Every child of color experiences racism. It may be overt, prejudicial racism like name calling or it may be more subtle, experienced through social nuances that are felt but unseen. It’s often both. And, for adoptive parent and adoptee alike, seeing racism for what it is can be difficult. Talking about it is even tougher.
Racism is real and it happens. Yes, even today, even in your community. Often adoptees don’t talk about it because they don’t have the language to accurately describe what happened; they may not even know that what happened was racism. Or they may avoid talking about it because they were frustrated by a previous situation where they felt you just “didn’t get it”.
So what can you do? How do you process race and racism with your child?
Listen. Simply listen to your child’s experiences — this is the first step. Your adoptee wants to be heard and know that what they experienced was real. You don’t need to know the exact response; you don’t need to always fix the situation. Validate your child’s experience. How often have you responded to your child’s situation with racism by saying, “I’m sure they didn’t mean it that way” when describing the aggressor? That immediately discounts their experience. Your child is counting on you to be their confidant, their greatest ally against racism; they need you to model good behavior for reacting (or being proactive) against racism. Acknowledge that what they felt was real. Take their experience seriously. Know that you may not know exactly what to say but be present with your child. Once you’ve heard them, then take appropriate action whether it’s together or on your own.
You will develop a language through which you can talk about racism. You will develop a trusting relationship. How else can you develop this relationship? Through education. It’s extremely important to learn about race and racism with your child. It’s a new, unknown world for both of you and you have the power to see what was unseen. The first step is to listen.