A White Mom Wonders Whether Her Brown Babies Will Be Black Enough

By RACHEL GARLINGHOUSE

A few months ago, I found myself in a state of panic.

I am the proud mother of two baby girls, both of whom came into our family through domestic, transracial, open adoption.    My husband and I are white, our daughters are black.

I get an A in many areas of transracial parenting. We own dozens of diversity-minded, African American history, and adoption books (my toddler's favorite is about the Underground Railroad; she walks around the house whispering a word from the book:  Freedom.  So precious!). We have brown baby dolls scattered throughout our home and plenty of Princess Tiana merchandise. My oldest daughter is not yet three years old and has already been to the Civil Rights Museum. We celebrate Black History Month with craft projects and stories. Our Christmas tree is covered in African American Santa and angel ornaments. Last Christmas I had custom stockings featuring African American ballerinas made for my girls. I am very particular about the lotion and hair products I use on my girls' natural hair. My toddler knows she and her younger sister are brown and her parents are pink. Talking about race and adoption is a normal part of our everyday lives.

Furthermore, I have read hundreds of adoption books and articles. I facilitate an adoptive mother support group, and our family has befriended dozens of other transracial, adoptive families. Both our girls have open adoptions with their biological family members, and we see those family members three times a year.

I was feeling pretty proud of myself until I picked up a copy of a new book called Brown Babies, Pink Parents: A Practical Guide to Transracial Parentingby Amy Ford. In one part of the book, Amy talks about how she knows she isn't black and will never be black and therefore, she needs to provide positive same-race influences (role models) for her children.

With each word I read, my heart sank lower and lower into my stomach. Though we live and work in diverse environments and befriend people of many races, I still felt our kids weren't going to be black enough. I was reminded of a written narrative in which one of my students reflected on being taunted with the name Oreo after her family moved into a predominately white neighborhood. I also recalled the numerous adoption books I had read where black kids would consistently state that though many of them had joyful childhoods and loving families, their white parents had failed to provide them with the racial affirmation they desperately yearned for.

After some frantic soul-searching, I called a friend of mine who is African American and asked her to lunch. Meanwhile, I was a mess nervous and uncertain. Normally, I'm a confident and driven person, full of passion and acting in precision, but in that moment I felt as though I was stepping outside myself. Had I royally screwed up my children? Would my precious daughters who look to me for everything wake up one day and realize I had failed them?

I decided to do what any type-A lady would and take some action. I called several African American churches seeking a program for mothers hoping that perhaps there I could befriend more women of color. Turns out there weren't any nearby. I called a few dance studios located in predominately black towns to see if they had any openings for my toddler. Sadly, however, she was too young to enroll in their classes, so we had to stick to our current dance studio for the time being. I then ordered a subscription to Essence magazine, hoping that I could start staying more abreast the trends and issues going on in black culture. I was feeling rather desperate to make more meaningful connections to the black community.

Finally, the lunch date arrived. I was honest with my friend, Ann. I needed to know whether I was screwing up my kids if I was doing enough with all of our trips, our toys, our books, and our family discussions.

Ann is a graceful woman in her sixties confident and kind.  She shared with me that when she was young, her mother pulled her out of an all-black failing high school and put her in a flourishing school in the hopes that her daughter would succeed. Ann was the only black child in her new high school and despite the clear racial differences between Ann and her peers, she quickly made friends with whom she had things in common.

She then looked me in the eye and said, Rachel, your girls are blessed to have you as their mother; you are doing a great job. You be sure to instill in them that it is the character of a person that matters, not the color.

Tears filled my eyes. I was relieved. Not because I felt that I had less responsibility to affirm my children's racial identity, but because I realized what was most important: to first raise children of good character, girls who love themselves, God, and their families, and then to surround them with those who do the same, regardless of race.

My daughters will inevitably face some prejudice due to their race and because of the way our family was created. However, they will find confidence and strength from the culmination of experiences and relationships they have encountered so far and will continue to encounter over their lifetime. I will fight for these opportunities, always insuring that my girls always know they are beautiful, they are loved, and they are black.

Rachel Garlinghouse is the proud mother of two brown babies. She is a freelance writer and college writing teacher. Read more about her family at White Sugar, Brown Sugar.

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.

24 Comments

  1. Kelly @kellynaturally

    This is a touching piece reminding me how important human connections are. That we are all interconnected as one race – human; is something we tend to forget. Good luck to you & your girls in the future… I am certain they will be fine.

  2. Good parenting and love is most important. You’re doing a good job, thats a lot of things that you are teaching on black awareness. As they grow older teaching on all nationalities helps to make them socially adaptable to all cultures and people.

  3. This mom should know that she is doing more cultural enrichment with her children than some African-American parents do with their children. I agree with her friend, her children are blessed to have her as a mother. She seems willing to go above and beyond to make sure that her children have what they need to be healthy, mentally, physically and spiritually. I hope that her husband is doing the same kind of work, especially when it comes time for her daughters to date African-American males.

  4. I would say to stop worrying about doing every thing black themed for your kids. I do try to purchase from Black owned business and have black/hispanic dolls, decorations, pictures so my kids can envision themselves in other situations. Our holiday stuff is most Black but I don’t mind mixing things up. If you raise your kids to love and respect themselves and others they will be fine. I grew up in a black neighborhood and because I preferred to concentrate on my education more than partying and I spoke using “better” English I was also told I was acting white. My kids are growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood. There are no old women to teach them how things were before the 80s I realize they are not going to know many of the things that I learned growing up like all white people are not going to like you, people may think you are a thief or poor when going into a store, women hold on to their bags tighter around you,etc. Yeah there are stereotypes that will probably never die in some people. I will always remember the first time I was called the N word which was when I was in college. These things will hurt but if your kids have been raised as strong individuals they will be able to deal with the situations rather than letting emotions control their outcomes.

  5. I really enjoyed this article! This was one that really made me think about how race still has a great (sometimes negative) impact in our society today. I can be honest and say that I often wonder why white parents choose to adopt black babies. I don’t have a problem with it at all. It is a topic that I would love to hear more about; the experiences in particular. Rachel, I think that you are doing a good job. Your daughters are going to want to know more about their African-American history. I think the fact that you are reaching out to learn and be able to teach them will serve both you and them well! Happy Parenting!

  6. I wrote a blog entry around the time of the 2008 election that might be helpful to this author. Please read when you get a moment…
    http://peoplecolor.blogspot.com/

  7. Thank you. Everyday thoughts of this very topic weighs heavy. Raising a growing AA toddler and the challenges that face him in a crazy still very racially charged world worries the heck out of me but we do the best we can. Love is not enough but paired with education and awareness it sure helps. I am one proud and aware transracially adoptive mama and I’m so glad I am. What a beautiful and enlightning journey we are on.

  8. Rachael, I think you’re doing a great job and your friend Doris gave you excellent advice. The most important thing you can do for your daughters is love them and help them develop the strength to live in the world they must inhabit. You’re off to a wonderful start, and I pray for your family’s continued love, joy, and well-being.

  9. I agree with the comment above..”Good parenting and love is most important.” I enjoyed reading this because I too have had similar concerns with raising my two boys, but I realize that no matter what I teach them it’s not going to change the fact that we are a trans racial family. I want them to grow up confident in themselves, loving themselves and of course knowing that I love them beyond measure and would do anything for them!
    Great post, thanks for sharing :)
    http://www.theblessingsofadoption.com/2011/03/lets-talk-about-trans-racial-adoption.html

  10. Three cheers from another white mom of a black girl. The pressure can be tremendous, but I think the day we start thinking, “Oh yeah, I got this,” is the day we let our kids down. If ignorance is bliss, we’re living in the opposite – and I for one am glad about it.

  11. Barbara Soloski Albin

    Rachel, I am not qualified to even comment on this but it seems just knowing that you care and are worried about this means you are doing something right. My young cousin is adopted, his racial identity is somewhat confusing as he looks Pacific Islander. His mother was 12 when she gave birth to him and she didn’t even know she was pregnant. His adoptive parents, my cousin and her husband seem to always make sure that his life was full of all cultures. They have always had a diverse group of friends and Lois and Bob made sure he was introduced to all things in his life. He and is older brother are as close as any brothers can be. I do know there are groups for older children in the San Francisco area, and I am sure through out the country for children when they get to their teens and young adulthood where they can talk to each other about what it is liked to be in a mixed race adoption. I have a feeling by the time your children get to that age, they are not going to have any questions. Sounds like you are doing everything right :-)

  12. Ladies, I’m Rachel, the author. I really appreciate all the feedback, and especially the love! <3

    @Tanika: Sadly, there are very very few AA couples who are willing/able/available to adopt black babies. I'm going to propose a new article to the editor addressing this issue of–why do white people adopt black kids? (Thanks for the idea!)

    @Monica—yes, my husband is VERY involved with our girls. He comes home from work and spends all of his time with them until they go to bed. He takes them on little outings (to give me a break! and to spend time with them). He's an amazing father. He comes home straight after work (no going out for drinks or golfing with friends) to be with them. :)

  13. You’re doing a wonderful job.

    If you haven’t already, please rent and view Off and Running. You can find it here. http://www.pbs.org/pov/offandrunning/

    I was struck by the two Jewish mothers and how they had done everything, it seemed, except expose their adopted black daughter to black folks. When she did so as a teen-ager, the parents didn’t know how to respond.

    I have biracial daughters, and they see family on both sides on a regular basis. It may be difficult to duplicate such interactions, but I think a church or similar social setting could play an important role in helping children make the connection.

    Best of luck to you.

    Honeysmoke

  14. Hi Rachel,
    It sounds like your on the right track raising your children. For those of us who are race-transcenders, a “racial identiy” is meaningless. Most anthropologist have dismissed the idea of “race”; regarding human biology they use terms like cline, phenotype, haplotype and genotype which describe the complexity of human variation without over simplifying. In the U.S. we have a “mixed salad” of cultures with the dressing of “American culture” holding it all together. As long as we continue to embrace multiculturalism and continue learning about the deep history of all our cultures, we are on the right track.
    Cheers!

  15. I am just another pink mom of brown babies and I wanted to say thanks for writing this, and thanks to My Brown Baby for including adoptive mothers! It means a lot. Rachel, I identify so much with struggle to not ignore the fact that my boys are brown (to their detriment) but also to truly focus on their depth of character rather than the externals. I very much want to avoid falling off the fence on either side. It is good to know that there are other moms out there dealing with the same issues.

    • sorry folks, I have a cold and a newborn. just wanted to clarify that I meant “ignore (to their detriment) the fact that my boys are brown.” it didn’t come across so well before!

  16. Great post, so touching and honest. Your friend’s words are true and you are a great mother for what you are doing for your daughters.

  17. I am the mother of two bi-racial children (I’m black, their dad is white) and I never worry about this type of stuff. You shouldn’t either…you sound like a wonderful Mother, period. Sure your kids will encounter some “ignorance” but ALL kids do and they will get through it because they have a great family, unconditional love and support. That’s all that kids need! Don’t worry so much about what you may be doing wrong or if it’s all enough…just enjoy your beautiful brown babies!!!

  18. Hey Rachael,

    I am brown. And I have two brown parents. I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood. I spoke like my parents and the people around me. Because of that, I was accused of trying to “act white” and not being “black enough”. So it’s not you. It’s the ignorant people around you. Keep doing what you’re doing. And keep your chin up!

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