interracial family

Afro-Latina: Black History is American History

I recently had a mother write to me. Being an adoption professional, I thought it was about her struggles with adoption. That was simply not the case. She was a white mom from the Midwest who shared that at the age of 36 she was reading the works of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for the first time. I literally had to read that line a few times. Let that soak in. For the first time.  She contacted me realizing that she had been deprived of our full American history growing up. She also had realized that Black history is American history. Her hope was that I somehow could help her discover what to learn so that she, in turn, could change the narrative for her children.   

Peralta Project, NYC  

Peralta Project, NYC  

Black history points us to a truth we have often been denied in the classroom. I remember in school learning that the Black American narrative is a lineage of suffering, survival and sacrifice.  It is a story of how a people survived the Ku Klux Klan, domestic terror, and Jim Crow then and now. What I wasn’t taught is that in the midst of that suffering, we see a heritage of grit, resilience, and a purpose to reject the falsehood that Black Americans are insignificant to our American story. Isn’t that what makes the story of America a wonderful tale? We defied the odds by creating a nation whose people had grit, were resilient and had purpose.

The Black American influence on our history is important and is profoundly imprinted in the fabric of America. This cannot be denied.  This is why we cannot simply talk about American history and black history as if they are two separate entities. They are interwoven and forever bonded. But we haven’t gotten that right in our schools, in our homes, in our county. That is why we celebrate and honor Black History Month.  We are tired of our complete American history being tainted and glazed over for far too long. We must do better for ourselves and for children.

Our history is hard. It is often difficult to deny the appalling legacy of slavery and how white supremacy that has been embedded in life in the United States. We can’t deny that it is all around us to this day. All we need to do is turn on the television to see disproportionate mass incarcerations, police violence in Black communities, and even in our nation's acceptance of poverty and poor educational opportunities for families of color. 

Why is Black History Month not enough?

Black Americans have left an incredible imprint on literaturetheologymathematicsscienceart, and music, to name a few. To me, celebrating Black History Month is not just about pointing out the systemic woes of our Black brothers and sisters, it can also be about pride, compassion, and understanding the significance of difference. 

obama.jpg

President Obama

Taken by : Kehindle Wiley

It’s great that we celebrate Black History Month every year. However, like the mom who was brave enough to write me and ask for guidance, we need to be stretched in this country. We need to be brave and lean into our true narrative. Celebrating or acknowledging Black history during the shortest month of the year doesn’t let us off the hook. Anyone who turns on the news knows we have a long way to go. My hope is that we will be challenged to dig deeper and embrace a new narrative of inclusivity in the history we make each day. 

What can we do?

I have found that education and connection are the key to embracing the narrative about our complex American history. I spend a great deal of time writing and educating others about my own multicultural experience in America.  In a recent blog post entitled , The New South, I address challenges I have experienced while raising our multiracial family in the South. It’s time that we, Americans, embrace that just like my family our history is multiracial too.

There are tons of sites that are dedicated to America’s true history. I recently discovered a wonderful website known as  Teaching Tolerance. This is a good resource dedicated to “reduce prejudice, improve intergroup relations and support equitable school experiences for our nation’s children.” What I love about this site is that they offer a quarterly themed magazine with titles like, “The School to Prison Pipeline, “Once Upon a Time in America,” and The Dream Deferred, America After the King Years.” Having the tools to have hard conversations about our rich history is critical and Teaching Tolerance does a great job of providing resources and tools that can be used in the home and school.

Our history is hard, beautiful and tells the story of a resilient people who never gave up and continue to make history every single day. Michelle Obama said it best, “Though the month of February is set aside to celebrate Black history by remembering the lives of our forebearers who relentlessly sacrificed their lives as martyrs for liberation and the advancement of the Black community, we must not forget that every day in America, Black history is being made. African-Americans have struggled through decades of injustice, and still carry on in that legacy today; yet with persistent resolve and unwavering grit, we continue to shatter the glass ceiling. We must not be confined to a month in telling our stories, but our stories must be told each and every day. “

Mrs. Obama.jpg

Michelle Obama

Taken by Amy Sherald

Adoption: Where Did You Get that Baby?

I will never forget the day we brought our son home from the hospital. He was small, pink, and perfect.  We were scared to death and overjoyed all at the same time. I remember the first time I felt like we finally hit a routine.  As many of you know, bringing an infant home from the hospital is no small task. I remember thinking “Why did I move away from home again? Away from all my family and away from all the help in the world.” After weeks of no sleep, and showers only when my husband got home from work, I finally felt like we had a routine. What our routine didn’t include was a whole lot of outside time!

-Our first family photo 2005-

-Our first family photo 2005-

This particular afternoon with stroller in hand we braved the cold in the small town we lived in. We took a small tour of our local neighborhood and at the end when we had nearly reached our driveway saw our elderly neighbor from across the street come outside. She was saying something which I didn’t quite make out. I asked her to say it again as I hadn’t heard her the first time. “Where did you get that baby?” she repeated, this time a bit louder so I could understand.

Where did you get that baby?

I could understand why she was curious. Having not been pregnant or discussed our adoption with anyone but close family and friends, and seeing me here and now with this little baby was a shock. As our conversation continued, I quickly realized she wasn’t curious but rather concerned. I graciously explained that we were in the process of adopting our handsome son, but her expression let me know she wasn’t comfortable with the situation at all. What happened next still gives me chills. As I walked down the road, she called her nephew, a police officer, to come and figure out where I “got” our baby.

Think about that for a minute. How did I feel when he approached me?  How could I feel? Humiliated. Here I was, a government employee having to explain to another government employee who my son was and a brief story of his adoption. Humiliating for both he and I. I wasn’t ready for that encounter or many others we have experienced over the last 12 years.  I share most of these stories and what I have learned from them during my speaking engagements because I think it’s necessary for other adoptive parents to hear that they’re not alone and that they can thrive. The first lesson I immediately learned after this event was this neighborhood would never fully embrace our family. That year we sold the house and moved to a great neighborhood with very accepting neighbors.

I was ill prepared to address the interactions that were surely to come.

This encounter taught me that I was ill prepared to address the interactions that were surely to come. Over the years I have learned valuable lessons about how to parent in a way that embraces and educates our community regarding our multiracial family and our adoption journey.  This is why I believe that parents that have adopted interracially need to understand that parenting your (adopted) child will require additional skills that you may not currently possess but that you can learn.