In a previous post, I shared that at the moment we adopted our first child from India, that we automatically became a multiracial family. This fact was easy to rationalize in my head, but more challenging to internalize in my being, if you will. I had to come to realize that my wife and I were not just “a white couple with an Indian child.” We were now as much as part of his culture as he was ours; and the additional challenge (for our son) in being in a multicultural family was that we were doing this in our world—on our “turf”-- and not his.
So, how do we move beyond the myth of colorblindness to help our child(ren) of color navigate a world that is not their own by birth? This is not an easy process for most parents. It takes time, patience and self-sacrifice. However, it is a process that can be successful. The following points of advice are not meant to be a one-size-fits-all formula (you have to be attuned to your child’s “wiring”). They have been shown, however, to help intercountry and domestic transracially-adopted kids adapt to their radically new environments in living with their white parents.
1. LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN! – Generally speaking, we Western World inhabitants are not the best listeners. We tend to think and process things in a linear fashion and like to come up with quick solutions. This doesn’t work for most children, and it definitely doesn’t for children from other cultures. Naturally, when our child is hurting (like my son when he was told to “go back to your country where you came from”) we want to fix things. Before we attempt to fix things, our ears must be open to listen not only to their words, but what is behind the words—the feelings. As the old saying goes “God gave us two ears but only one mouth for a reason.” Take more time than you think you need to listen to your child.
2. WHEN LISTENING, EMPATHIZE AND SYMPATHIZE BUT DON’T DISMISS-- One time when one of my children was feeling self-conscious about being one of the very few students of color in her school, I shared with her that “Sweetheart, you know, most people in the world are brown, just like you.” My comment was well-intentioned but not at all helpful to her. It did nothing to support her in how she was feeling at the time. True, most people in the world are brown, but “most people” at her school were not. I would have done better to reflect to her how she was feeling and let her talk more about those feelings. As parents we can be dismissive while having the best of intentions. We need to be sensitive to our children’s feelings and messages.
3. There are numerous other practical ways we parents can help our kids of color celebrate who they are. I remember when our daughter received her first Indian Barbie. She loved it! Barbie Dolls have traditionally been all white, but thankfully by the late 90’s when we adopted our daughter, Barbie Dolls came in multiple hues. Read to your children, or encourage them to read stories of their homeland. Have any of you parents ever seen Indian children’s fairy tale books? Well, some of the stories are pretty graphic, like the one we saw and read about tigers attacking and eating people! Nevertheless, the stories were from our son’s homeland and we read them to him. If your child is in his/her teens and love to read, encourage them to do so. If they are from Russia, tell them about Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and even Solzhenitsyn. If they’re Indian, tell them about Ghandi. If they’re African-American, encourage them to read works by MLK, Frederick Douglass and Maya Angelou.
I hope this series on “Colorblindness:” has been helpful to you. I welcome your feedback. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org