I am a black woman who was adopted as a baby into a white family. My caucasian mother did everything she could think of at the time (the 1980s and 90s) to teach me about black history. She bought me black baby dolls, she bought books with black children in them, she made a point to surround me with black people throughout my life, she made sure I knew more about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks (and many other historical black figures) than just the tidbits you get in public education. And, most importantly, she taught me to be proud to be black.
She completely understood the fact that I would have a very different experience in this world than her other white children would and she tried to prepare me as best she could. She was way ahead of her time in doing this. This was long before the days where it was trendy for different famous white women to adopt black babies straight out of Africa and before there were all of the black-positive messages you see in the media now. I feel blessed to have been adopted into and raised by such an open-minded and loving family.
Now that I’m a mother, I find myself thinking more and more about how I’m going to teach my children about black history. You see, my children are white. Yes, they are my biological children (I get asked that sometimes) but they do not, for the most part, look black. They both ended up with much fairer skin than I have, plus blonde hair, and my daughter even has blue eyes. I see myself in their smiles and their personalities, but not in their skin tone. And they will experience the world differently than I did because of that.
So, why, some may ask, should I bother to teach them black history if they are not going to be perceived in the world as black? Why teach them about race at all? The answer is simply this — because it would be a huge disservice to them not to.
They are five and three years old; they still have the precious innocence that children have before they are both consciously and unconsciously taught about division in the world. They don’t even notice race. They don’t wonder why mama has darker skin than them and what that means. And that’s wonderful… for now.
But in the future? When they’re a bit older? I want them to wonder. I want them to be curious about people who look differently than them. I want them to understand that different kinds of people (particularly minorities) have different histories, experiences, and perspectives, and that being aware of that and sensitive to that is important.
My (and my children’s) black ancestors have endured so much — slavery, prejudice, discrimination, severe racism. (Yes, those are all different things.) And still to this day, as a people, we are fighting systemic racism. Our women have been neglected and demonized, our men have been convicted and imprisoned (for much longer sentences than their fellow white inmates and for much smaller crimes), and our children have been shot in the streets by police.
Are these heavy things for children to learn about? Yes. But it’s my job to help mold them into human beings who have a good sense not only of who they are, but also of others around them who are different. What if my mother had hesitated to teach me about race because she thought I wouldn’t have been able to handle it? I may have developed an unhealthy relationship with being black. Who knows? But she did the work and she had the hard conversations. She raised a black child into a proud black woman.
Ultimately, black history is an amazingly impressive and triumphant history to be a part of. It’s a history of bad asses. Black people have proven to be strong and beautiful; talented and diverse; tenacious and proud. What a shame it would be to not teach that to my children just because they don’t look black. They deserve to have a part of this culture. They deserve to know that this amazing history is a part of them. They deserve to know they are biologically linked to greatness. They deserve to be black and proud. And I hope they will be.