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What I’ve Learned as the White Mother of Three Black Children

Image Source: Rachel Garlinghouse
Image Source: Rachel Garlinghouse

In 2007, my husband and I entered into our adoption journey with eagerness and anticipation. Once we had completed the home study process, we began waiting … And waiting. And waiting.

For 14 months, we waited.

Our adoption profile — a book of happy photos and descriptive captions sharing who we were and what we believed in — was shown to almost 15 different expectant mothers, all carrying white baby boys. We had prepared ourselves for the possibility of parenting a child of another race, but it seemed as though we were destined to parent a child who shared our skin color.

Until a call came in the fall of 2008, while my husband and I were painting the kitchen.

His cell phone rang, the screen displaying an unfamiliar number. He took the call, and I watched as his eyes grew wide. He handed the phone to me. On the other end was the adoption agency’s new social worker, and she had news: We had a daughter, already born.

Three days later, my daughter was in my arms. She had a full head of black hair, smooth brown skin, and deep chocolate eyes. She was nothing like the baby I had envisioned; she exceeded every expectation. And I was absolutely honored to be chosen as her mother.

Fast-forward to today: My husband and I now have three children, all of whom are black. In the eight years since we welcomed our first daughter home, we’ve experienced a lot as a transracial family by adoption, much of which the adoption textbooks never came close to preparing us for.

Some of what I’ve learned, I’ll admit has been shocking.

People who look like me are the heroes in almost every single book, movie, and television show. I’m always believed, always trusted, always given the benefit of the doubt …
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As a white woman raised in an all-white family, I grew up unknowingly privileged. I’ve never been followed by a security officer in a store, pulled over and interrogated by the police, or called a “thug” or “ghetto” or worse. I’ve never been othered, or referred to as one of “those” people. People who look like me are the heroes in almost every single book, movie, and television show. I’m always believed, always trusted, always given the benefit of the doubt because of the color of my skin. I’m assumed to be educated, polite, and kind.

My children’s experience, however, is not the same as mine. Despite the colorblindness many people proclaim, I know that such a thing doesn’t exist. Every person sees color, and color is intricately interwoven with beliefs about the individual: from their character and education to their motives and morals.

Never before did this come into such sharp focus than one day last year, when we ran into an acquaintance who hadn’t seen my son in some time. She commented on how much he had grown and changed since she last saw him, to which I replied that yes, he is a big boy for his age. “What a cute little thug,” she said in reply.

That last terrible statement flew straight from her mind to her mouth, and it hung in the air long after she left.

But as shocking and devastating as this was to hear, it reminded me yet again that sadly, she spoke what many people believe to be true: even the youngest black boys are budding troublemakers. At that time, my son had just turned two years old.

My children aren’t pets. They aren’t accessories. They do not exist to be admired or examined.
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The discrimination and stereotyping isn’t limited to just black boys, though. My girls often wear their hair in beaded cornrows, a style that is considered protective since it helps hair retain moisture and assists in growth. When they do, strangers often try and touch their hair, no doubt out of curiosity. However, there is little regard for my children as people with a right to personal space, privacy, and of course, safety.

My children aren’t pets. They aren’t accessories. They do not exist to be admired or examined. My girls learned from an early age to tell people, “Do not touch my hair. I do not like it.” For those who are surprised that such a seemingly innocent curiosity is inappropriate, know that this is just one of many microaggressions people of color face on a daily basis.

As a mom of black children, I have many fears for my children, all of which are based on the realities I’ve grown to understand from both experiences, from research, and from friends of color who have shared their stories with me.   Black children are more likely to be punished at school more harshly and more often than their white peers for the same offenses. Black children face colorism, that is, the ranking of one’s value based on how light or dark the child’s skin is. Black children are more likely to see themselves portrayed by the media in a negative light, see themselves as stereotyped side-kick characters (or worse, as the villain) to white protagonists in films and books, and to fear and distrust police officers and other authority figures such as physicians and teachers. Children are far more aware of the news than we suspect, learning of the deaths of black boys like Tamir Rice, Jordan Davis, and Trayvon Martin.

As for this mother, I have the additional task of preparing my children for the ongoing reality that not everyone will think they are as wonderful and worthy as I do …
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I know that my children will face more obstacles than their white peers. I know that a single month dedicated to black history and a one black president cannot eradicate hundreds of years of racism. I know that I have to discuss with my children how to handle encounters with authority figures much differently than if I were parenting white children. I know that curiosity isn’t a reason to allow adults to use their size and age into forcing my children into submission. I know that I have to very carefully monitor the entertainment my children watch, listen to, and read, understanding that entertainment is a powerful teacher.

Every mother has a big job. Every mother makes mistakes. Every mother wants the best for her kids and hopes that one day, when she releases them into the world, her children will be strong, safe, responsible, and kind.

And as for this mother, I have the additional task of preparing my children for the ongoing reality that not everyone will think they are as wonderful and worthy as I do, but they should seek to be confident and determined, despite the odds and obstacles that inevitably stand in their way.

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Article Posted 4 years Ago

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