Recently a friend was over for a play date with her two kids. On the way home from the park she told me the story of a young Black girl who was adopted by dear friends of her parents twenty some years ago, in a near by state. The young woman was the only child of color in her neighborhood, and her school all her life. Her family had no friends of color, and did precious little to expose their daughter to people of any color at all, as far as the story teller knew. As the girl grew up, she began her own research wherever she could find answers, which was for the most part on television. By 19 she had run away from home, in search of a more authentic Black experience, according to the friend. It has been years since she has heard any news of the young woman from the family.
Even if this story is missing 90% of the truth, and sharing only 10% of it, the outcome did not really surprise me at all. I sat with that story, grieved for the girl, and the family. I immediately wondered how that story might or might not apply to the experience my sons were having. Then I let myself try to imagine being raised by parents of color in a non white community. I tried to imagine what it would be like, if there were no white people in my neighborhood or school, or in 98% of the movies I saw, or music I listened to. I imagined only going to a Black/ person of color dentist, and doctor, and once in a great while meeting another white kid at a play group, or on a soccer team. I imagined what it would be like if everyone assumed her and I would naturally want to be friends because of how much we were suddenly alike. I tried to picture my family acting out their very well intentioned “white traditional customs” to help me feel seen or taken into consideration.
Then I imagined my family noticing all of that, and doing their very best to make friends who looked like me, with kids who looked like me too, and not just having a few books on the shelf, and one white doll. I let myself feel the relief in knowing I was not always going to be the other, the exception, the one who “is not really white, because we see her as one of us!” I imagined how I might feel so worried to ask them for what I perceived I needed in case it seemed like to do so was in someway a negation of all the “good” and “loving” they were providing me. Not that I would even know what it is I needed to begin with, but if I did…
I tried to picture arriving at college years later, and being roommates with another white person, but really not understanding certain “givens” that all other white people might just assume I would know, or do, or talk about. Givens around customs, hair care, celebrations, religion, food, art, and so forth.
That little five minute journey opened me up even more to what I need to be doing more of, and more of. Sammy did not choose to be placed in this family. I chose to honor his place in this world to the best of my ability, when his first mom, his birth mom, his only mom until I showed up placed him in my arms. The more I learn, experience and grow, the more able I am to provide him with an experience that allows him to be as fully realized as possible in this world he has been placed in. That is my duty to him, and Marcel.
I just know that for me anyway, I tend to learn more, when I can imagine myself in the other person’s shoes. Or, at least try to.