I’m a white mother of six children, five of whom are children of color, and four of whom came home to our family through foster-adoption. When I’m out and about with my kids, I often field questions about how my big, multiracial family came to be, and I try to receive them with generosity and openness — to a degree. I want to give people the benefit of the doubt, and I hope that their curiosity stems from goodwill and perhaps an interest in adoption that comes from lived experience, or even from plans or hopes to become adoptive parents.
But I have to admit that I chafe at some questions that seem rooted in limited and limiting assumptions about race. One that really sticks in my craw is:
“Where are they from?
On life, self-worth, Rodney King and getting along
Growing up the son of Filipino immigrants — a city kid, not black or white or Latino, maybe Asian — I pondered my worth in this society. I don’t remember the specific moment when I realized that there were a lot of people to whom my life didn’t matter much. I just know that at some point in my childhood I surrendered to a lifetime of suggestion that my role in this so-called great American society would be peripheral.
Ironically, today I find myself front and center in reconstructing the telling of our national story, a re-telling that highlights the contributions of people of color to the development of America.
.On the day my family and I met with several other families to celebrate EmbraceRace, I posted photos from the day on my Facebook page. The pictures were of multiracial children and families, enjoying one another’s company.
Kids blurred by the speed of their running. Kids posing, their chests puffed with confidence. Kids being kids and parents capturing the beauty of their play. The Facebook post was “liked” dozens of times. The comment section was filled with ALL CAPS and exclamation points. And why not? Those kids are beautiful in every way.
I remember sitting in Mrs. McKenna’s fourth-grade class when our history lesson turned to America’s enslavement of Black people. While I don’t remember exactly how the lesson went, I do know that the history I learned about slavery in elementary school was minimal and ended with Abraham Lincoln “freeing” the slaves. It was a narrative with a lot of holes, but the most critical one was about Black people’s efforts to free ourselves.
My teachers’ mistake was to talk about the enslavement of Black people without talking about our resistance. Anytime we are sharing the realities of oppression, we must include the ways in which people experiencing oppression fight back.
This is the first of many conversations Andrew and Melissa of EmbraceRace have had with the wonderful child psychologist Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith. Allison is an expert on trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, and how children understand race. Our discussion focused on how caregivers can support children of color to be strong and resilient despite too-frequent experiences of being devalued because of their racial identities and/or immigrant status. Allison is also a black woman partnered with a white and Mexican man with whom she has two young children.
EmbraceRace: Allison, you have kids who are 5 and 7 like our kids, so let's start there. What's going on for you this week in race and parenting?
Allison: There was an event yesterday that made me really proud. We went to pick up a little girl for a playdate. She’s half Argentinean - her mom is kind of “read” and seen as white - and half Afro Brazilian - her father is really dark. And the little girl is this beautiful brown girl and we went to pick her up. My kids are black, white, and Mexican and they go to a Spanish immersion school.
Growing up in Ecuador no one taught me about racism. In school I learned that we were all victims of Spanish colonialism, indigenous and mestizos alike, and that much of our poverty as a country was because they stole our gold and our dignity. It was easy to blame the Spanish conquistadors for everything.
But later on I started hearing words like “indio,” “longo,” “chagra” — all racial epithets against indigenous people — and slowly understood that there was a clear difference between the two groups, starkly marked along class and racial lines.
Then one day in high school I was shocked to find out that “runa,” a word we commonly use in Ecuador to describe street stray dogs, actually meant “human being” in Quichua, a north Andean native language. I had used that word myself hundreds of times.
What’s so funny? Left out of the joke between my Asian American son and his African American mentor — and that’s just fine
“We’ll meet you in the parking lot,” my son texted me.
I stood at the post office, keeping my eyes open for the large green pickup my son told me was “the kind of truck I want when I get my license.”
They pulled in, laughing, my son’s smile wide with the kind of REAL laugh he reserved for the people he trusted.
I looked at them, shrugging with a quizzical look as if to say, “what’s so funny?” They doubled over in laughter again, sharing a moment that was not meant for THE MOM.
That feeling you get knowing you sometimes get treated better because others are treated worse.
I had quite the heavy foot as a young driver, and my 1984 Toyota Tercel coupe hand-me-down was happy to oblige. Sammy Hagar’s “I Can’t Drive 55” could’ve been my anthem.
Loved speed. Still do. But I’ve slowed down a little bit. With age and experience, wife and/or kids sometimes in the passenger seats, and the just-in-time obsolescence of my teen brain, nowadays I’m well aware of the dangers of excessive speed.
Back then? Not so much.
Happily, my penchant for speed didn’t lead to any serious accidents, injuries, or other big trouble. But I did get stopped for speeding. Oh yes. Between the ages of 17 and 24 I‘m guessing I got stopped maybe 10 times, mostly in my hometown of New Haven, Connecticut. Which is a lot considering that half of those years I didn’t even have a car.
How many tickets did I get? One, maybe two.