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How to Talk About Racism, Adoption and Parenting a Black Boy in America
This podcast will focus on adoption, single-parenting, racism and raising a black boy in today’s America. This episode was recorded right at the time when the video showing the incident between Amy Cooper and Christian Cooper in Central Park—but before the rallies, riots, and George Floyd’s death. Nefertiti Austin, author of Motherhood So White, talks about parenting children of color in a racially-charged country as well as her personal account of adopting through the foster-care system and raising her black son. She asks that all of us speak to our children about racism and be aware of our own unconscious biases so that we can move towards a more balanced, level playing field for all children.
Guest Expert: Nefertiti Austin
Each year, thousands of Americans choose to go through the adoption process to build their families. Those who know me, know that my 2 children were both adopted by my husband and myself and also happen to be full blood siblings. Just a little bit over 12 years ago, we began the adoption process and went through the many feelings that come with adoption, and for us, an open adoption, with our children’s birth family. We did it again just 16 months after my daughter was born with my son. Every adoption is deeply personal and different depending on who is involved and the decisions that the many people involve make or has to make in order to ensure that the process ends with a well-cared for, loved child. It’s not a cookie-cutter process. Adoption is just a piece of what we are going to discuss today- because there is a very important layer of discussion that my next guest brings to light as well and that is, race and gender as it relates to fostering, adopting and parenting in America. She puts high beams on the question; “what are the challenges that single black women must face when fostering, adopting and parenting in America? And a secondary question that we will also explore which is, how can we raise black boys in America understanding the racism and stereotypes that seem to be weaved into the fabric of American culture?
We remember the past stories of young black boys senselessly killed such as Trayvon Martin—but then hear recent accounts of young black men killed because they were jogging in a white neighborhood or a woman calling the cops on a black man watching birds in Central Park because he requested that she leash her dog. How does a mother parent a black boy in an America that assumes that black boys are doing the wrong thing even when they are doing the right thing? Or, where my next guest writes, “where a hoodie plus a black male is synonymous with danger?” This is an important topic for everyone. If changes are going to be made when it comes to racism, the foster-care system, hyper-masculinity, sexism and how black boys are raised and regarded in today’s culture, we have got to talk about it and set some intentions to make the changes in our ow lives- in the way we raise our children and the way we see other children in America. For this, I am excited to have a conversation with Nefertiti Austin.
Author and memoirist, Nefertiti Austin writes about the erasure of diverse voices in motherhood. Her work around this topic has been short-listed for literary awards and appeared in the “Washington Post”, “Huffington Post”, MUTHA, “The Establishment”, matermea.com, Essence.com, “Adoptive Families” magazine, PBS SoCal’s “To Foster Change” and PBS Parents. She was the subject of an article on race and adoption in “The Atlantic” and appeared on “HuffPost Live” and “One Bad Mother”, where she shared her journey to adoption as a single Black woman. Nefertiti’s expertise stems from firsthand experience and degrees in U.S. History and African-American Studies. Nefertiti is a former Certified PS-MAPP Trainer, where she co-led classes for participants wanting to attain a license to foster and/or adopt children from foster care system. An alumna of Breadloaf Writers’ Conference and VONA, her first two novels, Eternity and Abandon, helped usher in the Black Romance genre in the mid-1990s. She is also the author of the 2019 memoir and parenting book, Motherhood So White: A Memoir of Race, Gender and Parenting in America.
The podcast provides:
- A discussion of adopting through the foster care system
- Arming yourself with the truth when it comes to adopting through the public system
- How to talk to kids about adoption
- How to ask for help
- Parenting children of color in a racially-charged country.
- Discussing unconscious racial bias with the schools
- How to help kids process what’s going on and how they can rise above it
- Adoption isn’t for everybody but if you are called to do it- answer the call.
- Block out what people might be saying to talk you out of adoption.
- Arm yourself with information
- Read about the “mythical crack baby” and know the truth.
- The kids who are placed in a loving, stable home can thrive.
- Stereotypes even from other black people regarding adoption.
- Fear mongering in media around adoption.
- Feel that you don’t have the right to complain- not true.
- Kids in foster care are not the dregs of society- not the bottom of the barrel. You are not doing them a favor. You are not their savior.
- In every relationship you have your good days or bad days.
- There is real strength in asking for help. Ask for the help you need.
- Look for others who can help—for single moms, for those who are looking for male “father” figures if you are raising a boy- you might want to ask someone you trust like a coach or uncle. Especially as they get older- they might need that safe space and that person for advice and help.
- Talking about adoption: Start before the kids can talk. Talk to them about adoption from a place of joy so that they don’t associate the word adoption with something that is bad. “I’m so happy I got to adopt you!” “Your birth parents were unable to take care of you. Your parents are the people who provide shelter and clothing and food and if they have the means, travel, and certainly love—whether or not you are related to them. This is our family configuration and it works for us.” “Just as your skin is brown you’re adopted and…please take the trash out.”
- Talking to other kids about adoption: “They live with me because their birth parents were unable to take care of them. So I’m their Mom.” Matter-of-fact about it.
- Taboo topics don’t need to be taboo if we don’t make it so.
- Treyvon Martin- had this conversation early. Central park Christian Cooper incident- had this conversation early too.
- It is so important for parents who have children of color to steal some of their innocence early to keep them safe. We need to let them know that there are people who will come for you just because of your skin color. By the same token, you don’t have to be afraid because we have come from people who have survived crazy atrocities.
- Conversation about how to talk to your child of color when they are frustrated with racism, racist people or racist people in charge: “We have survived worse. We have survived slavery and Jim Crowe and segregation and there is still all out war on black men and black women because there are people who transcend such nonsense. We are not going to get stuck there. We are not going to get trapped there. We’re going to remember the people who came before us who laid the foundation so that you can go to school with white kids and it’s not a big deal. And you can play lacrosse. And you can go to a camp that is specific to black engineers because you can be all of these things because it is all of who you are you have a right to do it.”
- You need to know that because you are a black boy, some people will assume that you are not smart and funny because of the color of your skin.
- Teaching the school community to practice empathy. Have the hard, courageous conversations about unconscious bias. Was he “aggressive” or was he “annoyed” or “frustrated”. Word choice makes a difference.
- Nefertiti talks about how, with her son, she needed to tell him that he couldn’t do the same things as white boys because they would be viewed differently. On the other side of the coin, she spoke to the school to make sure they were aware of bias so they can nip that in the bud. Also, that she will always have his back.
- ASK: What do you think? How does that make you feel? Hyper masculinity might tell you that he has to hold in his emotions. What’s a different approach? Don’t be ashamed.
- Sometimes it’s painful for her black son to look at racism in America. It’s not a level playing field and it hurts. “Why do they hate us so much?” Painful to hear. Answer: Because we are black people. But that’s dumb. Why would a system be put into place to restrict our progress just because of our origins or what we look like or hair texture? It’s hurtful.” He won’t go beyond his neighborhood.
- ASK ALL CHILDREN: What would YOU do? Small scale or big scale. White parents must talk to their white children about racism—not just parents of color who need to talk to their kids of color. White people have an obligation to protect their friends- especially their friends of color.
- Speak up when someone says something wrong to a person of color or to a kid who is in the LGBTQ community. See something, say something. Or tell a teacher. Tell a parent. Do something.
- Black mothers should be able to see themselves on the page. We are parenting children of color in a racially-charged country.
- White parents- read books that are by people of color so you can understand how they view what’s going on, their challenges, their ideas.
- “Adoption isn’t for everybody but if adoption is something you are called to do, I think you should answer the call.”
- “It’s really about nurture. When children are placed in a loving, stable home, by the 3rd or 4th grade, you can’t tell the difference between the child who might have had drug exposure or who might have had a chaotic first year or so.”
- “Kids in foster care are not the dregs of society. They are not the bottom of the barrel. You are not doing them a favor and you are not their savior.”
- “There is real strength in asking for help. Ask for the help you need.”
- “Talk to kids about adoption from a happy, confident place—a place of joy- so that they don’t associate the word adoption with something that is feared, negative or secret.
- “Your parents are the people who provide shelter and clothing and food and if they have the means, travel, and certainly the ones who provide consistent love—whether or not you are related to them.”
- “It is so important for parents who have children of color to steal some of their innocence early to keep them safe. We need to let them know that there are people who will come for you just because of your skin color. By the same token, you don’t have to be afraid because we have come from people who have survived crazy atrocities.”
- “Race colors so much of our lives.”
- “We have to be able to support each other. White people have an obligation to protect their friends- especially their friends of color. Ask ‘how can I help? What should I tell my kids? I wasn’t raised that way but I want to be better. I want to raise my kids differently.”
- “If someone says something to another person that doesn’t seem right to you, speak up. We say; if you see something, say something. It’s the same thing here.”
- Motherhood So White (book)
- IG: @Iamnefertitiauston
- Twitter: NeferitiAustin
- Facebook: Nefertiti Austin