“You can get killed just for living in your American skin.” These lyrics were sung by Bruce Springsteen in American Skin, a song about the 1991 death of a black man at the hands of four New York police officers. This song was used later to train parents planning to adopt transracially, to highlight the survival skills that black children need in America and to be made aware that their children would experience life differently based on the color of their skin.
This week, George Floyd senselessly died on Memorial Day in Minneapolis, just a 15-minute drive from our main office. The following day, a white woman in New York City called 911 and falsely accused a black man of assaulting her. In the two weeks leading up to these instances, an unarmed black man in Saint Paul was shot and killed by the driver of another car after an accident.
Black and American Indian children are overrepresented in Minnesota foster care. While we need all families to foster and adopt, Children’s Home continues to believe that relative and kinship care is a priority that helps reduce racial disparities and lessen trauma these children face.
As the President of Children’s Home, as a transracial adopted adult, and as a mother of three black children, I have had many conversations on racism recently. My elementary school-age children are asking questions and as black parents we have once again needed to have “the talk” about why they may not be treated the same as many of their peers. Like my kids, I am watching many children and youth look to their parents to understand what is happening. As the parent, we need to listen to their questions, help them make sense of the feelings they have and make sure they feel heard and supported. We need to make sure that our kids feel safety. We need to give our kids honest, age-appropriate responses.
Training pre-adoptive families is more critical today than ever, but is no longer enough. For our children, we can no longer look down and not bear witness to what is happening around us. Whether the racism is blatant or covert, it exists. We need our families to be allies for our kids of color. We need to demand change and no longer tolerate the framework that supports institutionalized racism in our communities. As a leader, as a parent and as a fellow American, I encourage you to record injustice when you see it and contact your government officials to advocate for change.
-Alexis Oberdorfer, President of Children’s Home Society of Minnesota