This week, I provide a White adoptive mom of two Black children with some pointers in Making Black friends.
I read both your columns about “Moving for Diversity’s” sake, which were very well and good, but I wish you had offered more practical advice for families like mine. My husband and I are both White and we actually did move for “diversity’s sake” before adopting our two children. They are both Black, biological siblings who came to us first through foster care. As soon as it became clear that we would be able to adopt them, we made plans to move to our current town, which is known for being diverse.
There are many African American families here, as well as adoptive families. Our children have had no trouble making Black friends at school, but we are at a loss for how to integrate with the Black community ourselves. Our friends here are White, as are our neighbors unfortunately. We don’t want to give our kids the sense that we are not open to having Black social connections, but we don’t know how to just go out and make Black friends. We have made several weak and somewhat humiliating attempts, but really feel clueless.
What do you suggest?
Embarrassed in Springfield
This is a great question. How do you go about making Black friends just for your child’s sake? You can’t just approach someone on the street and say: “Hey—you’re Black and I’ve adopted a Black baby. Let’s be friends!” But you wouldn’t do that with a White person either. Let’s face it: Making friends—of any race—always feels contrived unless it’s organic. You befriend people you meet because you have something in common, which leads to the flow of conversation, easy laughter and ultimately, hopefully, friendship.
For example, parents meet and connect with one another at a playground, pushing their kids on swings—or while waiting outside school at pickup time. You and another mom have children the same age who might want to play together. If you’re lucky, she might invite you and your child over some time. While the children are playing, you and the other mother chat about your kids (who brought you together in the first place). Then you might discuss your other family members, your jobs. And, since you’re sitting in her kitchen, you can say, “Hey—what a great vase! Where’d you get it?” And perhaps the other mother will tell you a story about acquiring such a treasure. In turn, you can share a story from your life, and voila! A friendship can bloom. Or not. But at least you’ve taken steps. From this first encounter, there can be more.
Notice something about this mini vignette? I didn’t mention race once. That’s because the rules for making friends are the same in every hue, every culture.
Of course, we are all more likely to strike up conversations with strangers who appear to be like us than with those who appear different. I have been to many, many playgrounds with my children, so I’m familiar with the dynamics. White moms tend to approach other White moms. Black moms approach Black moms. As for moms of Multiracial and transracially adopted kids, however—they tend to talk to everyone, regardless of race. (Of course, all this goes for dads too.) Sure, if there are other Multiracial families in the playground, they might seek one another out. But generally, parents of Multiracial families will talk to anyone. That can be you.
Still have reservations? You’re not alone. I have heard from many parents in your situation who wonder about their reception by potential Black friends.
My Goal is Making Black Friends, but What if I Say Something Insensitive or Inadvertently Racist?
Yes, that is a risk you run, but if it happens, you must promise yourself to learn from it. Be brave, apologize and ask questions if appropriate.
If I Try Making Black Friends, Will They Judge Me for Adopting a Black Child?
Again, that’s possible. But this shouldn’t be a deterrent. If you feel you are being judged by a Black person for adopting a Black child, you might—depending on the situation—engage the person and learn where he or she is coming from. In turn, that person may wind up learning something about your story that challenges his or her assumptions. Conversations lead people to see one another as individuals.
As you embark on the journey to making Black friends, be open to everything. Go to African American Heritage events. Attend services at a Black church if possible. If any of these things feel awkward—if, for example, you feel as if you stand out as the only White person present—that is a good thing! You are developing empathy for your child and other people of color. (Chances are you’ve already had experiences that help you relate, such as being the only woman in a conference room full of men.) Also, reach out to other Multiracial and transracial adoptive families; they are part of your community.
Next, let’s shift our thinking for a moment.
Instead of Making Black Friends for Your Black Child’s Sake, Consider That You Must Make Black Friends for Your Own Sake
As the parent of a Black child, think of yourself as an aspiring, honorary Black person. Racism now affects you directly because it targets someone you love more than life itself. Find ways to learn about Black culture and Black history. If you have not already, read books by Black authors, start doing so. Some recommendations: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, an American Lyric , for starters, and an incredible novel I just read, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi.
When you open the newspaper, scan for pieces that address racial topics. Dare to become sensitized to racial issues because they affect your family. As a White person, this may be difficult, even painful at times because it will force you to confront realities about Blackness, about Whiteness, that you may not have faced before. But stick with these efforts. As the parent of a Black child, as an open-minded person, making Black friends will happen sooner or later, as long as you are patient, flexible and willing to grow.
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