My mother and me, 1977

My mother and me, 1977


As most people who know me already know, I was raised in a white family and grew up in an almost entirely white environment throughout my teen years. Subsequently, and because I place a high premium on friendship and loyalty, that means I have a disproportionate amount of white friends from my youth.

It also means that sometimes these white friends from my youth lay claim to feelings of alienation at my admittedly somewhat intransigent efforts at forging racial awareness and encouraging a more inclusive, far-reaching cultural dialogue.

A few recent pieces I’ve written have elicited concern from a few such friends. This piece among them, in which I try to reconcile with my parents’ decision to raise their black adopted child (me) in an all-white town, and their overall lack of racial conversancy, prompted one friend to suggest that I wasn’t using my platform properly to discuss interracial adoption: “From your public perch you might consider that you are inadvertently creating a perception that the chasm of race is too burdensome to traverse so don’t even bother trying. Would you prefer that children not get adopted?”

Another friend was concerned by the way I characterized my parents, who I write about in the piece as having loved me and parented me well, but who also made choices that suited their personal lifestyle preferences over what might be most culturally beneficial to their children, which I find problematic as an adult and a parent. She asked: “Isn’t there a kinder way to describe them?”

And still another friend felt that my description of the young white women from college in this piece was unfair (as a point of clarity, I was describing the friends of my friend): “Why is it OK for black people to talk about white people in a stereotypical, racist way?”

Finally, one friend said, when I told her that I can’t undo an experience that left an indelible mark on my racial psyche: “I’m just talking about friends and family and how we talk about them regardless of race. Does this mean you can say anything you want about the people you love and they just have to suck it up because they are white?”

First of all, anyone who uses the phrase “regardless of race” is, for the most part, someone who does not have to regard race. That is important. It is a cornerstone of this conversation. Next, I’m not really here to protect the feelings of my adult white friends — when we were younger, teens and twenties, my close friends and I were still trying to figure it out, and I was far more willing to allow for their lack of racial awareness then.

But as adults, they should know that the main pillar of racism is that the feelings of white people be protected at all costs — feelings of fear, intimidation, powerlessness, poverty, incompetence, any kind of discomfort whatsoever.

So that when you, white friends, feel any of these things, you can leave the conversation altogether if you want. That’s an option for you. You can walk away and resume your life in a world that does not regard race, and not ever talk about it or feel uncomfortable about it again. Your cultural amenities will not have altered.

I urge you not to walk away, though. Your feelings will heal. The issue will remain.

Am I discouraging interracial adoption? No. I believe in adoption, but interracial adoption is tricky — I represent one narrative of an interracial adoptee whose experience was hindered by a lack of cultural awareness.

Is there a kinder way to describe my parents? In that context, I feel like I described them accurately. There have been numerous other occasions during which I have gushed about my parents (primarily in my books), especially my mother, whose emotional IQ and guileless wisdom is unparalleled.

Why is it all right for black people to talk about white people in a stereotypical, racist way? I do not believe that referring to white college-aged women circa 1990 as “prodigiously pleased with their body privilege” is either stereotypical or racist. Not stereotypical, because it’s actually rather normative, what glossy magazines are made of (and one of the main reasons I wrote a book about the identities of black girls in America). And not racist, because, well, black folks can’t be racist — racism is a social power structure that inculcates and perpetuates white superiority over black people.

But the larger question of overall kindness in this particular discussion of race is a bit harder, because I’m not entirely sure that there is a kinder more compassionate way to talk about this issue, this history, this reality that feels so cruel — so tethered by an almost insistent lack of compassion, rooted in such hideous maleficence.

And while I recognize that my approach to race (both in conversation and writing) might not always be the best or most effective, or even all that appealing to some folks, I never want to needlessly hurt anyone, and try to always make sure that I never come from a mean-spirited place. Because mean-spirited behavior sucks, is nonproductive and entirely self-serving, and also because, as we all know, there’s enough of it out there already.

But also, though most of us can discern mean-spirited or bullying behavior, I think it’s possible for us to have different points of reference when it comes to kindness. Kindness to my mind is when we take all that is everything to us, the most important, we hold fast and dear to it, then jam it into our hearts and trust our voices to do the rest.

Unfortunately, the conversation on race in America will likely never be this kind.

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This post originally appeared on xoJane. Republished with permission

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  1. As a white mama of two brown boys, who while not a childhood friend of yours, likes to think of herself as a wanna be contemporary friend-if only we lived geographically close enough that I could somehow audition for the part of friend–I feel gratitude for your words here, and all the time. MBB is a safe space for me to check my whiteness at the door, or at least notice how warm and cozy it is to be wearing it all the time! And, for sure I have HAD the kind of reactions you write about here in the past, because it makes me squirm all the time to think deeply about all that I have that I don’t even realize. It is precisely this kind of space, and dialogue, and INVITATION from you and many others to join the conversation that I now CRAVE even in all it’s discomfort. This is because I owe it to my beautiful brown boys, who I am raising in a very white state (Maine) with what I like to think is deep intention and effort towards increasing and noticing my own lack of “racial conversancy” (this term is new to me–which is itself revealing) that I subscribe, engage, and return here to your words, your husband’s words, and now your daughter’s again and again.

    In your piece above–this paragraph lands deep: “So that when you, white friends, feel any of these things, you can leave the conversation altogether if you want. That’s an option for you. You can walk away and resume your life in a world that does not regard race, and not ever talk about it or feel uncomfortable about it again. Your cultural amenities will not have altered.” BINGO.

  2. I’m also the white mom of black children, and I agree SO wholeheartedly. Thanks to Rebecca for another well-written article, and thanks Mama C for saying what I think 🙂

  3. Another white mamma of black children here who wishes to thank you. Now that my daughter is old enough, I am going to direct her to read your blog. You put into words so beautifully that which I wish I could express. You also challenge me and my husband on so many things and we appreciate that immensely.

  4. You need to expand your readership!! One more white mom of a black boy here. We should be challenged to be conscious of race and how it impacts our children. Well, all people should be challenged and that’s the push-back you’re getting. I don’t always feel up to the task of dealing with issues of race with my son. Maybe he’ll write one day about what we got wrong and that which we just couldn’t get right, because we’re not talking about something we share but something that is uniquely his to figure out. Or, he’ll write about how I yelled too much and didn’t have enough fun. I think I’ll be ok with hearing what I didn’t get right.

  5. Hello, Rebecca: Thank you for sharing your story. I’m a huge fan of MBB, and I love that D makes adoption and education a priority on her site. I’m White, my husband is White, and our three adopted kids are Black. I am a firm believe in adoption and race education for adoptive parents, as well as ongoing education. I take my role as a transracial adoptive parent very seriously, because I know love isn’t enough and I cannot (and should not) white-wash my children. We’ve embraced being a White/Black, Black/White family. I certainly am not perfect, and I do worry (as I wrote in a piece for MBB) that what I’m doing for my kids isn’t enough—that I’m going to royally screw up this transracial parenting thing. But what I’ve determined is this (my mantra-of-sorts): progress, not perfection. My favorite line in your piece, which I’m going to share at a transracial adoption conference this week, was, that your parents “loved me and parented me well, but who also made choices that suited their personal lifestyle preferences over what might be most culturally beneficial to their children.” This is SO well said. I think the key is that many White adoptive parents did/do everything for their kids but what the kids need most: consistent, meaningful interaction with people who look like them. (This is the main takeaway I got from the book “In Their Own Voices: Transracial Adoptees Tell Their Stories, and from the conversations I’ve had with transracial adoptees and their blogs I’ve read.) I applaud you for sharing your story, and you just never know who will stumble upon your writing and have an ah-ha moment which leads them to becoming a better parent to their transracially adopted children. It sounds like to me you deeply love your parents (and they clearly got some things right, because they raised you to be so strong and passionate!), AND you can also look critically at your raising and see what could have been better and different. Thanks again for sharing your story on MBB! I’ve been mulling over this post all day!

  6. The most unfortunate thing about all of the statements
    above mine, is that they had to have black children in their lives before they were able to even think about how unequally they are treated. If they had white children, and negativilty towards black children happened right in front of their faces, they would have been totally blind to it.

    • That’s not actually true in my case. I was raised in a family that has valued and fought for civil rights for generations. I have spoken out for years about inequality before having children, and have continued to do so. I have never been blind to racism or inequality. But there is something different about living in an interracial family that “others” you and makes you see things from a different point of view.

      • Yes mam. This is true. I grew up as the minority in my neighborhood and to this day at 31 still talk and walk like a country ass whiteboy but love my brown skinned wife and children. Maybe im a minority within Caucasian because i was aware from an early age.

  7. Love what you wrote. I wish we could all communicate on that level.

  8. Great article. I will be checking in a lot more. Over the years I’ve come to believe there is no such thing as a “safe” way or “painless” way to talk about race and people must be open to that when they step in the room.

  9. Thank you, just thank you.

  10. This should be a disclaimer before reading other pieces. I sure wish i had read this before commenting on another. I still stand by the fact that racism works both ways. Be the better person.

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