She Was White, I Was Black
by Lefonché Rawls
I was about 13 years old when I reached my third foster home. It was in the Bronx on Allerton Ave. I liked it a lot. It was on a clean and quiet block. The only problem was that my foster mother Alicia was Italian (yes, she was White) and I was Black. I had all this hate and hostility toward White people because of my mother. She didn’t like White people. She was a Muslim. She taught me that all White people were evil. So my first impressions of Alicia were “White Devil,” “Black Rapist,” and “Black Slave Master for over 430 years.” That day that I went to Alicia Campbell’s home, I was hungry and tired. After hours and hours of waiting at the agency, she finally showed up. There she was–a tall, thin White woman with blackish-grayish hair.
An Exciting Welcome
After getting to know each other a little while, I then turned to my former foster family (who had been abusing me both mentally and physically) and said goodbye. (But in my mind, I was really saying “good riddance.”) Alicia’s first reaction to me was: “She’s beautiful.” She said I was her “pretty little brown baby.” Alicia and I went downstairs to her car and drove off.
We pulled up to a two-family house. I thought to myself, I always wanted to live in a house. I took a look inside and saw a beautiful upstairs and downstairs. I also saw a little brown mixed poodle and Lhasa-Apso. The excitement wasn’t over yet. Charging downstairs was a big, black-and-mahogany colored Rotweiler, who ran straight towards me. I started to scream, but Alicia told me not to scream because Spirit (that was the dog’s name) would attack. “Spirit just wants to get to know you,” she said, “that’s all.” That night we stayed up talking and eating Chinese food and ice cream, and when I went to bed I had my own room to sleep in. The next morning, Alicia took me to the video store where she worked. There we watched videos, waited on customers, and had lunch. All she did was buy me presents all day. And she told me not to worry about anything, so I didn’t. At the end of the day we closed down the video store and went home. We saw some neighbors outside, and she introduced me to them. They were all Italian. The whole block was Italian.
Building a Family
The neighbors were friendly people. They invited me into their houses but I said no. Maybe next time. I felt like it was too soon. About a month after living with Alicia Campbell, I got used to her and the neighborhood. I always thought that all White people were evil, and all they wanted to do was rape us, make fun of us, and turn us into slaves. But I was wrong. Instead, Alicia was the nicest, sweetest, most caring and non-judgemental White person I had ever met. In fact, she was the first White person I had any real contact with. I started to love her. I met her sister Carol, her niece Cielo, her nephew John, and her brother-in-law Sal a week after I got there. I thought they were all very nice. That night her sister Carol made Fettucini Alfredo for dinner. That was the first time I’d ever eaten anything like that, but it was delicious.
Alicia taught me about my Black History. She taught me about Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. She even taught me about Jackie Robinson, which surprised me, because I didn’t think she was interested in Black sports. She taught me never to give up on myself. She taught me that no matter what anyone says about me, whether they’re White or Black, to just ignore them, “because people fear what they don’t know.” She also told me that it’s not just White people who will put me down, it’s Black people, too.
I learned a lot from Alicia. She was very open-minded about race, because she had been married to a Black man. But they got a divorce. After about two years Alicia wanted to adopt me. I was now 13 and ready to be adopted.
Mother Says No
Alicia said to me, “I love you and I want you to be my daughter.” I then turned to her and said, “I love you, too. And I want you to adopt me.” So we told my social worker and she said, “That’s great! Except for one thing, we have to get your mother’s approval first.” I was kind of leery about my mother approving, but I went through with it. My social worker finally got in contact with my mother. My mother said no. I knew she would. She said I should be with my family instead of with strangers.
I told her, “For two years nobody in my family wanted me, or they didn’t have time, or they didn’t have any space, but now that somebody ‘Nice and White’ wants to claim me, you have an objection to it. It’s not like you’re doing anything for me.”
My mother still stuck with her decision. I knew my mother didn’t want me to be adopted because Alicia was White. That hurt me a lot. After everything was over with, I ended up getting ripped apart from someone who really loved and cared for me, and who I loved and cared for, too. Instead, I went to my cousin’s apartment in midtown Manhattan. I didn’t like it because my cousin wasn’t Alicia. As soon as I got there, I started to cry. I cried like I had never cried before in my life. It was a very hard and agonizing decision to deal with. As I laid on the floor kicking and screaming, watching Alicia drive off, I felt tremendous pain and sorrow.
This took a big toll on me. I lost my self-esteem, I lost my energy, and I felt like I was losing my mind. I felt like everyone in the whole world was against me. I felt like my whole world was coming to an end. I often think about Alicia. I think about how my life could’ve been. I would’ve had a family who would’ve loved me and cared for me. I would’ve had a mother who would’ve been there for me no matter what circumstance I might have had to face.
It’s very unfair how so many young children and young adults have to have their decisions made for them. We as foster children don’t really have any rights. If our biological parents aren’t doing right by us, then we should have the say who we want to be with. I feel it doesn’t matter what color your guardian is, so long as they’re doing right by you. That’s all that matters. Some people feel that Blacks should be with Blacks and Whites should be with Whites. That’s not true. Your own kind can mistreat you.
Reprinted with permission from Foster Care Youth United, May/June 1996