The conversations in our home about race and difference sneak up on me, and I inevitably find myself unprepared. All the adoption trainings in the world can’t prepare one for the actual moment that the issue will arise. Transracial adoption is tricky that way. There I am, parenting like normal, when suddenly, out of seemingly nowhere, a question is asked or a comment is made that brings up what is always there right under the surface: difference, skin tone, and diversity. The conversation can be triggered in various ways. Sometimes it’s a book or TV show. Sometimes it’s an observation my son makes about his skin compared to his brothers. Sometimes it’s a birthday or adoption anniversary. This time, it was about Martin Luther King Day.
As I tucked my son into bed last night, he asked, “Do we have school tomorrow?” “No, tomorrow is a holiday, bud,” I responded.
Naturally, he wanted to know what holiday it was, so I explained that it was Martin Luther King Day. He didn’t know who Martin Luther King Jr. was, so I told him that he was a great man who worked for the rights of black people in our country.
“Like me,” he said knowingly. “Yes, honey, like you, but he lived a long time ago. Let’s look him up tomorrow and read about him together, would you like that?”
My son nodded, and settled down into bed to go to sleep.
I recounted the conversation to my husband later that evening, and he responded, “But it really wasn’t that long ago. Not really.”
No, it wasn’t. It really wasn’t.
Just a generation or two.
As an adoptive mother, I find myself raising an African American son and having conversations about things that I myself can’t really understand or fathom. Who really can? Martin Luther King Jr. had courage to lead and speak truths that needed to be heard at a pivotal time, yet how could I sum up the work he did to an innocent child?
My son is only five years old. There’s so much he does not yet know about the world. Still, the conversations about ethnic differences have already begun. It began before he had words. Many well-meaning people have told me that he may not even notice the differences. He may feel so loved he will just navigate his childhood as if he’d been birthed into our family. However, early on, he did notice differences. By the age of three, he was asking questions and making comments about having brown skin when his brothers have white skin. This, after all, is a normal part of development: making sense of ourselves and the world around us.
As race and privilege have arisen as major topics in the nation’s conversation over the past year, my son has remained mostly oblivious, too young to watch the news. Still, I know, one day he will understand. Over time, difficult conversations will be had. I won’t always be able to shield him from the hurt, pain, and prejudice he may experience.
I am humbled by the responsibility that I have been given to raise this precious boy. With God’s help, I will navigate this conversation, and all that are to come. I will teach my children what heroism looks like: standing up for justice and righteousness, even when there is opposition. We will read and learn together about Martin Luther King Jr. and other heroes with brown skin who changed the world.
The truth is, I am not just opening the eyes of my son to see the world differently: he has opened my eyes. I have so much still to learn myself. I have seen a different reality since becoming his mother. Things that I had the privilege to not see before, now I cannot unsee. Things I could choose not to hear before, now I cannot unhear. I am an advocate. I am a protector. I am a mama bear, and with this role has come the humility and discomfort of a new sort of education. It’s easy to dismiss uncomfortable things until you have “skin in the game.” Now I do.
So, on this Martin Luther King Day, I want to stop and say thank you to those who have made themselves uncomfortable to advocate for those who have been marginalized and oppressed.
May we have the bravery to humble ourselves, listen, and learn. May we have the courage to do this, even if it makes us uncomfortable.
Pause, Renew, Next!