Being Black in White Liberal Seattle

THIS is a must read and am hungry to see South African stories emerge to grow, encourage and teach us how to do better…

EthioAmerican Daughter

I’ve often wondered about the experiences of black adoptees raised in an all white environment, where they had very little contact with people of color. Moving from DC area to Seattle has made clear to me how exhausting, isolating, and alienating life can be as a black person in a sea of white liberalism.

About 8 months ago, my daughter and I flew out of Reagan National and landed at SeaTac. Settling into Seattle, WA, the 5th whitest city in America, has been a huge cultural shock in more ways than one. I was raised in a diverse community with people of different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, which I believe in many ways gave me an extremely balanced perspective on the black experience and a strong black identity. Even so, I don’t think anyone could’ve ever prepared my daughter and me for the challenges and complexities of living amongst well-intended…

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The world doesn’t work like that.

Over the past few weeks I have had the incredible honour of getting to know someone a little better who is in the same social media South African Adoption and Conversations re: race issues in SA as me.  She is someone who tentatively spoke out about the fact that white parents of black children need to remember that their children are going to grow up experiencing things around race that white people never need to think about.  She is someone who is South African. She is someone who has lost someone close to her under apartheid as a part of the struggle.  She is black.

And then the moderating of her reminder began from white people.

Assumingly good people who have chosen to adopt because they believe each child should be in a family.  People who want to parent children regardless of race.

It happened again when she shared her frustration (with evidence) of a racist encounter with an estate agent who told her a property was unavailable and yet it was available when her white friend called. THE NEXT DAY.

It makes me cringe when we, as a white community do this.

I say we as I am no more innocent of wanting to shout out loudly some days.

My most recent PAUSE moment was needing to check my own reactions to spaces I have been invited into and then question how I feel when people I am in relationship with use language or speak out their anger in a way that causes pain or unsettledness or fear in me.

Whether as well-meaning, faith filled people or not, simply as when we moderate someone’s experience of a racial interaction from outside of their racial experience not only do I believe that  we minimise their story, but we also assume we can fix it or know better.

Whether we recognise it in the moment or not.

Before my son made me a mama, while we were waiting for him, my guy and I had lots of conversations about how we wanted to manage being a mixed race family.  We realised the following:

  • While we might be given great insights into the challenges and glory moments facing people who belong to a racial group that is different to ours, we don’t have their lived realities and that it’s not random people’s responsibility to educate us. Rather, we need, out of relationship with people in our community to identify mentors and teachers to navigate things – both culturally and in terms of race.
  • Our son is our son is our son and we are his. Something I tell him often – mama is yours – but part of him being embraced in the fullness of who he is means recognising that some of the challenges that might face him aren’t challenges that we have had to deal with in our own worlds growing up.  This doesn’t mean that we make race the focus and family secondary; it means we recognise that our family has to learn new ways of engaging with the world.

It means we look at what do we need to equip ourselves and prepare him outside of what we strive to make a safe space for him within our home.  The language we use, making sure his hair and skin are cared for well, without making that the only focal point in embracing him and delighting in him as he explores the world.

  • I am (proudly) my boy’s mama – but no one is going to know or care about that when he is out on his own or an adult. He needs skills, support and insight into navigating spaces as a black man in South Africa.

Before I became his mama, people told me to just let him be my son when he came home.

He is fully my son.  This week he had surgery.  I have cleaned up the tears, the blood off his and my clothes from holding him to settle him.  I have held him or engaged with him almost constantly as he has needed through the day, and the night, so that he could rest, sleep or just be.  He is my son.  My tears have flowed at the physical discomfort and pain he has been in that I couldn’t stop and prevent and all I could do was be present with him.

I am reminded that our family isn’t always perceived as fully being just family when people glare, won’t make eye contact (and this isn’t a cultural thing), shake their heads or are simply rude when we walk past.

I am reminded that while he is still little and I am mostly around, I can field this and help navigate it, minimising its impact.  I can only do this though if I am willing to listen and learn and be challenged.

I am reminded that as he gets bigger, I won’t always be there to do so.

I am reminded as I watch him grow of children I have worked with, or been friends with who have shed tears because children wouldn’t play with them because they were too brown.

I am reminded that the world and its people see colour and that as adults we need to help children understand what that means.  I am reminded that we are in this world too.

I am reminded that this is beyond simply people being mean.  This is about a history of systemic thinking that is entrenched in us in different ways around superiority and inferiority and that we have a responsibility to navigate this out of ourselves and the world around us.

I am reminded that as much as I believe all people are created equal that the world doesn’t work like that.

I am reminded that as much as I might not agree with systems and social or business models that perpetuated race issues, and still do, that doesn’t make them not real.

I am reminded that for me to parent my son well means to embrace the fullness of his story, of who he is and that I need to do this in community.

I am reminded that I can’t pretend that these things don’t matter.

The world doesn’t work like that.  As much as we might wish it did.