To The White Adoptive Parents of Black Children

I don't know what kind of racist I am, whether a reverse racist, a soft racist, a paternalistic racist, an accidental racist, or simply a racist, but one thing's for sure: I am some kind of a racist. I'm having to deal with this because this very week within the narrow confines of my skull I had a most racist and unkind thought. Yes, I did, brothers.

We were hanging out at a potluck with a white family that had adopted a black child, a little 18-month-old girl. We were eating chili with all the fixings and accompaniments. The hosts gestured at the table, offering the food to the couple. Mom, who was holding baby, got very excited and said "Yes, thank you! She just loves cornbread!"

And you know what thought I had? Yeah, you know what thought I had.

"You can't say that. Your baby's black."

You can't say your black baby likes cornbread. You can't say this. You can't say that. You have to say that this way.

All this racial over-sensitivity has turned me into a racist. I dream of a day when I can offer a black kid some watermelon without a twinge of guilt. A day when we confess that all men everywhere loved fried chicken. A day when we recognize that soul food and southern food are really the same thing.

Wikipedia pic of soul food.
Our society's hyper-awareness of race (not of ethnicity, which would be easier) must be a burden to mixed-race families generally, and especially to the white adoptive parents of black babies.

In our society, everything black people do is black, but not everything white people do is white. Every decision these parents make will be questioned by those around them. If you had adopted a white kid from your hometown, or a Russian, or a Mexican, or a Vietnamese, he would just be your kid. But this black kid you adopted, well, he's black. And you can't just raise him to be your son. No, every decision you make either makes him more white or more black. Do you like basketball? Does he like basketball? Do you like violin? Does he like violin? Because we are all watching and judging, his blackness and your whiteness hovering over all these things and robbing them of their purity.

I don't want to be colorblind. But I do want to respect your desires for you children. I want you to give them your family's identity, I want you to create new identity, and I want you to do it free of my interference.

I wish things could be pure for me. I wish I didn't make them impure for you. But when your son picks up a basketball, and when he picks up a violin, I judge you both.

Please forgive me.


  1. We're all a little biased. The key to really loving your neighbor is recognizing those biases and being willing to examine them in the light of reality.
    As one of those parents of whom you are writing, even I found myself arguing with one of my children trying to convince him he really does love his greens. I am from Texas. I serve them often and he hates them! I can't fathom. :)
    We expect to be judged. But thank you for acknowledging it. We knew going in! The odd fishbowl effect of being a conspicuous family is minuscule compared to the experiences of my children and what they will face their whole lives. My discomfort doesn't even rate. So we embrace the judges. We try to educate, and be teachable ourselves, and hopefully encourage more families to open their hearts toward adoption.
    Speaking of, your wife and you have room, don't you?

    1. According to my wife we only have room for adopted children from here on out. She's fine with more babies, but looks like we're done with gestation.

  2. I must have missed something. Why can't black babies like cornbread? Or violin?

    1. That's what I'm saying, Alchemist. We've been conditioned to remain silent about stereotypes, which only reinforces them. Our cultural atmosphere makes it difficult to keep things that ought to be free any racial reference actually free.

  3. Stereotypes, or generalizations, are helpful when they are actually recognized as such and treated with the appropriate weight. They are not good when they are ignorantly and dogmatically held, or when they become an occasion to string up those who resort to them in order to make a legitimate generalization.


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