11 June 2012

An African, American Family

So, since we're adopting from Ghana, we're looking at becoming African Americans. I mean, obviously not exactly, since Stephen, Ezra, and I are all obviously white, and we just don't have access to "what it's like" to be black in America.

But still, we must educate ourselves on being of African descent and living in America because that's exactly the experience our child will have growing up. And though it's more fun to educate myself on what type of hair my son or daughter may have (especially since E still has very little hair to speak of), it's much more important for me to educate myself on how to parent him or her as a member of a community of which I am not a part.

What I am still trying to figure out is this weird question of  how much emphasis do we place on our child's African-ness? Because he won't have an accent, or memories, or anything to really explicitly show that he was born in Ghana, not Texas. So in many ways, it seems like he may be treated by most people as an American of African descent, rather than an African who is also American.

Gosh, am I making sense? I sometimes feel just so out of my element when thinking through this that I don't even know if my thoughts are logical or not. Our child will not have the same shared history of African Americans with ancestors who were slaves, or who were subjected to Jim Crow laws, or were burdened with the injustice of segregation, though she probably has ancestors who were taken from Ghana to become slaves. But does the fact that her relatives didn't experience what her black friends' relatives experienced matter in the light of the fact that she will often be treated as though they did? I don't know, and I don't even know how to know. Anybody?

So this is the first book I'm ordering to read. I'm hoping, as time passes, that I'll be guided to other meaningful books and discussions. Living in an area of the United States that can still be prejudiced, and frankly hateful, towards non-whites, it is imperative that we not stick our heads in the sand and pretend like a "color-blind" philosophy of parenting will suffice.


  1. You might try "'Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?': A Psychologist Explains the Development of Racial Identity." We read it in my multicultural issues in higher education class, and while it may not answer all your specific questions, it does a good job of explaining black identity development and how the author taught her children about race.


  2. Hmmm ...

    Great questions.

    I won't pretend to know all of the answers, but here are a few thoughts ...

    #1 Our children born in Ghana are much darker skinned than most African Americans ... so most people rightly "guess" that they are "from Africa".

    #2 Even black children born in America and adopted by white families, do not really "fit" into the African American culture. (I know multiple families whom have adopted black children from the states, and they do not necessarily find their way into African American culture.)

    #3 We really don't "focus on" the fact that they are dark skinned, nor do we pretend it's a non-issue. We talk openly about our physical differences. We talk about the prejudice in our community (and the country). We talk about Black Americans in history.

    But ... really ... our children are being raised much more "white" than anything else. They moved into our culture, and are adapting to it quite well (even playing sports on the local public school team ... with only 2 or 3 other blacks on the track team).

    Now ... some families choose to move to the more urban areas, so that their African children are raised amongst other blacks. Some families go our of their way to make sure their child is surrounded by friends that are also adopted from Africa. (Which I actually find odd, as I don't pick my friends by the color of their skin, nor do I want my children to.) And, that's fine. But, I do not believe it is necessary ... to move ... to make sure and find "black friends" for them ... nor to worry too much about becoming an "African American Family" because we have children from Africa.

    Just a few thoughts ...


    1. Laurel, we're planning on moving into the middle of a large city in about 5 years; I'd guess most of our kids' neighborhood friends will be hispanic, but I'm sure we will also have many black neighbors as well. We are also considering putting our children in public school earlier than we originally thought (3rd or 4th grade). I mean, who knows what we'll actually do once we actually have the decision in front of us.

      My point is simply that my kiddos will probably have a good bit of interaction with the black community (certainly more than in smaller towns in our region of the US). We aren't planning on moving for our kids to be near people with similar skin tones (in fact, half of our small group at church isn't white). That's just the area with the campus we feel called to serve long-term.

      I suppose that's been my main worry is simply that they won't "fit in" with African American culture, but that they won't be treated as white by strangers and such. Having never been excluded from a culture to which I wanted to belong, or at least always having a culture I felt completely at ease in, I don't know what it feels like to kind-of-but-not-really belong to a larger group.

      I suppose I just want to protect my kids from pain, especially pain I haven't experienced myself. And, in the absence of personal experience, I want to have some tools on hand to help my kids through difficult times that may be related to the color of their skin or their country of origin.

    2. Thanks for giving more details of long term plans. That will be interesting to see how the African American culture welcomes her (being from a white family) when you move to the city.

      We live in a very white town (yet many families have adopted internationally in the past 5 years) and our girls have not experienced any racism that we are aware of. (They've been home 4 years.) Even though we know that the older generation in our area can be quite prejudice, most of the younger generations (our age and our kids ages) are very welcoming.

      Great things to ponder, thanks for the post.


    3. Just a bit of my personal background . . .

      In the 1960's-1970's, I was a middle class "white kid" who was bussed to a ghetto "black school" as part of the desegregation movement. I went to a school that was 98% black (having just moved from a small town that was 100% white), and I loved it. I accepted them and they accepted me. I had no problem "fitting in" even though it was a completely new culture for me.

      I was raised to respect any race/culture, and I have raised my children the same.

  3. This is interesting for me to read since we want to eventually adopt from an African country. Thanks for this post

  4. We had to take some training before adopting our daughter from China...I think it's required by the state. It addresses some of these issues. I'll look though the material and see if there are book recommendations. Our plan is to incorporate some Chinese culture, but kind of let her lead a to how much she wants to do.