A stranger kneels to address my son. “Excuse me, buddy, where are your parents?”
“I’m right here.” I wave, not ten feet from where the kids play.
“Oh, right.” The concerned dad smiles, his voice awkward, “Sorry, I didn’t…”
“No worries. Thank you.”
Nearly every day, I’m reminded that our family, the Knoxes, isn’t your typical family. White spouses rarely produce multiracial families, but we did. And five years into this new identity, I’ve learned a few things.
Everyone sees color.
Somehow, the guy at the park instinctively knows that black kids go with black adults, and my kid doesn’t have an appropriate black adult watching him go down the slide. If that sounds archaic, I assure you it’s not. Nearly every instance of racial diversity in our culture requires some mental arithmetic to process.
“Two of your kids are black, but you’re both white? Oh, you must have adopted.” Or “Wow, that board of directors is so diverse. Kudos to that company for being intentional about their leadership.” Or “Wait, we hired a new head coach, and he’s black? Our school is way more progressive than I thought!”
At the store, on the street, and every time we go for a walk, people see the colors of my family’s skin, and they give it a second thought. For good and for bad, race is one way–perhaps the most prevalent way–society divides itself. Like gender, religion, sexuality, and class, race is one the most dominant forms of social distinction in America today.
When black people see my family, they notice our diversity. White people do too. Everyone sees color.
Seeing color isn’t racist. It’s honest.
My wife and I are white. Being white means we didn’t grow up understanding ourselves in terms of race. We never felt the pinch of racial socialization, so we never perceived its presence. Now, as a father of two black children, I can’t afford to be that ignorant.
Maybe you don’t trust statistics, and you dismiss headlines that make you uncomfortable with a casual, “fake news.” But when it’s your kid (or yourself), you pay attention. You read, and you ask questions.
As early as preschool, my two youngest children are more likely to experience implicit bias than their white, older brother. My two black children have a higher chance of being removed from the classroom than him. They are four times more likely to be suspended than he is for the same infractions.
My kids live in a society where they are three times as likely to be pulled over while driving, twelve times more likely to be wrongly convicted of drug crimes, and disproportionately likely to be shot by a police officer–all because they are black and not white like their sibling.
In my view, to suggest you “don’t see color” is to confess a lack of self-awareness, to lie, or to declare you’ve got few black, indigenous, or people of color in your life. At best, it’s ignorant; at worst, it’s racist. I have no desire to be ‘colorblind’.
My kids don’t have time for me to be ignorant to or afraid of the challenges they face. Seeing color is one way we all can practice empathy with and are responsible to our children, yours and mine alike.
There is a difference between being racial and being a racist.
It took me adopting two children of color to wake up to issues of race. I had a lot to learn, and I still do. But I will not let what I didn’t know keep me from becoming the father my children need me to be.
One distinction I didn’t understand was the difference between racialism and racism. Racialism is being conscious of the race of others. Racism is hostility toward others based on race.
Where racialism facilitates awareness of the many challenges and opportunities faced by a particular race, racism reinforces those challenges and opportunities. We live in a racial world. It’s not racist to admit it. What’s racist is refusing to try.
White people: black, indigenous, or other people of color drawing attention to their race isn’t racist.
If you’re pregnant and go to a doctor to receive care, but the doctor tells you to stop talking about it because she doesn’t experience the symptoms of pregnancy herself, you’d call her crazy. More than that, you’d immediately find a new doctor who’ll listen.
It doesn’t cause more division to highlight the realities of division. This is how we diagnose the problem. Race sensitivity isn’t an overreaction. Being more racial is how we become a society not so divided by race.
Confession isn’t telling a truth nobody knew. Confession is the practice of acknowledging that which was true the whole time. And acknowledging the forces of race in our society–having the courage to be racial–is the first step in confessing our societal sins.
We need black people.
In four years as a transracial family, anecdotally, one out of every five black people responds to us with unease. We’ve been talked down to, yelled at, stared at, and, more than once, people have turned their heads sideways with a quizzical look, thinking something along the lines of, ‘That ain’t right.’
And do you know what? I don’t blame them.
From housing, to surveillance, to wealth inequality, to policy bias, to incarceration, and on and on, my experience of America differs from that of the average black person. I’m a white male from Kansas. My parents raised me white, evangelical (once, America’s great slaveholder religion). I’m well aware that my experience has little to offer my children about being black.
I picture a man born blind. He does everything he can to experience the color yellow. He studies the science of yellow, he learns about light and wavelengths, and he can tell you every object in the world that appears as yellow. Still, that he can use his intellect to imagine it doesn’t mean he knows what yellow actually looks like. He doesn’t know the experience of seeing yellow.
I used to feel sad about this. I’d think, ‘Oh, the challenges my children already face because of their race.’ Add to that the reality that their parents are white. Enough. I’m not sad anymore.
My kids don’t need sadness from me. They, like their brother, need a father who loves them. They need a mom who cares for them unconditionally. And they need us to do what we’re doing, surrounding ourselves–and them–with as many black people as we can.
From childcare to haircare, to social outings, and decisions about close friends, we work hard to surround our family with black people. Our black children need the black community. They need the experiential knowledge of what it means to live in their skin in America today. And they can only get this wisdom from a single source: other black people.
My wife and I are not black. That’s real. Our family’s diversity is unique, and at times, challenging. But our longing is evidence of our love. The obstacles we face only increase our desire to navigate them well.
We are a transracial family. This isn’t the truest thing about the Knoxes, but it is true. And raising my children well means seeing color. It means becoming more racial and, as much as we can, connecting with and learning from the black community.