Sho, it’s taken me a little while to put pen to paper on this but let’s do it, let’s talk racism and my black child. Your black child. Our black children. What’s okay to say? What’s not okay? How can we all treat each other better with our words? What can we do to raise strong black children within our white homes?
Let’s start here. I’ve been made aware (I was not always aware) that comparing a child of colour to a monkey is one of the ugliest things you could ever say. And although I’ve been aware of this and it actually seems really obvious now, I initially struggled to reconcile this to my life with three young black kids who love ‘climbing like a monkey’, doing Monkeynastix and have even found themselves in the ‘Monkey class’ at school.
Social media insight from local adoption forums has cautioned white adoptive parents against using the term too flippantly because although we may not see the ugliness in the word ‘monkey’, it is very much there when used to describe a person. While I personally agreed, I didn’t take this caution to heart until one day earlier this year when my son’s teacher called me in to the office to let me know that my son had been targeted in a playground game at school because ‘he looked like a monkey.’ Suddenly the racial insult I’d been warned about became so personal and it hit me like a ton of bricks. In that moment the scales fell from my eyes – I realised that I can’t protect my kids from the world and I wept right then and there and for a long time at home too. I’m not here to share details of the incident so much as it happened.
It’s hard to be vulnerable and talk about hard things because it’s always easier to sweep it under the carpet, pretend that you haven’t been affected by it and hope that it doesn’t happen again. While this may be easier, I’m reminded that the reason I started this blog is to dialogue around adoption, race and my learnings on this journey and so here we are. If you’re a white parent of a black child, please listen when a black person with lived experience of racism tells you to stop calling your child a monkey. It might not make sense to you, you might think it’s an overreaction but it’s real. Friends and family of adoptive families, we understand you mean no harm but please can you also stop. It’s enough, it’s 2017 and we can’t claim ignorance any longer.
So is there anything that we can do to prepare our kids for the racism they may meet in the world?
Yes! My wise friend suggests that the best thing that parents of black children can do is to help grow and establish their kids’ racial identity (through race mentors, racial mirrors, seeking diversity in our day to day lives) so that they feel proud to be black and comfortable in their own skin. ‘Reinforce identity to a point that it annoys them and that’s all that they hear when they shut their eyes’, is what she said. And then teach them how to recognise if they have been on the receiving end of a racist comment without over exaggerating the point or developing a victim mentality.
Parents of white kids, if you’re still reading this, you’ve got a role to play too – teach your kids that it’s okay to see in colour but that diversity is beautiful and should be celebrated.
Let’s nip this in the bud.