I am tasked with raising a strong black man and I’m afraid that I’m failing.
Please don’t misunderstand, my son is great. Yosef is bright, charming, sweet and hardworking. By most normal standards, I’m doing well to raise a solid young person.
Today, Yosef is a 10-year-old young man who just so happens to be black. The problem is, he should be a strong, black young man who happens to be 10.
There is a difference.
I’ve failed so far at helping my son develop a racial identity. Passing moments make this obvious to me—through his uncomfortable fidgeting at the barber shop; the way Yosef struggles to address older black men; and the relative ignorance he carries for social issues that he will face.
If I wanted to make myself feel better, I’d offer up excuses about why I haven’t done better:
It’s the age.
Yosef is just shy—he’ll grow out of this.
I’m stretched too thin to worry.
I can’t let myself off the hook.
I think back to pre-adoption classes designed to prepare parents like me for racial differences. Almost nine years ago, I remember feeling well-prepared to tackle these issues head-on. I understood that resources were available to help bridge the gaps that were bound to exist between my son and I.
Too much time has passed. Those resources, I’m sure, do still exist. I, however, haven’t used them.
Sure, I have black friends. Yosef’s grandfather is black. Yosef’s school and community are diverse. That isn’t good enough.
Learning to be black isn’t done through osmosis or by virtue of proximity alone. Raising a strong black kid as a white guy requires more:
- More Honesty – I have to be transparent with my son about what I know and don’t know—admitting where I’m comfortable and where I’m not. If I do that, he might reciprocate.
- More Outreach – Opportunities exist that can help better immerse my son in black culture. It’s my responsibility to seek out mentoring relationships, find adoptive groups and to make a conscious effort to attend events geared toward the black community.
- More Vulnerability – Sharing my failures can be the best medicine. I don’t know the right answers but I will keep trying to find them. I want to learn from the pitfalls of others before my family is the textbook example of what not to do for the next generation of adoptive families.
Success, to me, will be my ability to thoughtfully address one question every day:
What do I know about raising a strong black man?
If I let it, my ego would drive me to say that raising kids is raising kids—no matter black or white. That’s wrong.
The better way to respond is to admit that I’m learning and need help in the study.
I owe it to Yosef to help him find comfort in his own skin. He has to fit into the communities that have, and will, experience similar struggles.
I’m trying hard not to be ashamed of having failed Yosef so far. Thankfully, we have many chapters left to write together.
In my mind, I’ve written the last sentence of the final chapter already. It’s less of a statement and more of an affirmation.
It will read:
“We didn’t raise a great man that just so happens to be black. This white family—through struggle, through failure, through dogged effort—was able to bring up a strong black man that just so happened to make an impact.”
There is certainly a difference.