I’m a lucky woman. Unlike many of my fellow white adoptive parents of Black children, I really don’t have to deal with overt racists in my social media or IRL universe. I don’t have an uncle with a Confederate flag belt buckle and my neighbors aren’t All Lives Matter hashtaggers. I am regularly invited to Black Lives Matter events by Black and white friends and I am stunned to see some previously pretty uninvolved people I love step up and attend protests and/or begin to sort out their white privilege.

And then there was Cecil.

Now let me be perfectly clear. Cecil the lion’s murder at the hands of an (apparently hideous excuse for a human being) American white guy is tragic. Really! I am in no way minimizing the awfulness of this event.

BUT the sudden and overwhelming volume of posts about the lion’s murder, late night talk show hosts crying, etc gave me a sick feeling in my stomach, especially since the onslaught was nearly simultaneous with the video of yet ANOTHER Black person’s murder (Sam Dubose)  at the hands of a police officer was made public.

After seeing the juxtaposition of posts in my newsfeed, I realized that all of the lion posts were coming from white people and some of my Black friends were posting about how they felt uncomfortable with the focus on the lion, and the push back from white people began.

Why can’t we be upset about both? Cecil’s murder is a symbol of all the bad things happening in the world. There is room for more than one issue.  

NO, and here’s why.

1) Look at your friends list. What percentage of your friends list is Black people? Now, what percentage of the lion posts, in your newsfeed (not including Black people being pissed about coverage of lion but directly about the lion’s murder or the dickwad who shot him) are from Black people? Compare. Disproportionately low I’ll bet.

2) When 9/11 happened, did we need a symbol other than the actual flying of planes into buildings to symbolize the overall fucked-upness of what was going in the world, the 9/11 attacks being one of them? No. We were transfixed. We were horrified. The world came to a stand still. The symbol was the worst part of what was going on in the collective mess! So does anyone actually believe that Sam Dubose’s family, or Sandra Blands’, or Tamir Rice’s family will grieve one iota less than the victims from the World trade Center? Hell no. But the murder of Black people by police can and should be put in the context of all of the bad things going on in the world?? Black murder by police needs a lion mascot??

And here’s a shout out to The People’s Institute’s Undoing Racism workshop that I wrote about earlier this week.

This is something I would have completely missed previously but it’s the perfect example of how, in contrast to how people of other races are seen as a collective, white people are seen (and see ourselves) as individuals and refuse to accept responsibility for the collective impact of our actions.

Honest to goodness awesome people, who I love dearly, posted about Cecil. They are deep down animal lovers. Many of them have also posted about BLM and the murders of Black people by police. Many of them have marched with us. As a matter of fact, one of them posted the Cecil link and within minutes had watched the police body cam video of Sam Dubose’s murder and posted outrage about that. I know this might be hard to understand (because it’s hard to explain) but I really don’t hold any ill will towards the individuals who posted about Cecil.

What I’m pissed about is many white individual’s unwillingness to accept responsibility for, or even acknowledge, the collective impact of white people being upset about Cecil and lumping that outrage in with their outrage about everything else that’s fucked in the world, including the murder of Black people by police.

Because here’s the thing. Where white people’s attention goes, so follows the media, social media, government attention, etc. That sucks but it’s true and we white people, as a collective, need to be better stewards of that power and when called out for individual behavior that creates negative collective impact, deal with it.

And for those white people who consider ourselves allies and have Black friends, how do you think it felt to our Black friends to see the wave of white people posting about Cecil and then connecting his murder with all the other awfulness in the world, Black people being murder by police being part of that? With my personal newsfeed as a guide, I don’t think it felt so good.

You can’t make it into a stuffed animal but actual dead Black people should be the symbol of Black people being murdered.


Here’s one reason why you can’t take the racism out of the race conversation

As parents of transracially adopted children, we frequently have to answer our children’s questions about why (insert race) people do (insert perceived difference) as in, why do Black people talk differently? We then commence to having a conversation with them about cultural differences and frankly, when I have those conversations, they wind up being really stilted and I get concerned that I’m walking a really fine line between explaining in a developmentally appropriate way and reinforcing stereotypes. I don’t think I’m the only one struggling with this and certainly I don’t think it’s exclusively a transracial adoption problem, but a life and death issue for transracially adopted children.

So last week I participated in the Peoples Institute for Survival and Beyond’s Undoing Racism workshop and one of the many things I learned was why these conversations get so weird and unproductive.

The underlying problem with the way we generally talk about racial and cultural differences is that we ignore at least two basic principles of how racism works: 1) white people are the default in our culture and everyone else is other (Don’t buy that? The evidence is as close as your local Wal Mart: the color of band aids, “nude” undergarments, hair care products -with no qualifier- vs ethnic hair care products) and 2) because white is the default, everything other than their whiteness defines who white people are, therefore white people are seen as individuals, whereas anyone not white is defined by their non-whiteness and thus seen as the collective in their other category: Black, Asian, Latino/Hispanic, etc and the most prevalent representation of category in our media and collective consciousness, which is very likely to be super racist representation in and of itself, defines the collective (ie: violent Black people, sexy Latino/as, smart Asians).

So, when our children ask us why (insert race) people do (insert perceived difference) the answer is not found in explaining cultural differences of the other as a deviation from the default (whiteness). It’s found in disabusing our children (and ourselves!) of the notion that the way any group other than white people do anything is different. Different from what? Different from white people is what our unconscious mind tells us and THAT is where racism lies. In the back of our minds, silently whispering and reinforcing these beliefs.

So, there is NO WAY to explain to children why (insert race) people do (insert perceived difference) in a non-racist way without confronting the default status of white people and the resulting individuation of white people and the collective status of everyone else.

This is not a one time answer. It’s a long term dialogue and it requires us to look at our unconscious defaults, bring them up to consciousness, and be able to explain it to our kids. Over and over again if we are to counteract the oppressive nature of the media etc.

It also requires that our children have strong and consistent relationships with people who share their racial identity so they have first hand experience with the individual traits of people of their race instead of being bamboozled by the collective white supremacy reinforces. Transracially adopted children cannot grow up with a healthy sense of self if their only interpretation of their race is facilitate by white people, whether those white people are the powers that be in the media or their parents.


The folly of diversity as the holy grail

So we’re visiting a fellow TRA family in another city and one of the parents and I got into a conversation about diversity in school for our children and something along the following came tumbling out of my mouth: “I don’t care about diversity anymore. School diversity is held up as the holy grail of transracial adoption (TRA) and I’ve worked my butt off to get that for her. I’ve achieved it, in TWO schools, but we’ve seen the same thing in both. She’s got Black friends and of course that’s important but that’s not enough. She’s witnessed her Black friends being over disciplined in relation to their white peers and she’s clearly identified for herself that as the only Back child in her grade in the gifted program, she’s not viewed as being as bright as her white peers.” I was honestly surprised by the intensity of my feelings and words. I was really looking forward to having a relaxing summer for us to regroup and heal from this last school year. The combination of a truly anti-racist summer camp and vacationing with TRA kids who share my daughter’s cultural heritage and are like cousins to her seem to be doing the trick for her but I’m feeling defeated and worried. Based on what I’m reading, it seems as though the key to truly equitable education for Black children lies with a high percentage of Black teachers in the school.

But here’s the rub, in the city where we live and one city where I’ve considered relocating (and this seems to be the case pretty much across the country), schools with high number Black teachers fall into two categories: schools that serve predominantly low income students and as a result of the high need to support struggling students, have very limited/non-existent gift program (which my daughter needs to be effectively engaged and challenged) or high achieving schools that are extremely strict, structured, and high pressure (which would not be a good environment for her given her history and personality).

My friend mentioned that she has a friend with TRA family and they experienced pretty much the same at diverse public schools so they moved their child to a private school where the child is the only Black child and they are finding the situation to be much better related to bias in teaching but, GAH, given the research on the damage caused by Black children being academically & socially isolated from Black peers, that doesn’t seem to actually be a good solution.

So here I am again, sitting in my privilege of choices as a result of my education, social and professional connections, and above all, my whiteness, with no real best case scenario choices for my brilliant Black child. THIS is what racism looks like and I cannot believe how invisible it is to white America, because it certainly was to me, though I definitely thought of myself as a thoughtful and anti-racist white ally. I was wrong and I am heartbroken.

Edit: I’ve gotten some comments on a FB group that leads me to believe that I might not have been completely clear. I’m not arguing against putting TRA kids in diverse schools!!! I’m just saying, I naively thought diversity was the panacea and it’s not. I thought that somehow by living in a progressive and highly diverse community and being really diligent in making decisions for my daughter I could protect her, not from everything but from a lot. I was wrong. I honestly think the school where she is is a best case scenario and yet, it sucks. Not because I should move, or change schools or anything else, but because racism is so engrained in American culture and so unconscious, that there is no real and true best option. It’s just shades of suck and pick your poison. My privilege blinded me to the concept that I will be required to make hard compromises in my daughter’s education simply because she is Black, and that’s why I’m heartbroken.


America’s search for the 21st century Aunt Jemima – updated


America is loving this photo but when I first saw it, I was uncomfortable. When I found out that the child had been adopted by white parents I felt more uncomfortable, but not at all surprised. When I read how much his parents were sharing about this child’s very personal history, I nearly threw up.

Now many parents who have adopted children are extremely proud of the gigantic obstacles their children have conquered -I am one of those parents – and there is nothing wrong with marveling at our children’s resilience and perseverance. But there is something VERY wrong with sharing your child’s history as publicly as these parents have chosen to do. It’s the internet. There are no take backs. This information is following this kid on every date and job interview he goes on for the rest of his life.

And that would be bad enough, but beyond the negative impact on this on this young boy, there is also the dangerous narrative that this image and story perpetuates for us a country. Because there’s a reason this photo went viral, and it ain’t new or good. It’s old and bad.

Nope, it perfectly illustrates both the white savior complex and the idea that affection from white folks turns black folks into “one of the good ones.”

Case in point: Michael Brown, raised by his Black family and he robs a convenience store, magically morphs into the Incredible Hulk, and winds up riddled with a cop’s bullets in the middle of the street. Tamir Rice, raised by his Black family (including his dad who is reported to have had involvement with the criminal justice system), takes a fake gun to the park and is shot by the police before the patrol car even stops rolling. In contrast, this young man in the photo: saved from drugs, abuse, and poverty in his Black birth family and raised by a white family; makes a poster offering free hugs; wears a fetching chapeau; and solves racism by hugging a white cop.

Now let me be clear, I’m not saying that this child should not have been removed from his apparently abusive and neglectful birth family or that his white moms did anything wrong adopting him. What I’m saying is that we, as white adoptive parents of black children, need to be extremely careful of how and when we insert our family’s narrative into the national discussion of racism. Because if we’re not careful, instead of helping to enlighten white folks about their privilege and institutionalized racism, we enable them to have a feel good moment in the midst black folks’ trauma and horror, all the while reinforcing dangerous stereotypes that ultimately damage our very children.

Many friends of mine have posted this photo and more than one has talked about this kid overcoming incredible odds to “change the world.” God bless him, I hope he does change the world one day. But he didn’t change it when he hugged the cop. Instead, he was used as a tool to keep the status quo exactly the way white people want it. The media and social media shares and likes have turned him into the Aunt Jemima of the 21st century, with white lesbian moms for an added splash of modernity.

Update: I wrote the above based on the assumption that the photo in question was an accurate portrayal of a spontaneous and genuine interaction. Since then, it has come to my attention that the photo was staged and cropped to make it look like something it was not, the police officer in the photo was a supporter of Darren Wilson and has not back down from this stance since the photo was taken, and the child (god bless him, really!) is the subject of numerous similar, odd, and disturbing videos on Youtube that show him crying and intimately hugging adults in public. This additional information has been included in numerous threads and yet, folks keep talking about how the critical thinking surrounding the image re: privilege (which I haven’t even touched on), voyeurism, and racism is inappropriate and everyone should just enjoy the image.

Well folks, thanks for making my point even more effectively! Talk about a hollow victory…

Because the photo so beloved because it shows “genuine human emotion” is nothing of the sort. It’s exploitation and Hallmark packaging of genocide. This photo, however IS real and honest genuine human emotion, but it’s not so warm and fuzzy.

Protestors hit the streets in Clayton



Fear of righteous anger

As I wrote here, I’ve gotten some concern and push back from friends about how much I shared with my daughter about the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. They say I’m scaring her.

Tonight we marched through the streets with anarchists, beat drums, and listened to speakers from local rappers and poets to pastors and Nation of Islam members. A cold front blew in and it drizzled on us for over two hours. She was transfixed.

That fear you sense? It’s not hers. It’s yours. She’s just pissed. Maybe that’s what you’re afraid of…

E with sign

And here are my daughter’s feelings about it in her own words.

How I felt last night: angry, bold, joyful, grateful, sad, proud.

I felt good being with the people I need to be with. I also think that one of the pieces of poetry really touched my heart and at that moment I knew I was not alone. I knew that there was people to be right at my side making me to be a part of my community and make sure that in this world that I’m in they are here to protect me. I’m trying to express how I feel and that is the most important part of me.

A post script from Mom: Since I posted the first part of this last night I’ve gotten a number of emails from white parents of children of color asking for advice about how to have these conversations with their children without scaring them. I knew how I wanted to answer the question but asked my daughter about her experience of last night to test my hypothesis. She proved my point perfectly above.

In a nutshell, it is flat out irresponsible and cruel to avoid preparing children of color for our racist world. It is equally critical to their safety and success as making sure they learn to read and cross the street. BUT if you only tell them about the hard stuff without surrounding them with a community that is working to make things better you’re only doing half the job and yeah, you’re going to scare the crap out of them. Sharing the hard stuff in an age-appropriate way and then empowering them with opportunities to effect change surrounded by people they know, love, and respect who share their experience of racism and take those experiences and turn them into protest, song, poetry, and dance that is the most powerful message a child of color can get.

So no, it’s not okay to avoid the conversations. It’s not okay to live in an all white environment and take field trips to places where your child will see people who look like her/himself. Your child doesn’t need a zoo. They need a community!!



A seven year-old takes on National Adoption Month, Gotcha Day, and generally tells it like it is

The following is from my seven year-old daughter. We came up with the questions together but the answers are 100% hers.

What does it feels like to be adopted?

I like being adopted because I enjoy where I am but I do have some sad moments. That is normal but those sad moments are hard. It feels like my heart is a puzzle and there is a piece missing that is missing because I am not in Ethiopia. Some of the puzzle pieces that are here are my grandmother, my mama, our dog, my grandmother’s dog, our two fish that passed away, and my friends, and family-friends.

Sometimes I feel like I don’t belong here. When I’m having a hard time I scream in a pillow sometimes. I cry and kick the backseat of the car. When that happens I’m thinking “I don’t belong here but I’m here. I don’t belong here but I’m here. I don’t belong here but I’m here.”

I feel like kids and parents think that the happy parts are the most important parts of life and leave the sad stuff out but that is very wrong because the sad stuff makes your life kind of in a way that’s complicated. Clarifying question from Mom: Is it like you’ve talked about before that if you’ve got sad stuff stuck inside that you’ve haven’t let out and something good happens you can’t really be happy because the happy gets squished by the sad? Yes!

What does it feel like to be black and adopted by a white mom?

It’s not easy to be a black kid with a white mom because people ask questions that I usually don’t want to answer but it matters about the way they say it. If they ask in a mean voice I will not answer and if they say it in a way that it’s like a real question and not just to be mean I will answer. I actually like having a white mom but I wouldn’t like it as much if I didn’t know anyone who was black because black people make my life more special because they are the same race and that helps because they understand racism and it feels good to see people who look like me.

What do you think about adoptive parents celebrating adoption like Gotcha Day or parties when an adoption happens?

Sometimes I feel like it’s not really fair because for them it feels like all happy stuff but for me it’s all complicated like part happy but also really sad stuff too. Even though it’s hard to deal with sad stuff I need to deal with it and if my mom was only thinking about the happy stuff it would feel like my mom didn’t understand and I would feel lonely. It wouldn’t feel like my mommy is the best mommy ever and I wouldn’t feel very safe.

Also I really hate the word Gotcha. It sounds so scary. It sounds like your parents are taking you away from your birth parents and it’s really sad because that’s what adoption is. You’re not with your birth parents anymore and that’s sad so why would you want to have a party. It’s so scary!!!

What do you think about National Adoption Month?

(Note from Mom: I defined National Adoption Month as a time of the year when there is a lot of stuff on the internet, TV, radio about adoption. It’s usually just adoption agencies and adoptive parents who are talking but this year, there are more people who are adopted and birth families who are talking about adoption.)

I don’t think it’s right for people who adopted children to talk on the TV and I think that because the children who are adopted have more to say than moms and they know exactly how it feels but the parents don’t know exactly how it feels. I think having a special time to talk about adoption is okay because it is interesting but if it’s just like a big party and people only talk about the happy stuff then it feels sad to me because adoption is sad because bad stuff has to happen to make adoption happen.


Hands up. Don’t shoot.

This weekend, I was driving to the grocery store with my seven year-old daughter in the backseat when I came upon a police checkpoint. I waited my turn and reached in my purse for my wallet. I produced my license for the police officer but when he looked at it, he did a double take. The woman in the photo has long auburn hair (my hair is short and mostly grey), is nearly a decade younger than I am, and a good 20 lbs lighter. I joked that the woman in the photo was me but, given that we can renew online in the state where I live, the picture was now eight years-old and well, the intervening years had not been kind. He laughed and asked me a question in broken French (my surname is identifiably French) and I replied in equally broken French. He handed my license back, waved me on, and as I was driving away my daughter commented, “He was nice.” I felt a chill go down my spine as I realized that my casual and joking interaction with that police officer was setting my daughter up for that expectation of interaction with the police and I needed to think about how to handle future interactions in way that was better modeling for my black daughter. I didn’t know exactly what I needed to model but I was sure that I was setting my daughter up for disaster if, as she grew into adolescence and adulthood, she expected to be able to be as casual as I had been. When we got home I –honest to goodness, I kid you not- added “teaching black children to interact with police” to the tickler list I keep of things I need to research with regard to parenting.

About 24 hours later, Mike Brown was murdered by a member of the Ferguson, MO police department.

As I read, listened, and watched the coverage of how Mike Brown had been murdered and then unfolding militia-level police action against protestors in Missouri, I, like millions of others around the world, was horrified by what was happening. In, ahem, post-racial America. In 2014.

But my fear and horror was not only in the name of humanity. It was personal. I have skin in this game. My daughter’s black skin. I am raising a black child. In post-racial America. In 2014.

So I emailed a friend who is a black mother I deeply respect and I said, she seems so little but given everything, I think it’s time to have “the Talk.” When and how did you do that with your kids? Her reply, though completely reasonable and rational, was startling to me and shook me to my core. “There is no “Talk.” It’s just life.” She clarified that of course she reminds her kids how to behave in all sorts of situations, including with the police, but mostly they just see the way she and her husband act and know that’s how they expect them to behave.

I couldn’t even reply I was so racked with sobs. Despite all of the books I’ve read, straight forward conversations I have had with my daughter about race and racism, skill-building related to the importance of stewardship of my white privilege, and black friends and mentors I have, as a white person, I lack critical skills my beloved black child requires to survive as a black person. In post-racial America. In 2014.

But then, with pretty much everything else about parenting, when you get thrown shit you have no idea how to handle, you just figure that shit out and keep moving. So I did.

I went online and did that research I put on my list just a few days before. But I didn’t just research how to teach black children to interact with the police. I also looked at specifically how white parents should teach their black children to behave with the police. Because my mom friend is right. In black families, it’s unconscious modeling and even if I do it consciously, which I am committed to doing, it’s easy for me to unconsciously slip back into my privilege and I can’t make the police see me as black. It’s obvious I’m white and they’ll treat me that way.

That afternoon when my daughter came home from camp, I did what I always do when there is potentially frightening event in the news. I sat her down and told her what happened and what was continuing to happen to protesters and that she needed to understand that it was very far away so there was no reason to be afraid but that it was important for us to use this event to talk about things that she could do to help keep herself safe just in case. I explained that not all police officers were racist or shoot people without cause. It is their job to protect everyone but, the fact is that some police officers are racist and she needs to know how to do her best to be safe. We did role playing with me as the police officer (“Mama, if a police officer was really racist, he’d talk way scarier than that. Try again.”) and then her as the officer (Let’s just say if she goes into police force –watch out!!). I talked about remaining calm, being still, following directions, keeping hands in view. We talked about how she might do these things and then find the officer to be really nice – how great!- but if not, she’d be doing her part to stay safe.

Needless to say, it was an emotionally draining experience and knowing that I have many friends, on Facebook and IRL, who are white with black children I posted something about the experience. And yes, many of my friends were having the exact same conversations with their kids or asking for advice on how to do it from those who have. But I also see why many people will not understand why I would share such things with a seven year-old and why I would teach her such things at such a young age.

Here’s why.

The first part is based on personal experience. When I was about little, I saw a snippet of the news – video of Vietnam that included discussion of guerilla fighters. I knew Vietnam was very far away so while I was scared, I felt safe. Then something happened in a city quite close to where I lived and there was discussion on guerrilla tactics. In my little kid mind I was convinced that gorillas were getting closer and closer to where I lived. I spent night after night for weeks, awake in my bed making plans for where I’d run and hide when the gorillas came to my house! Given the presence of the media in our lives these days, I cannot begin to assure that my child will not hear about Mike Brown’s murder, or any of the other awful things that have happened in the last couple of years, so instead of trying to keep it from her, I assure that she gets information that is correct and as gently as possible – from me.

The second part is that if this last few days has reinforced one thing, it’s that it is my job to wake the hell up, see where my child might potentially experience danger because of her race and get about teaching her either 1) how to avoid it or 2) how to most effectively handle it.

And with regard to her age, will a police officer randomly walk up to my seven year-old and harass her? Not likely at all. But she does not benefit from my white privilege umbrella all the time because she’s not with me 24/7. She has friends who are black and in black families. They have older siblings and parents. She could easily become collateral damage if they are stopped by the police and she does not know how to behave. In addition, she will not be seven forever. One day she will be a teenager, will all the asinine decisions kids make at that age. She will be driving. Black kids who grow up in black families get modeling in all these things every day. Black children adopted by white parents don’t get that benefit and in order to learn them they need 1) black role models and 2) white parents who are willing and able to see through their privilege to talk with them about race, racism, and how to deal with it and these things need to be reinforced over time in order for them to integrate them and be able to use those skills when they need them.


Last night my daughter and I attended a Moment of Silence event. One of the speakers who followed the silence gave an example of how to teach children to act with the police and then asked parents who had told their children similar to raise their hands. Before I could even get my hand up my daughter proudly proclaimed, “You did that Mama!” A woman in front of us turned around, looked me in the eye and said, “You’re doing a good job.” I dissolved into tears. After 48 hours of feeling like a completely ill-prepared and inept parent, I really needed that!