One of the key points I’ve taken from my adoption related reading is that “love isn’t enough” when it comes to being a tri-racial family. Turo is black; we are not. And this raises a whole host of issues/challenges/considerations as we navigate our lives together.
One of the reasons we moved back to our Midwestern college town was that we felt it would be a positive place to be an Ethiopian/white/Puerto Rican family. When we’re out and about, we usually see people of various races/ethnicities. Turo has a Black doctor and a Black dentist. Our neighborhood is fairly diverse. According to 2010 Census data, our zipcode is 65% white, 17% Black. There are two African American families on block and I often see Indian, Asian, Muslim and other Black families when we’re out and about. This is a plus. The downside? We don’t really know any of these people. Granted, the Black families on our street don’t have young kids, which would likely help the situation. The closest relationship we have is with the African American man three houses from us who goes for a daily walk when the weather is nice. If we’re in the front yard, Turo will engage this man in a conversation. However, after an outing downtown where we spent some time talking with Gary (an African American guitar player who sings on various corners), Turo asked our neighbor if he played the guitar. I panicked. Does Turo not have enough exposure to Black men that they “all look alike” to him? Or would he have asked this question to anyone we encountered this particular afternoon? This neighbor and his wife have raised three kids in this community. I would love to pick their brains about raising a Black boy in our town. How does one bring this up?
Last weekend our city had an African American heritage festival. Turo and I headed downtown to check it out. The highlights for Turo were playing the various percussion instruments for sale and buying a bubble gun (or as I am calling it “bubble machine”). I don’t think it even registered to him that there were more people who looked like him than looked like me. But I noticed how the men with whom we spoke, talked with Turo. And when we have these types of conversations, it makes me realize how important it is for Turo to have African American men in his life. I want him to have mentors he can talk with. Who can help him develop his racial identity. Who can help him address/think about issues that come with being Black in our country.
There have not been a lot of black families in the classes/kid events we’ve attended (unless it’s an African American themed event). I even tried to do storytime at the library in the neighboring town (which has a larger African American population), but we were the only people who attended the two times we went. One place I’ve been pleased with the diversity is at the child care at our gym. The staff make-up is about half African American and half White. And Turo usually is not the only kid of color there.
Even our circle of friends is pretty homogenous. Totally awesome and open (love you all), but still pretty White. I did try to befriend the African American mom and her bi-racial daughter at our music class, but we last saw them at Halloween. I also went to an African American authors’ book club at the library at the above mentioned neighboring town in an attempt to expand my social network. I really enjoyed the conversation that these mainly older Black women had about the book we read, but I also wondered if I was invading a special space they had created. I’ve gone back and forth on this. It’s an African American authors book club not book club for African Americans. It’s in a public library. If they wanted to keep it intimate, they’d hold it at someone’s home, right? I read the book for May. Yet when the night came for the meeting, I stayed home.
Diversity was a huge factor in the preschool search. I visited several schools in which Turo would’ve been the only African American student. They were quickly ruled out. It came down to the Montessori school with a handful of black students and the religiously affiliated school with the African American teacher and a more diverse student body. I loved the idea of Turo having a Black teacher, but I also was drawn to the curriculum and methods of Montessori. The second school’s structure was fine, but it didn’t have the spark of the Montessori. In the end, I pushed for the Montessori. I just feel like Turo will thrive in an environment that really pushes discovery and creativity (plus they have yoga and Spanish, how great is that?) Yet, I think back to things I’ve read arguing that diversity should trump academics and wonder if Turo should be going to the school where he’d be in the majority?
I did attend the African American Parents group for our school district in April. I was the only White parent there (there were a couple of white teachers in attendance too). The discussion mainly centered on upcoming budget cuts and how this would impact African American students. After the meeting, several dads introduced themselves. They told me how they had grown up in this district and how many of the same issues they faced continue to impact black students, especially black boys. I’ve been passionate about educational equality long before Turo was in the picture, but now it is personal. I left feeling positive about future involvement with this group, especially once Turo is actually in school. The co-chair of the group (not the one I first e-mailed) seemed nice and approachable. I’m trying to get up the nerve to e-mail him to ask him for some support/advice about finding resources for Turo (like sports teams, classes, etc. that may have a larger African American enrollment than the groups I’ve been finding).
This is one of the major parenting things I really don’t want to f- up. Yet, I will. Hopefully, screw ups and all, Turo will always know I’m in his corner, advocating for him every step of the way.