogue because now that they have adopted a black or brown child, they feel entitled to speak and educate. They share their daily encounters of their struggle with race, as the white adoptive parents of a transracial adoptee who is navigating his or her way in white spaces, while at the same time, often denying and starving their black and brown children from their ethnic birthright, culture, and images of people who reflect their identity.

Blog followers and news media platforms love these white transracial adoptive parents and will empathetically broadcast their story nationwide and give them space to talk about race because hearing it from a white man and a white woman who adopted transracially is way more validating than hearing it from black or brown men and women themselves or an interracial couple with kids.

These stories also fluff the White American image. That’s white privilege.

Black families don’t just worry about one child within their family but worry about each member in their family, from parents, to children to extended members like uncles, aunts, cousins and so on. #BlackLivesMatter

When I gave birth to my first born son, I mostly heard the term “mixed” from Black/African American women. They’d walk over to me when my son was an infant or a toddler sitting in the grocery cart and ask, “Is he mixed?” I knew what they meant. I certainly am not going to disrespect the women from my son’s culture. They had been living Black in America much longer than my son. They were not being mean or insulting. They were being friendly and I appreciated their social acceptance and kindness shown to me, rather than a bigoted look or indifference.

I prefer mixed a whole hell of a lot better than mulatto which sounded like another word from slavery. In addition, let us not forget that White people have been labeling Black people for years with their racial words, stripping them of power and rights and even disqualifying them as fully human.  

The truth is I had used the term bi-racial until I did my son’s DNA. I now know that my sons are not just African and European (black/white) American. Biracial “bi” denotes two. My sons also have a small amount of Asian and Native American Indian. They truly are of mixed-race ancestry.

 “Never ASSUME, because when you ASSUME, you make an ASS of U and ME.” Jerry Belson

When I was writing this, I asked my two sons how they self-identify. My 22 year old son that was parented by me identifies as a Black American or a Black man and prefers that over African American. My 21 year old son that was adopted out transracially by a white family identifies as African American. At the same time, they don’t tell me how I need to racially identify them as my sons.

As the speakers continued their conversation, I tried to focus more on them then the conversation side bar. The topics of discussion appeared to be geared towards those fostering, hoping to adopt, transracial adoptive parents, adoptees, and adoption professionals who are key factors in this industry. To be fair, I only attended day two of this keynote event.

This topic is important to me because my biological birth son was placed in a transracial adoptive family. I have been listening to, learning from, and advocating for adoptees for many years. But I am acutely interested in hearing the stories by transracial adoptees and adoptive parents.

Since I have my own years of lived experiences, in a mixed/interracial family, being the biological white mother of two sons with brown skin, one while parenting who was connected to both sides of his family, one while participating in open adoption through letters, emails, pictures, phone calls/txt, social media, overnight visits and shared family vacations over the years, I have unique awareness and insight within this topic. One that is often overlooked.

My son’s, whom was placed as an infant twenty one years ago into a white adoptive family that I chose for him, experience is very important to me. My choice gave him that experience. I not only live with my consequences that have impacted me, but also how my choice has impacted both of my sons; one son, as a transracial adoptee, and the other son, as a sibling living without his brother by his side. 

The Carroll’s shared their experiences as both a Black/African American couple living in America and as transracial adoptive parents. They shed light and brought awareness to those who may not have seen or experienced racial prejudices while navigating in American society. They were helping to expose our own biases and our naivety, to better prepare and guide those who have or who are seeking to foster or adopt transracially, and educate the professionals, who have a great amount of power handling these cases, make better choices.

It was truly refreshing to hear a Black/African American couple speaking on transracial adoption.

They also talked about their path to adoption through foster care. In these scenarios’, birth parents have little or no rights, so their voice has most often been silenced. However, I believe it is truly important when having these conferences and conversations, that we equally give voice to birth parents in some way.

Birthparents who have chosen transracial adoption for their child have every right to participate in these spaces. I attended two other conference events the same weekend, both female presenters, one of which was by an adoptive mother and a social worker, and they both paid tribute to birth parents/families. I felt valued. They showed empathy and importance to every role and voice in this complicated topic.

As a keynote speaker (a person who delivers a speech that sets out the central theme of a conference), this is probably the most important event where all guests attending feel included. When we don’t give a voice to certain roles in this conversation, we make them less human. We devalue them.

We must remember that without a birth parent, adoption does not exist. There is no singular story within adoption nor with one birth mother or father because most often, there was not one single event that triggered or caused a child to be forcibly removed, relinquished or even stolen from his or her family.

We have learned the great biases and systemic racism exist in our foster care system towards minority and/or poor families. Adoption should not be a solution for poverty. We need to find better ways to help care for families who are experiencing poverty rather than removing their children, intentionally forcing trauma, giving them to strangers, and then paying their new care providers a monthly subsidy.

As Americans, we all become financially responsible for foster kids for the rest of their childhood through our tax dollars. And possibly for the rest of their lifetime, depending on how badly the trauma impacted them. We pay child support every time a child goes into foster care. I would much rather my tax dollars help support a poor family of origin care for their children than to give child support to a foster family who could possibly have a higher income than me. I have seen it happen.

Obviously, we don’t want Americans abusing our system. Our economy works best when everyone is participating and contributing. There is a difference between giving a hand-up versus giving a handout. There are programs that help mentor parents become more educated and better equipped to manage their parenting role and financial stability. But we need more programs! When we participate in our own recovery and achievements, this brings pride and confidence. It makes us better equipped to handle those events if they occur again in the future.

On the other hand, we do not want any child to remain in an abusive home. No child should have to endure a childhood of abuse; physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, or neglect. I watched the Gabriel Fernandez story on Netflix. I was in shock and disbelief. It seemed like everyone failed him! However, I also know that foster and adoptive children (Hart Family) have experienced some of the same horrors and fatal fate that Gabriel experienced. The hope that Gabriel could have been protected by foster or adoption care is one that I hold onto with optimism. Without hope, we have nothing. But even hope cannot provide any guarantees and sadly, neither does foster or adoption care.

Adoption itself is complicated. But transracial adoption has greater accountability. As a mother, I don’t want my sons to ever feel tokenized.

DFW Crossroads

One year ago, last September, after clocking out for the day, I walked down the hall to catch the elevator.

As I headed to the elevator and pushed the call button, the elevator doors slide open and a tall young man with a rolling suitcase and a puzzled look slowly exits the elevator. I wait for him to exit and then proceed to enter the elevator. I see him look over to his right and then over to his left like he does not know which way to go. As the doors are getting ready to close, I see him turn, facing the elevator and I realize he needs help. So I stopped the doors from closing, exit the elevator and we begin to converse.

I figured he may need help locating his floor or find an office. Although, seeing him coming off the elevator with a suitcase did catch me off-guard.

He asked me if this is the way to the airport terminals. He tells me he is flying out and needs to get to his gate.

I told him that he was not inside the DFW Airport but rather, he was inside an office building. I asked him how he got to our office? I figured he must of drove and parked inside our garage, then took the elevator up.

It is not uncommon for people to drive to our building looking for the DFW airport and terminals. However, usually we encounter them in the garage or on the service road as we are leaving and redirect them on their way. He said his driver dropped him off there.

I felt so bad for this young man, who was now stranded. I could tell he was young and he seemed vulnerable, lost.

I was angry at that driver. How dare he drop off a passenger in the middle of a very large complex with no safe way of walking to an exit or entering inside to the airport. Not to mention the time and security restrictions a passenger needs to get safely to their gate.

While our office is located at the DFW airport, we are not inside the airport. To get inside the DFW airport, you have to drive through the tollbooth. To get to our office, you have to drive on the service road. GPS software sometimes will get the location wrong. And it can be tricky for those trying to navigate with so many signs and options.

I knew there was no easy way, roads or walkways, that connect our building with the airport. In fact, the airport even has tall high security wire fences that resemble prisons.

Could he have called Uber or Lyft? Possibly. But again, locating our office can be tricky. In addition, this would have added time and another expense on top of what had already cost him. And I had no idea how much time he had to get to his gate. For me, it was 10-15 mins of my time. I told him I would take him to his terminal/gate.

I said, “My name is Karen.” He told me his name is Jaden. I thought, wow his name is similar to my sons. As we were walking through the garage towards my car, I joked with him halfheartedly but half serious, looking closely at his eyes, with a somewhat serious tone and said, “You are cool, right? We are cool, right? I don’t usually pick up strange men.” He chuckled and said. “Yes, ma’am.”

I also figured, worse case scenario, our interaction was recorded in the hallway at the elevator. My employer has camera’s both inside our office and outside in the hallway. So I would at least have a “last scene” location.

He too, needed to trust me, a complete stranger. We both called on trust and faith in a moments notice.

On our drive to the airport terminals, I learned that Jaden, who is from a small town in Florida. was away from home for the first time, in his first year of college in Corsicana, TX, also a small town of about 23,000 people.

Jaden had a death in his family, so he was flying home to be with them. He had hired a shuttle service he had located through the college, to drive him to the DFW airport, which is about 75 miles north of his college. The driver took the service road instead of taking the tollbooth road to the airport. The driver then stops at our building, (Jaden said the driver didn’t really know where he was going and basically tells Jaden he needs to get out there), and drops Jaden off at our first floor garage and drives off! He leaves this teenager, who is 1000 miles away from home, 75 miles away from his college, both are small towns, stranded with no where to go in one of the largest cities and largest airports in the United States.

I am piping-mad and so upset that a driver would do something like that. I told Jaden he needs to call the company of that driver and tell them what happened. I told him he should get a refund or at least get a partial refund. I told him that I would be more than happy to confirm his complaint. I even told him I would call them for him!

So yeah, maybe I wanted to drum up my “Karen” skills.

I kept thinking what if this happened to Jaren or Noah. He was close to their age. I would hope that someone would help them in their time of need and keep them safe to their next destination.

I dropped Jaden off at the terminal and got out to say good bye. We took a quick picture. And I even txt’d Jaden three days later to be sure he got home safely to Florida. He responded, he did.

While I still get irritated thinking about what that driver did, I also feel like it was divine intervention. I had an opportunity to help someone. It was like my motherly instincts just took over. Jaden needed a little help and I was in a position to do so. I kept thinking about Jaden’s mother. I wanted to be sure he got safely to his next destination so he could get home to see his family, his mother. I was doing my part, as one mother to another.

The next day, at the office, I shared my story with a couple co-workers. I even got to watch my interaction with Jaden on the video that captured everything. It was interesting to watch it unfold. I saw first hand, that it literally only takes one second to make a choice and make a difference.

I sent Jaden a txt today to see how he was doing and to ask him if he minded if I shared our story and our picture. Jaden gave me his permission and said, “I’m very fine with it.”

Then I sent Jaden a picture of me and MY two sons. I hadn’t told Jaden that I am a mother of two mixed race sons. It didn’t seem necessary or important at the time. Who I am should not be reflected by anyone else but me, as a person and by my actions.

I also had not shared this story or shared this picture on any social media. Only a couple co-workers and my son, Jaren knew. However, the time seems right to do so now.

https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/935me3/an-rnc-speaker-said-cops-would-be-smart-to-racially-profile-her-own-son

With everything going on in our country, and people like Abby Johnson, a white adoptive mom, saying that it would be “smart” for police to racially profile her own trans-racial, mixed-race, adopted son because “he’s going to grow up and he’s going to be a tall, probably sort of large, intimidating-looking-maybe brown man,” I felt it was time to share this story.

Nothing about Jaden’s size or skin color made him intimidating. I had initial concerns only because I did not know him at all! It was a chance encounter and I would have proceeded with caution no matter what the color, gender or age of the person. However, after being with Jaden a short time, I could see and feel his sweet and genuine nature.

I adore Jaden! In the brief moment we shared, he has made such a positive impression on me and I still think fondly of him one year later. I can only imagine how his family and friends must feel to share his presence. I know I have been honored and graced to do so.

I hope one day, when he finishes college and does great and important things, he will look back fondly on our chance encounter as a positive memory, knowing none of us can judge a book by it’s cover. And then pay it forward.

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Hebrews 13:2

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” 1 John 3:17

Jaden and Karen 2019 at the DFW airport terminal

National Adoption Awareness Month 2019

I have read many blogs and articles by adoptive parents and adoptees. It astounds me to hear some of the comments and questions they are faced with as transracial families. Especially since I myself have a mixed race family and have never been asked directly or heard statements that many transracial families have heard. Partly, I think because White adoptive parents maintain their White social groups whereas mixed race families usually have expanded their racial social makeup.

I experienced this first hand one time while visiting Noah’s family in NE.

Sunday morning, we went to their church. I was introduced to one couple with an explanation of who I was. It seemed they had previously been informed of our open adoption relationship and wanted to learn more.

They, who appeared to be White, were married and raised a family, bio kids, who were now grown. They were now fostering a young boy who looked Latino. I think they were about to move from fostering to adoption. But I think they also wanted to maintain a connection with the boy’s mom.

Noah’s parents wanted to invite them over for dinner later that day. They let me know the couple wanted to spend more time with us. While I felt like an experiment, I knew it could impact this young boy and it was worth doing what I could to help.

They came for dinner with their young son.

After dinner is when things got interesting. The guys were downstairs watching TV in the basement. Upstairs, adoption soon became the topic. I started out learning that the husband of the couple was an adoptee himself. His siblings were also adopted. The wife began to talk about their race/ethnic guessing of her husband. She said that they (her husband’s parents and them) think he “may” have Latino or Hispanic. Then she begins to discuss the adopted brother of her husband and in a different tone says they “suspect” he has Black in him.

The words caught me instantly! I am sure no one else thought anything of it. I thought, wow, the brother who could possibly be Black is already a “suspect” without doing anything but being born. Why did she change her words from “may have Latino” to “suspects he is Black”? It’s not like HE was hiding is race. Was it because the agency purposefully withheld this info or truly didn’t know? Or because if the adoptive parents knew, they would not have adopted him? This was probably in the sixties so a different time no doubt. Did the possibly Black brother need to hide his Blackness in order to maintain his place in the White family?

Noah just happened to come upstairs in the middle of this conversation. I became immediately concerned about the impact on him. I looked at him and tried to interpret his facial expressions and body language. Even though I am not his parenting mother, I am still his mother and worry about him as an adoptee and a mixed race male.

Then the conversation turns to transracial adoption. The wife then drops the bomb.

She said (while referencing to Black/African), “We could never adopt a child of mixed race.” She went on to say that she thought raising a child of another race would be too hard. As she said the final too words, Noah looks directly to her and said, “too hard” in sync with her. My heart sank. I was dumbfounded and speechless. I could not believe she made this statement in front of my son or in front of me.

I began to wonder how often my son Noah had to endure comments like this. What message is this saying to him? Raising him is more challenging than raising White kids?

Then she looks at Noah’s mom and provides praise to her for raising a mixed race adoptee. Noah’s mom just silently stares at her.

And here I am, standing among this group as the microaggressions of racism seep out into this conversation and not one considers the impact on me or my son. Should I feel more ashamed for organically conceiving mixed race kids and birthing them or for relinquishing my rights to one so a White family could raise him in a difficult and bias world. To be honest, it is the latter. But this was the first time I was made to swallow the rife first hand, as if I was subhuman.

Thankfully, Jaren was downstairs. And I wonder if he was present, would the conversation have even veered in that direction.

These conversations are not something I have encountered as a parenting mother of a mixed race son. Nor have I heard someone tell Jaren that they couldn’t raise mixed race children because it would be too difficult. Nor thank me in front of Jaren for raising a mixed race son as if my role was superior to that of any other mother or father parenting their child. What an awful burden to place on a child.

These conversations are for White folks who feel safe in White spaces. I look back at this conversation and get angry with myself. I wish I had stuck up for myself and my sons. I should have explained that I am proud to have mixed race sons. They were conceived out of deep love and passion for their father. And nothing about their race makes it difficult for me to parent. I am fiercely protective of both of them.

Being Black should never be something to hide or feel ashamed of. Nor should a child be made to feel guilty for being born Black, or told their race or “blackness” makes life more difficult for their family.

Setting Privileges

In ONE week at work, yes in one week, I heard comments that would make my jaw drop and leave me stumped for words.  Some comments were directly against the Ethics Code of Conduct.  Others fall somewhere in between.  The comments came from various people; male, female, Black/African American, Latino, and White.

The first comment I heard was during our department’s holiday dinner at a local restaurant.  As we were waiting on our meals, one of the ladies began to throw shade at the employee who was in charge of organizing our holiday celebration because she wrote “Holiday Party” instead of “Christmas Party” on the email invite.  I was surprised.  Especially, because Hanukkah overlapped with Christmas this year.  Did she assume that everyone at our table was all of christian faith, that we all celebrate Christmas?  Or did it not matter to her?  I wondered if she ever looked at our corporate holiday calendar in Florida where they have off for Rosh Hashanah and other Jewish holidays.  While we don’t have those holidays off in our state, our corporation does recognize and honor the importance of other religious holidays besides christian holidays.  I wondered if she knew that my department has an employee who is Muslim, who does not have any paid holiday leaves for his religious holiday.  In addition, his religious holiday comes and goes without much to-do as I am almost certain that many do not even know what spiritual holiday he celebrates or when.  On the other hand, those of us who celebrate Christmas have at least a month long nationwide celebration and some still feel the need to complain?

The next comment was about adoption.  While in the ladies room at work, I ran into a coworker that I used to sit across from.  I asked her about the kids and her baby that she had given birth to a couple years prior.  She said the kids were all good and that the baby was now three and then jokingly said he was handful and bad.  We both laughed, knowing the challenges of toddlers.  Then she asked me if I “wanted him” because she was about to give him away for adoption.  That comment left me speechless.  I was at a loss for words.  She does not know my story, that I am a birth mother who relinquished her parental rights and gave my son away for adoption.  And while I know she was joking, her comment was no joke to me.  I thought about my son and all adoptees.  I wondered if he was in that room and heard that comment, what message it was saying to him.  That a child who is bad will be given away because their parents don’t want them anymore?  I certainly did not choose to relinquish my son to adoption because I didn’t want him.  And sadly, when I shared this experience with a coworker she confessed that she has made that exact comment about her adolescent son and has heard others say the same.  I agree.  I heard that statement thrown around jokingly in my younger years.  But now it’s different.  I can’t help but think how careless our words can be or how unthoughtful we are to make jokes about children who are surrendered, orphaned, abandoned, and fostered due to unfortunate circumstances.  None of which are because they are bad children.

Next, the topic was about the criminal justice system.  My supervisor was talking about her upcoming jury duty.  This began much chatter on the floor.  Coworkers began laughing and making jokes.  One coworker said they [the person on trial] were guilty and that our supervisor should give them “the chair”; so much for the fair trial theory, for an unbiased jury to gather the information and deliver a fair verdict.  On a personal level, my coworkers do not know about my father, his crime, or his imprisonment.  While my father may have been very far away in a prison cell, he was alive.  I wonder if my life would have been different if he had been executed for his crime.  As a child, would that have impacted me differently?  I don’t think people can understand what that’s like to be the child of a convicted felon and truly comprehend how the general population views your convicted parent.  Although they were not talking about my father directly, they were speaking about his actions.  I have very mixed feelings about this topic.  While it was difficult to not have my father around, I am glad he served his prison sentence.  While I wish he would have never got involved in this crime that caused tremendous emotional impact on our whole family, I am glad he was not sentenced to death.

Lastly, I asked a new co-worker how she liked working for our company.  She shared with me her thoughts and then she began to share with me about her previous job and the reason she left.  She talked about her old boss and then called him a “fag”.  She quickly followed up by saying she didn’t hate gay people but…

I was trying to gather my thoughts and grapple for words in this conversation.  I have family members who are gay.  More importantly, this person does not know me well enough to know whether or not I am gay.  It never ceases to amaze me how people who have been discriminated for their gender, their religion, their race can then turn around and use such discriminatory words or actions towards another group.  How can we ever move forward if we cannot see outside our bubble?

setting-privileges-2

I recently had to call into the IT department.  When I did so, the tech asked me to find “Setting Privileges”.  Then he began to inform me what I needed to do for my computer to recognize which privileges I needed in order to perform my daily task.  I thought about that and how that related to the human population.   Are we born and programmed with certain privileges?  And, do those preset privileges enhance or diminish our social status?

Our country?

Our race or cultural?

Our economic class?

Our religion?

Whether we were born gay or not?

Whether we were born with special needs or a disability or not?

Whether we were born into our family or adopted into our family?

These are just some.  There are still more that can factor into our privileges and human experience.

But, should our privileges give us the right to make fun of others?  Should they give us power, control, or a sense of entitlement?

In computing,privilege is defined as the delegation of authority over a computer system. A privilege allows a user to perform an action. … Users who have been delegated extra levels of control are called privileged.

Privilege (computing) – Wikipedia

Do All Lives Really Matter?

What does a family, a community, a city, a country, or a world look like when All Lives Matter?

I live in the Dallas-Ft Worth Metroplex.  And as most everyone knows, we had a recent shooting where five police officers were shot and killed while working a peaceful Black Lives Matter Movement event in downtown Dallas, Texas.

The first time I saw the “Black Lives Matter” meme, it was in a Facebook post the summer of 2014.  There wasn’t any added comment or explanation of the post.  At the time, I didn’t realize it was a movement.  I thought it was a new creative meme.

black-lives-matters

When I saw the post, it immediately brought to mind a conversation that I had had the previous day with my son’s godfather.  I am someone who is very aware of synchronicity and divine intervention.  I am in awe when these occurrences happen in my life, as if I am being divinely guided by some spiritual being.   It actually happens quite often but that is a post for another time.

I commented on the Black Lives Matter post.

I explained how I had just had a conversation with my son’s godfather, who was very depressed after losing his partner, Jose of eighteen years.  He had even contemplated suicide.  After he and I talked, I got ready to leave and walked to my car.  I started my car and was about to leave when this overwhelming thought came into my mind.  I thought about the time my high school friend, Mark, committed suicide a couple years after graduating and how I was the last friend to see him alive, dropping him off at his home the previous day and him saying things to me like, “nice knowing you,” and how I didn’t take him serious.  I’ve had many regrets about that over the years.  Could I have said something that would have mattered?

So, I got out of my car, walked over to my son’s godfather, who was standing in front of the house, stood directly in front of him, made clear eye contact and said, “Your.Life.Matters.”

We were both brought to tears and it was an emotional moment.  I had to be sure this time I made it perfectly clear.  Sometimes we just don’t get a second chance.

Well, the response or reply I got back from this page was not a favorable one.  She did acknowledge that it was great how I was there to help my son’s godfather through his time of need but accused me of combating the “Black Lives Matter” with the “All Lives Matter” antidote, which was a statement that was included in my comment.

At first, I was hurt and offended.  I was unaware of the movement.  I was sharing a moment.  I felt God had given me this sign or affirmation of what had happened the previous day.  This person didn’t know me personally.  She made a quick assumption and most likely assumed something about me, based on my Facebook profile picture.  And my first thought was to respond harshly and tell her just that.  But I waited.  I cooled down.  And I began to do some research.  Lord knows, my mixed family has had our own experiences with discrimination.

I had to ask myself, “What was my true intent?  Was it to combat this post from the Black Lives Matter to the All Lives Matters?”  My answer was clear.  No.

So I explained exactly that to her.  I apologized to her and told her that my intent was not to downplay the importance of “Black Lives”.  I shared with her a recent post that I had written in response to the current events and told her that I understand the hypocrisy in America.

https://onewomanschoice.wordpress.com/2014/08/16/it-all-comes-down-to-race/

As a child, one of the quotes that I heard often was, “Actions speak louder than words.”  The truth is we can say “All Lives Matter” in response to the “Black Lives Matter” but our American history tells us that just simply is not or has not been so.  It is a thought; it is a spiritual truth and principle.  But is not an action that we actively participate to create.

Let me explain the problem with the duality of these two movements.

When I gave birth to my first born son, Jaren, many of my family members were upset with me.  They had racist ideas and prejudice feelings towards my newly formed mixed-race family.  Some overcame their racism, some learned how to mask them in my presence and some refused to acknowledge me or my son.  We had been cutoff and were not welcome.  My step father, who came into my life when I was five years old and became my primary father figure while my biological father was in prison, took the longest to overcome his narrow-mindedness.  He disowned me and my newborn baby.  He did not accept his grandson, Jaren, until twelve years later.

We came face to face one time with my step father at the local custard stand back home, where he and my mother were sitting in the car.  My sister talked me into walking over to the car in hopes he would finally get to meet Jaren, who was two years old at the time.  My sister hoped our father would miraculously overcome his bigotry.  He didn’t.  He refused to look at or speak to me or my son.

Now during that time, I knew that my son’s life mattered.  And I am sure I made the statement a time to two to my mother and siblings.  I could have, maybe even should have said, “Jaren’s life matters,” to my father that day.  And he could have responded, “All my grandchildren’s lives matter.”  And while both statements are true, it still does not resolve the issue that one is being discriminated against and excluded solely based on his race and skin color while the others are not.  The issue is being ignored.

On top of that, my family could have said this is not right.  Karen and Jaren are family.  They could have voiced their opinion and acknowledged the wrongful acts.  But they did not.  My older brother, sister and their spouses were the only ones to at least acknowledge to me that they didn’t feel it was right for the way I was being treated.  However, they would not voice their opinion or outraged to our father.  Why?  Did they fear he would exclude them from his graces too for speaking up?  Or did they believe deep within that it was okay for me and my son to be treated that way?

“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”  ~ Dr Martin Luther King

After the Dallas Police shooting, our church hosted “A Call to Action.”  I quickly began to see “Blue Lives Matter” social media memes along with front yard signs with this same campaign slogan supporting police officers.  And while I know it was criminally and morally wrong for someone to shoot those police officers, it seemed to me that those who did not want to acknowledge the Black Lives Matter movement could now protest with their Blue Lives Matter movement, just like the All Lives Matter movement was attempting to do.

On the other hand, sadly, when nine church members were shot and killed sitting in their church, where was the outraged?  Where were the protests?  Where was the Call to Action?  How many shared a Twitter or Facebook post of sadness or support of the innocent lives that were taken that day?  I can tell you that my church was pretty silent on the issue.  There surely wasn’t any Christian Lives Matter movement, hash-tags or memes floating around social media.  And why?  Because they were nine Black Christians?  If a gunman, especially a black gunman walked into a white church and killed nine white church members, there would be an outcry and outrage.  No doubt in my mind.

I’m not sure I understand how some can dislike the Black Lives Matter movement because it sounds like it excludes All Lives (Black Lives Matter has never, ever insinuated that other lives don’t. ), but then support or hash-tag Blue Lives Matter which also happens to be a select group.  I’ve even recently seen All Dogs Matter.  But the actual movement was created by and for Black Lives.  To use it for ones own agenda is a form of plagiarism and appropriation.

A few months back, Jaren and his friend had a very real experience and encounter with police.  He and his friend were stopped and questioned for “suspicious behavior”. It was late, after mid-night.  They had been walking around catching Pokémon and were on their way back home, walking through a church parking lot when two police cars surrounded and cornered them.  Two white police officers got out of one of the cars. One officer had a rifle in his hand with his finger on the trigger.

What is so suspicious about two grown kids (18 year olds) walking around that police felt they needed to be armed and ready to shoot? And they needed two cars? Does my son look that scary or like a criminal?

Jaren said one officer was calm and cooperative.  He had heard about the Pokémon Go game.  However, he said the other officer, the one with the rifle in hand, was stone-faced.  This encounter shook up my son and he admitted he was scared.  I’ve encountered the police several times while in high school.  Two times, I was taken to the police station because drugs were found in the car.  Not once, even when the car was full of white teenage and young adult males and females, did they ever pull a gun on us ready to shoot.

Jaren has been taught to respect the police.  In elementary school, Officer Tommy would come to the school and visit with the kids.  Officer Tommy also worked at our local mall.  When Jaren saw Officer Tommy at the mall, Jaren would always say hi.  And sometimes Jaren would want to stop by the police shop located in the mall just to say hi to Officer Tommy.  Jaren had no reason to fear the police and has always been respectful.  On top of that, Jaren’s father and Uncle are both police officers.

I am so very thankful that our boys got home safe.  But not all boys or men who are unarmed do.  Some get shot.

I’ve wondered, if something happened to my son that night, would my family, friends, church members still stand silent?  Would they think that my son and his friend must have done something to cause their fatal fate?  Or would they believe that sometimes innocent or non-threatening people, especially black men can get shot just because they are black?  Would my community protest on behalf of my son and his friend for their injustice?  Would they stand firmly with me and host a Call to Action on their behalf?

We all have aspects that connect us; it may be our language, religion, ethnicity, race, country, community, or social or economic status.  It could even be our disability.  That’s natural.  That’s human nature.  But…when we are unable or unwilling to see another side of the story, when we ignore the facts, when we allow that which connects us to also separate us from others we create or perpetuate issues in our society.  When we honor or value the lives of those with certain job titles over that of the average civilian, when we feel more for those who look like us than those who don’t, that’s an issue.  When we become distrustful of someone solely because of their race or differences we are not acting in the true sense of the slogan that All Lives Matter.

The truth is America has had a history of systematic racial discrimination against black lives.  Black lives have been stolen, kidnapped, owned, enslaved, bought and sold, traded, beaten, raped, oppressed, marginalized, hung, and killed with no regard.

So the question is do all lives really matter?

It not just words on paper, or a Facebook or Twitter post.  Real lives are at stake here.

Having a Voice

Having a voice (whether spoken, written or signed) is an important aspect in a society.  We as individuals and as members of a specific group or gender have always had a need to express our voice.

I was watching the TCM channel over the weekend.  One movie was going off and another was getting ready to come on.  The movie ending was a movie about the old west, a Cowboys and Indians kind of movie.  The movie coming on, ‘Murder Ahoy’, a black and white film, released in 1964 was based off of novels and characters written by Agatha Christie.

The movie began with Miss Marple, an elderly female fictional character who appears in numerous novels and short stories by Agatha Christie.  Miss Marple, dressed in a white collar shirt, jacket, and tie, is sitting at a table among all men discussing matters when one of the men suddenly drops over dead.  This sparks her amateur detective instincts to investigate.  As she is following a trail, she slowly walks backwardly down a fire escape.  Two men, who meet her at the bottom, startling her a bit, question her about her motives.  She becomes stern with them and tells them they do not know what has just happened.  They reassure her that they are well aware of what has just happened and then attempt to scoff her off.  She asks them what they are implying.  (We as viewers know what they are implying.)  They deny they are implying anything.  Then they tell her that maybe she is “not herself.”  Miss Marple quickly and sharply responds, “I have always been myself.”

This is a classic example of a woman being presented as equally important as her male counterparts.

Agatha Christie, being a female herself, creates strong women with dialogue that expresses our own ideas and self-worth.  Agatha Christie does not shy away from showing how women may be perceived and the stereotypes or the subtle oppression that exists, but she is able to use her platform to demonstrate how women are resilient, intelligent, have an important voice and are an equal contributor in any society.

Shonda Rhimes is a modern day example of this.

However, the old western movie that was going off, who had imitation Natives, got me to thinking about all the times we have allowed someone else to speak or portray an image for another race or group.

There are so many that I am afraid I will inadvertently leave off some so I will focus on these key groups.

Slave, Black African American, and old western movies, depicting Cowboys and Indians (Native American Indians), were more often written and directed by white men.  It was their vision, their voice, their interpretation, and their dialogue that was written for the world to see, whether it was accurate or not.

I don’t doubt that “some” had good intentions of trying to capture that reality of a time in history but if we are writing from one side of history, we are not truly portraying a true sense of reality.  If one has never been a slave, then one cannot truly understand or comprehend the intensity of what it means to live as a slave or being a direct descendant of a slave.  Can you imagine a white director or writer telling a black man or woman, this is how slaves acted?  Especially during early American film history, when the Black American voice was silenced and oppressed.

Alex Haley, who won a Pulitzer Prize special award in 1977, put names and faces to the American Slaves when he told his true story in Roots which also won a Golden Globe Award for Best TV series – drama that same year.

Same goes for the Wild West movies but with one added element, we didn’t even allow Native Americans Indians to act or portray their own roles in our films.  And if we did, it was minute, with possibly one or two key members among hundreds of imitations.  We either used other ethnic groups with similar characteristics or worse, we used white men and painted them brown.

Our American stories, were written to honor or glorify the white Europeans and early Americans about their fight for this country.  But at what cost?  These stories, whether for politics, for the news, for historical preservation or for entertainment, were written from one side, the white mans.

Sure, we’ve always had sympathy characters to tug at our hearts and make us question our motives and morals but when we turned the last page of the book, or watched the credits roll the screen, Americans went back living life as they always have.

Recently, one of my Facebook friends shared a YouTube documentary video of the history of the African-American Cowboys.  In this video, real American black cowboys shared the history and the stories of their parents and previous generations, stating the origins of the American Cowboy is a culmination of the West African heritage and the Spaniards.  They even shared about the history of the term ‘cowboy’ and how it came from the early American slave days.  As commonly known, black males were referred to as boys, no matter if they were young boys or elderly men, during slavery and even up to the Civil Rights era.  So the term, cow-boy, actually started back during slavery and had a whole different connotation than what it later came to represent in movies and folk-lore, which was a strong, rugged white man, like John Wayne, the Lone Ranger and many other western film icons.  Could that have been early appropriation?

Have you ever watched a movie or a news story, read a book or an article that was written or directed by another race, ethnicity or gender who depicted your race or gender from their perception and felt that it was not a true depiction of you or your family, your history, or your people?  How about when the white race is the minority in the movie?  Or a movie, where instead of hiring people who represent your race or culture, the film crew hired another race, costumed them up with paint and fake hair to depict your race?  And White Chicks does not count.  Has your race ever been eliminated completely from historical facts or were the facts grossly distorted to benefit another race or culture?  Not many of us White Americans have, especially in comparison to other groups?

Can you imagine going to a movie and having to watch people with your skin color or your culture being portrayed as subhuman, primitive heathens, being represented in a subservient manner, always obedient to the white man and when that does not happen, the consequences that resulted.  That’s a systematic oppression.

There are a few other examples of this, too.   Adoption is one.

For years, the books, the blogs and personal interviews relating to adoption were mostly by adoptive parents.  They shared their one-sided view on adoption that society seemed to view as the most worthy, respected voice.

The story or stories that were handed down to the adoptee’s about their original, biological family and why they were available for adoption was communicated by adoption professionals to the adoptive parents who then passed the story to the child, if it was even shared or communicated at all.  We’ve since learned over the years, that many of those stories were not true but a false misrepresentation of the facts to appease a need for a separation and relinquishment to occur.  These false stories were needed in order to create a scorned, bad woman, someone who was lacking moral value, who was poor and negligent and was incapable of loving her own flesh and blood or turned away in cold malice.  Adoption movies also played into the roles and stereotypes.  Ironically, these stories conveniently left the males unmarred, who coexisted in the process of breeding.

Adoptees and biological/relinquishing parents are “flipping the script” and are now speaking up and speaking out in great numbers to set the record straight.

White Americans but mostly White American males have been steering the course of our society for hundreds of years and have been exhibiting their white power and privilege over many centuries.  White Americans started out as a minority in this nation and yet have managed to populate this entire country, almost wiping out the Native American Indian culture.  White Americans have dominated politics, literature, media, and entertainment for years, have exhibited many atrocities on this land, none as great as the atrocities than to that of the Black, African American men and women, and yet somehow still seem to find ways to blame others for the demise of American culture and the American dream.

There is this need in our society to create a good people versus a bad people, a hero and a villain, a sinner and a saint, a better than or worse than, a systemic hierarchy, whether it is true or not.  As in all things, there are always exceptions, there are always some truths.  But when those truths are watered down, diluted or distorted to benefit another person’s ego or personal agenda, this is when we begin to create an oppressed, disturbed and dysfunctional society.  We begin to honor the lies and deny the truths.

Here’s the thing, no matter how many lies are told, how much oppression is exhibited, how many times the legal records, history books, or the legal system tries to distort the facts, sooner or later, the truth will reveal itself.  A lie can never change who we are, from the time we enter this world from the time we bid this world adieu.

The truth is White Americans (both males and females) have also protested and fought for the rights and equal treatment of all humans.  This has been documented and we know this to be true.  There is never an all or nothing in our society.  That’s that great thing about living in a free society and country.  But, as many who have fought for the protection of our equal liberty in our free society, there have been just as many fighting against it.

As humans, having a voice and sharing our voice is as old as life itself.  From early biblical stories to folk lore to early American history, speaking up for things that matter to us, especially when we feel we have been forgotten or neglected or oppressed is a natural human instinct.  We all have the same basic needs and our voice helps us attain that need.

Race, Price and Ethics in Adoption

When I came to Texas back in the early 1990’s, my boyfriend and I talked about having kids.  We lived together on a 100 acre property south of the Dallas/Ft Worth metroplex.  I remember having some blank note cards that had these beautiful painted American Indian/Latino children in a southwest desert setting.  They were so adorable.  In my ignorance, I said, “If we adopt, I want a baby who looks like this.”  I see now how these thoughts were and are unethical.

Sonny, my boyfriend at the time, who actually does have some American Indian ancestry along with European, has light hair and light eyes.  I too have European heritage.  So the chances of us producing an offspring with these characteristics were very rare.

The idea that I thought I could just choose whatever kind of child I wanted because I was adopting, as if children (especially vulnerable children who have been separated from their biological family) are cataloged merchandise and are there to please my needs sounds absurd and yet people do this all the time.

To be honest, I don’t know if I would have understood this prior to me giving birth and relinquishing my parental rights.

I have read many articles and have heard people say how they have always loved Asian children or Latino children and so forth and how they think they are so cute.  So when some of those people decide to adopt, they will often say similar phrases as the reason they chose to adopt outside their race.

Here is the issue.  More often, those same people have never dated anyone from that particular race.  And many would never even consider dating or marrying someone from that race.  So how is it that someone could have always loved “blank” babies but not like “blank” adults?  Babies grow up to be adults.

Saying you want to adopt an American Indian baby when you are not American Indian or making sure the baby you adopted has the ethnic or race that you specified to the agency that you wanted to adopt sounds privileged.  Could it be a deal breaker?

The other thing I have heard as a reason to adopt either outside of one’s own race or oversees was because it was cheaper.  I’ve heard adoptive parents say, “We were planning on adopting here in America but the agencies wanted to charge $35,000 to $40,000 so we decided to explore our options oversees.”  Likewise, I’ve heard similar comments made about adopting domestically from a minority race here in America.

Placing value and worth on a child is unethical especially when it differs due to one’s race, skin color, age, orphaned status or one’s biological background.

Saying you decided to adopt oversees because it was “cheaper” sounds like you are trying to get the best deal or a bargain basement price for something (a human being) that should never be dollar driven or as an incentive.  Cars have incentives.  Department stores have deals and bargains on merchandise.  Human beings are neither of those.  And adoption agencies are not dealers or retailers.

We understand when people want to adopt within their race.  It makes for less obvious scrutiny.  Adopting outside of your race can be more complex.  But when we adopt outside of our race because we decided to settle for something other than what we initially wanted, or we feel sorry for another race as if they are disadvantaged, or because the expense is cheaper, or because it is trendy, or because we want to prove we are not racist, or because we feel it is our right to buy whatever kind of child we want, what does that say about who we are and what we are willing to do to buy babies or children.

When someone has their heart set on adopting or they are acting out of desperation, we know that logic does not always trump ethics.  But that is no excuse for behaving unethically.

It is time to review unethical behaviors, thoughts and practices so we can improve the adoption experience and allow it to become a necessity only after all other options and avenues have been explored.  This is when we use adoption to link children with parents that are best suited for each other which should neither be driven by race or dollars.

white mothers of mixed-race children

mulatto diaries

I want to be a part of this research!  I’ve long been fascinated by the “white mom having” vs. “black mom having” biracial experience.  One similarity I can glean from my own “black mom having” experience and what is written in this article about that of the white mothers is the scrutiny.  I vividly remember my mother’s parenting being scrutinized by the mothers of my white classmates and some of the school faculty as well.

Do Racist Attitudes Hinder Mothers Of Mixed-Race Children?

via, Adapted from materials provided by University of Royal Holloway London, via AlphaGalileo.

Professor Ravinder Barn and Dr Vicki Harman from the Centre for Criminology and Sociology at Royal Holloway, University of London are carrying out research into white mothers of mixed-race children. It is part of a wider study of mixed-race children and young people that has spanned more than two decades.

Parenting…

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What some intended for harm, God intended for good, part 1

My first born son is a high school junior this year.  It’s hard to believe.  I think back to the time when I first discovered I was pregnant with Jaren.  Yes, he was unexpected.  Yes, he was not planned and under my own limited human perception, unintended.  And even with all that, I was not afraid of my future or our future together; despite his father’s lack of enthusiasm.

Even my family was happy for me.  Until…

Yes, until.

Until about seven months into my pregnancy, they learned that my future son would be half of another race of a man that they did not know nor ever met.  Jaren’s father was mostly African American along with some American Indian.  They acted as if I had done the most horrific thing.  And although I was thirty-four years old and lived more than a thousand miles away, they began to scheme on ways to talk me into getting rid of my baby who had not even been born yet

Then the phone began to ring.  This is how coercion begins.  Mom’s sister called first.  I had not talked with my aunt or seen her in many years.  However, she is calling me not to congratulate me or support me or to ask me how I was doing; no, none of those things.  She was calling me to ask me to “give up” my future infant for adoption.  She was very persuasive in her argument.  Even though just months before she had supported my pregnancy and was a guest at a baby shower given in my honor by my family back home, race had now played a very big factor in my decision to parent my own child.  She thought it would be more difficult to raise a bi-racial son as a single mother.  Apparently raising a white infant is easier than raising a bi-racial infant, especially if the race includes African or a darker skinned race.

It’s not like I didn’t know how my family felt about race.  I remember as a teenager, my mother had a variety of cabbage patch dolls.  One of them was a black cabbage patch doll.  When my niece was a toddler, she would play with the cabbage dolls and carry them over to my step dad.  He would allow my niece to place them in his lap except for one.  Whenever she placed the black cabbage patch doll in his lap, he would throw the doll across the room and call it a derogatory name.  Not the n-word but other derogatory names.  My niece would go get the doll, give it back to him, scold him, and they would repeat this performance several times.

So I knew my family didn’t really care about my role as a single mother.  Neither was their concern that this new offspring that extended from our family tree would get adequate care under my supervision.  They were masking the truth.  They didn’t want to be the family with the daughter who got pregnant by a black man.  They wanted that branch to be removed or at the very least hidden.  If they could just talk me into getting rid of my new baby boy and hide him away through adoption, they would have succeeded; they would have won the coercion battle.

But God had different plans for my son and me.

You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.  Genesis 50:20

I don’t know where I would be if I had allowed my family to convince me that parenting my child was wrong.  I’ve thought about that many times over the years.  What if Jaren was somewhere out there in the world and I had no idea where he was?  It’s heartbreaking to think about.  Thankfully, I was stronger and God was louder and I am so very thankful I listened

God has been my source of empowerment and has continued to support and guide me all these years.  I won’t say it’s been easy as a single mother but most things in life are not easy.  But parenting my son has been worth it.  As for the racial aspects, I don’t think it has impacted my life negatively.  I would say I have benefited from the things I have learned as a mother of a mixed-raced family.  Sure, I’ve faced race issues but nothing that I have not been able to handle.  In fact, I would say my family has caused me more hardship about race than society in general.  All of which has helped me learn more about the human race and has increased my understanding and compassion.

As for my son, he is my life.  He has brought so much joy into my world.  He has raised my soul to another level of conscious learning.  I have experienced the greatest love I have ever known.  And I am so proud to have been chosen by God to be his mother.