Thoughts on race and our foster/adoptive journey

We took a family trip yesterday to several historic sites. One was the remnants of a large plantation. In its heyday, it had an enslaved community of more than 900 individuals. As we were walking around the cabins for those enslaved, our sons were playing together outside between the buildings. Only 155 years ago, that wouldn’t be possible.

Three of our children playing outside a cabin for enslaved people at Historic Stagville.

By choosing to foster or adopt, you inherently make several fundamental decisions: open your life to agency or government officials, love a child not biologically yours and affirm your child’s dignity and worth.

When we became foster parents, we quickly agreed to open our home to whatever child needed a family to love them. We let family and friends know that we would be open to children of other ethnicities. Our first placement, though, became our adopted sons. Two wonderful boys that look just like us.

Years later, after working through intensive trauma, we reopened our home. Within six months, we welcomed two biracial boys into our lives. We love both with everything we have. Standing in the pecan grove watching the three of them play between the cabins (one wasn’t with us) and the weight of that moment struck me deeply.

The thumbprint of an enslaved brickmaker visible today at Historic Stagville in Durham, NC

As the national conversation on race and injustice has unfolded in the past few years, I’ve seen the horrible news about police shootings, people being arrested for normal daily activities and families forced to separate at the border. As a middle-aged white male, my heart pours out, but I have felt completely powerless to affect change.

But then, I look at my four beautiful boys. One of which may reunify with bio parents, and one may need a higher level of care than we can provide. What I can do is ensure they have full dignity and worth, while they are with us. And if not for them, for the next child that enters our home. That means learning and honoring the culture and ethnicity that is a part of them.

Reflecting on this, I think there are four things foster and adoptive parents like me have a responsibility to do.

Seek opportunities to learn

A person in the majority culture will never be able to fully understand the life perspectives of a person of color. In order to fully give dignity and worth to a child from another culture means continually seeking opportunities to grow and learn in both humility and empathy about others.

Our church encourages everyone to intentionally have people in your sphere of influence from cultures not of your own. This includes the friends you have and the books you read. This is to ensure that people from different perspectives are speaking into your life.

Our two eldest sons contemplating life in one of these cabins during our visit.

With the start of this blog, I have taken that approach and have intentionally been following social media accounts from people of color.  It’s humbling, often uncomfortable and yet also causes me to examine myself.

There are three Instagram accounts I encourage those of us in majority culture to following. In just a few short weeks, I have learned a lot from @hashtagfostercare, @nowhitesaviors and @askapoc. I highly encourage you to follow and consider their messages.

Demonstrate honor and respect

Both of our biracial children are very young and so I’m learning how to demonstrate honor and respect for them and our pre-teens. So far, I’ve focused on two things.

The first is having people from their culture pour into their lives. We’ve been blessed for many years to attend churches where there are people of color in pastoral and leadership positions – places of authority speaking directly in to our family’s’ life. We’re also grateful to have people from other cultures and ethnicities as our friends and neighbors. 

Second, we can honor cultural practices and traditions. Our kids need to know their ethnicities in a way that makes them proud to be who they are. We both love taking care of our younger children’s hair for example. It’s quality time to have a conversation or for the baby, just be there with positive attention (while singing silly songs about curly hair and tangles).

As for cultural events, we’re working on education through our state’s wonderful historic sites. We look forward to doing other cultural events that celebrate their heritage as well. This is certainly an area of future growth.

Ensure our older children gain understanding

We also have a responsibility to ensure that our older children gain an understanding of the experiences and perspectives of people of color.  Our eldest this summer is spending time at a day camp that is minority majority. We didn’t seek out the opportunity, it just happened, but we’re so thankful for it. And he’s loving it.

We also stopped at a homemade confederate memorial on a recent tour of a Civil War battlefield and discussed why the flag is such a divisive issue on both sides of the conversation. I was glad that my second oldest remembered learning about the flag at the Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham a few years ago. Sometimes something does stick in a pre-teen brain.

Influence the conversation

Finally, we can influence the conversation in our spheres of influence when we have the opportunity. For me, that includes this blog. It’s easy to look at our society and say there’s nothing I can do. But if you have a voice, you can say something.

I’m looking forward to growing in this area with intentionality in the coming year. I’d love to be able to look back at this post next July and see a difference. Foster/adoptive parent, I challenge you to grow with me. It’s a topic I hope to write about occasionally, as a public accountability check. This has been a long, weighty post. If you have any questions or comments, I’d love to hear them in the comments.

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