They laid him in my arms at six weeks old. My husband and I had a little less than three hours after saying yes to our foster care manager’s request to when we arrived at the office. Wrapped in a blue and white baby blanket, there he was, and there I was. And because of life, pain after pain, hardship, and things beyond his control, the state had decided that we would be his home. Now, his story will remain his story. I hope one day he shares it, but for now, it remains his story and not mine. So I will share how his story has shaped mine.
The night he came home, I laid him on my chest. Skin to skin. Heartbeat to heartbeat. Breath to breath. His tiny hands still in fists curled with his chin resting on them. He had a few soft tiny curls of hair starting to grow, long eyelashes that gave peaks at his soul melting brown eyes, and his skin – his beautiful, soft, smooth, brown skin wrapped in all eleven pounds of him. Oh, and the squeaks he would make between feedings. It sounded like a cat’s purr.
I didn’t know I could love like that.
I can tell you that this white mama had no idea my love for this child would take me where it has taken me. Or shown me what it has shown me. And taken what I thought to be a strong grasp at this parenting gig, my master’s degrees in Education and Special Education, and thrown them directly into a raging fire.
We are a white middle-class family raising a black child whose entrance into this world began with separation and loss from his natural family. He was also born into a system that was created hundreds of years ago and fueled today to minimize his voice and choice, paired with stereotypes perpetuated by fear and ignorance. He was born into systems designed to control his body- his Black life – his beautiful Black life.
So we went on a journey deep into what would most benefit our son. I joined adoptive groups, cultural fluency groups, and trans-racial adoption groups. I spent hours on Amazon.com searching for books, attended trainings, and joined equity clubs. I looked at data and numbers. I looked at the statistics. Then I would read the news. I learned about white privilege and fragility. I learned a lot about fear.
But that is just another day in America. The America where redlining, segregation, Jim Crow, police brutality, the murdering of unarmed black citizens, and all other forms racism takes on is in the fiber and daily breath of this country. The America my son will grow up in. The America where my son whose Black life will live, breathe, study, graduate, work, and lead in.
I am not Black. I have lived and created my world from the perspective and belief system wrapped in white skin. I do not get a free pass. I am just as responsible (if not more) for checking my privilege and working through my own internal bias as anyone else. The experience I am living will be through the advocacy of my Black son. And I need you because Black lives matter.
So here is what I do know. It’s a small list but one that holds the most significant altering pieces of information that have taken me to where I am now.
1. Kick that color blindness/I don’t see color nonsense to the curb. As a cultural guide, mentor and local businesswoman, Valarie Chavis, has said, “You can’t know us if you can’t see us. You can’t see us if you don’t value us and you can’t value us if you don’t know our worth.” If you claim to not “see color” then you won’t see the value in my son.
2. Racism is a lie. Period. It is simply believing that someone else is less, and you are more. It’s a lie. Racism is alive because of the lie. Work on dismantling the lie.
3. Complacency allows white supremacy to continue in our communities. I have heard excuses from my white friends and family on why they just don’t want to get involved regarding issues of race or in the politics (race and politics are inseparable). Complacency is comfortable, but it’s the lowest fruit on the tree.
4. Teaching children about what has been done to Black people is not the same as teaching children about what Black people have done and accomplished. Black people have persisted through barrier after barrier to create, invent, write, publish, and lead from the highest office in the land. Unlearn what you thought you knew and re-learn history. We have not been told the whole truth, and that hurts everyone. Ms. Chavis nailed it again when she says, “Celebrating Black History month is not an accommodation given……it is an acknowledgment that the books written and history taught were flawed, inaccurate, incomplete, and white.”
5. Stop lowering your voice to a whisper during a conversation when we say the words “Black person.” It’s not a bad word. Also, Let’s nix the line, “I’m not racist, but…” from our vocabulary. And while we are at it, please do not touch Black people’s hair.
6. Celebrating diversity and working under diverse leadership are two different things. Having Black voices in the room is not the same as actually hearing what their voices have to say. Black people are Whole. They are not just white people with darker skin.
7. Black kids deserve to see themselves in the literature they read, the shows they watch, the places they go, and in the coaches/teachers/administrators they encounter. They need to see themselves in all roles within our society. Finding racial mirrors and models for our son has been a turning point for our family. It is hard to be what they can not see. White kids need to see Black people in positions of power and leadership just as much. I can’t emphasize that enough. Be intentional.
8. Listen. Listen to Black voices and believe Black voices. Even when their voices are silent, and they choose to speak through kneeling or raising a fist to protest grave injustices – listen. Again, the lives of Black men and women are more important than our white comfort level and expectations.
Our son is hilarious. His perspectives on things, what he finds humorous or upsetting, and his laugh is the best. He loves helicopters, trash trucks, and anything with wheels. He wants to know street names and directions, and he’s quick to remind you when you take a wrong for the remainder of the car ride. He is tall. He can make baskets in a standard basketball hoop. He throws footballs in spirals that I can’t catch and tackles anyone to ground. His smile will melt even the hardest heart. He has dance parties in our living room. He challenges me in every way possible. He will love you hard and also give you a run for your money.
So, I need you.
I need you to tell him he’ll make a great president, teacher, accountant, painter, engineer, mayor, or scientist someday. I need you to tell him how smart, talented, brave and loved he is. I need you to show him he matters. I need you to show my son that his beautiful Black life with all its beauty and challenges and abilities, matters.
Because Black lives matter. His Black life matters every second of every minute of every hour of every week in every month of the year to me. He is Black History in the making, and God granted me a front-row seat.