White

My kids are black. My neighborhood is mostly black—until recently, every homeowner on our block who isn’t me was black. My kids’ elementary school was primarily Latino and Asian. Among their California aunts, uncles, and cousins are a number of African-Americans, a mixed Cuban-Irish, a Chinese-American, and a Mexican. Their caretakers/babysitters/tutors/etc. have included an Asian-American, a Latino, and, again, a handful of black folk for good measure.

I am, for those who have not been following closely, a white guy.

Which means … well, maybe nothing, really. The reality is that for over 10 years we’ve been sleeping under the same roof, and waking up under the same roof, and being a family under the same roof. I am grateful that in the 2000s and 2010s, a single white guy having two black kids means a lot more (less?) “nothing” than it would have even a decade, and certainly a generation or century, ago.

So, as with most things regarding my kids, I feel very fortunate.

When I was in training at the adoption agency, they spent a fair amount of time on transracial adoption. They emphasized how it was important for the parent(s) to include in the child’s life people who looked like the child, traditions that reflected the culture of the child, and experiences that involved an understanding of the racial reality of the child.

In other words, don’t try to raise your nonwhite child white.

On the one hand, I had to laugh: Come to my neighborhood, folks. But on the other, I get it—or maybe it’s more accurate to say, I get that I don’t get it. As amazing as I—sometimes successfully—try to be, the experience of having me as their dad is by definition different for the boys than if they had been raised by one or more black folk. There are social, identity, and other realities that I can’t even pretend to understand, let alone engage with them about. So I try to do the next best thing: To let them know that I don’t know, to make it clear that there are ways in which their reality growing up is and will be fundamentally different from anything in my experience. And then I do the next next best thing: Encourage them to seek out, check in, and bond with other black folk, whether in our family or in their own circles.

I like to think that being a gay man gives me some measure of empathy for what “otherness” is like—but again, empathy and understanding are two different things, and the “my pain is just like yours” line doesn’t cut it. I was never stopped by the cops walking to school, nor followed in a store—just two examples of things that the boys have already experienced.

I also encourage them to let me know if anything ever comes up for them about being raised by a white (and/or single and/or gay) man. I tell them I’m a pretty tough cookie—I can handle it. So far, not a peep—my kids are nothing if not extremely loyal. But who knows what may come down the line.

Daveon once reported feeling like an Oreo, “black on the outside but white on the inside.” As someone who’s more comfortable obsessing over my failings than my successes, I immediately started to question whether there was more I could be doing to promote Daveon’s black identity. I never came up with a clear answer—and I’m not sure whether, as his white dad, I even could authentically try to accomplish this. How does a white person encourage a black person to feel more black? What would that even look like?

When I was teaching special ed years ago, a white administrator decided that we needed to celebrate Kwanzaa, given that the student population was almost entirely African-American. We held the event, lit the candles, explained the principles—and then got roasted by the kids, who complained unanimously: “What is this stuff? We celebrate Christmas.”

There’s a lesson there …

Next: Stuff They Didn’t Cover in Training: Relentless

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