A prospective adoptive parent writes:
My husband and I are of European descent. I am American and he is British, and we live in the US. We have no children and are beginning the process of adopting one or more children with African-American heritage. We both grew up in racially mixed communities and have spent most of our adult lives living in large cities with people from all sorts of backgrounds.
My husband was born in Ghana, and his family lived there for over 10 years (though my husband moved to Oman at the age of 2). His family has an intimate knowledge of and fondness for Ghana and its rich culture. As part of West Africa, people from what is today Ghana were forced into the slavery and taken to the North American continent, so there is an ancestral connection between that region of Africa and many African Americans.
My husband also went to boarding school in the UK, and there were many African children at the school. His best friend to this day is a Nigerian man who lives in Lagos. My husband grew up with very open and intimate friendships with African boys, and we want this experience to help us and our children to celebrate being a multi-ethnic family.
Do you have any suggestions regarding whether and how we should integrate this part of my husband’s background into how we teach our children about their ethnic backgrounds and ours, and how to celebrate those backgrounds? Is it appropriate to explicitly draw from this part of my husband’s history in developing our children’s identity and their connection to us as parents?
Michele Johnson’s answer:
It is wonderful that your husband has a rich African experience from which to draw as you begin parenting African American children. You must however keep in mind that these are completely different cultures and experiences. For you to successfully parent American Black children, boys in particular, you have to have a deep understanding of American racism, and all that is necessary to keep them safe, and have positive self-esteem in a culture which will both devalue them, and often fear them as well. You both must seek out the African American community as your primary resource. Any African connections must be seen as bonuses and should not replace these relationships with African Americans.
A mistake many people of European descent make (regardless of their national origin) when they have diversity in their background is to assume they know more than they actually do. If you acknowledge that you may be starting at square one, and don’t have many answers, this is good. Then learning about African American culture becomes a family journey and not one your children have to figure out solely on their own. Best of luck!
John Raible Answers:
It’s not clear from your message how you and your husband identify yourselves racially. You might want to think about why you did not come right out and state your race or your husband’s. That could be an indication of some discomfort with discussing race openly. If you’ve read my other posts, you know how strongly I believe that race is something that needs to be addressed openly and consistently in families raising children of color.
I know only something about your nationalities and that your husband spent time as a child living in Africa. Whether you are white, black, or multiracial, I would first of all say that of course it makes sense to draw upon all of your experiences in your parenting. I mean, how could you not do so? Another important consideration if you are going to raise children of African descent is providing adults (as well as other children) who look like them on a daily basis. That is, as you look around the places where you live, work, shop, and socialize, can you observe other African Americans and people of African/Caribbean descent? You certainly don’t want to make the mistake of forcing your kids to become the token black kid in their classes, day care centers, or neighborhoods.
As you think further about how to celebrate diversity and the multi-ethnic composition of your family, you may want to consider your orientation to multiculturalism. Do you prefer the heroes and holidays approach, whereby you are open to teaching kids about history (like your comments on the slave trade) and attending cultural festivals every now and then? Or are you comfortable with an anti-racist/anti-bias approach through which you explicitly address racism, and talk openly with kids about strategies for identifying it and confronting it? A third approach is an immersion approach, where you might decide consciously to relocate to a racially mixed or even all-black neighborhood so that your entire family becomes steeped in African American culture, and all of you can form ongoing friendships with people of color.
Hope these ideas are helpful, and I wish you good luck on your continuing journey through multiculturalism.