Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Dear Sugar: Adoption Represented on Doc McStuffins

Dear Sugar:

As Black History Month draws to a close, I'd like to tell you how much our family loves the show Doc McStuffins.  First, the show portrays a Black family in a positive light.   Doc's mom is a doctor.   The dad is highly involved with the kids.   Second, of course, the main character is a Black girl:  she's imaginative, she's smart, she's kind, and she's adorable.   Third, the show focuses on kindness, science, and social skills.   

I'm excited to share with you that the McStuffins family will be adopting a baby.  

Yes, you read that correctly!   

(Yet another reason to love the show...if the present adoption well.  Those of us in the adoption community are not easy to please!)

Set your DVR for Disney Jr., 8 a.m. EST, on the following dates:

Friday, March 4
Friday, March 11
Friday, March 18
Friday, March 25
Friday, April 1

This isn't the first time the show has discussed adoption.  

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Dear Sugar: If You Adopt Transracially...

Dear Sugar,

It's Black History Month and as we continue to celebrate, I want to address something very important, especially for those new to transracial adoption or those considering it.   

I was recently part of an online discussion about race...this was IN a transracial adoption group.  I was shocked at how divided the members were when it came to the topic we were discussing, essentially:  #blacklivesmatter.  

There was a debate about #alllivesmater vs. #blacklivesmatter, supporting police officers, etc.   

Now, if you know me and my writing, you know that I firmly believe that each parent is doing the best job she can with what she has and knows.  You know that I don't care about a lot of parenting choices others make.    I'm not going to get up into your parental business, and I'd appreciate you staying out of mine.

HOWEVER, when it comes to adopting transracially, I have an opinion or two.  Now before you think this is just a personal rant, it's not.  My feelings are based on nearly a decade in the adoption community:  based on things I've read, things I've heard, things I've discussed, and of course, personal experience.   

I want you to know that the following comes straight out of my heart.   It comes from experience and understanding and empathy.  It comes from a wiser, older, more taught me.   

-If you adopt transracially, your child shouldn't be the only child of color in your neighborhood, in their class at school, at church, etc.  

-If you adopt transracially, you need a diverse group of friends, including many friends who racially match your child.   

-If you adopt transracially, you need to listen to adult, transracial adoptees who plead with today's parents to not repeat the mistakes and mishaps of parents from ten, twenty, thirty years ago.  

-If you adopt transracially, you need to fill your home with books, toys, art, music, films, etc. that reflect your child's racial culture.  

-If you adopt transracially, you need to ask for help.   It's cliche and true:  it takes a village.   This might be help doing your child's hair.  This might be help navigating a racially unjust situation.  IF you have a diverse group of friends, asking for help isn't a BIG deal.  But when you don't have a diverse group of friends, the yes, going up to strangers and pleading for their help is weird...and really, unnecessary.   

-If you adopt transracially, not every opinion and voice out there is going to be best for you and your family, but SOME of them will be.   It's best if you humble yourself, listen, and learn.    

-If you adopt transracially, without question, without hesitation, without explanation or excuse #BlackLivesMatter .   Now, to clear up any confusion, as I did in the online discussion I mentioned, #BlackLivesMatter isn't anti-police and it isn't anti-White people.   Black Lives Matter is about advocating for Black people to have the same rights and respect as White people and police officers, and it's about bringing attention to the many unnecessarily murders of Black people over the past few years.

-If you adopt transracially, you'd better be willing to disconnect from anyone (relative, friend, neighbor, etc.) who is racist.  There is no choice here.  Your child is the one you stand up for.  

-If you adopt transracially, seriously consider adopting more than one child of the same race.  A child needs to feel supported racially as well as through shared adoption feelings and experiences.  

-If you adopt transracially, when a person of color tells you something (shares hair advice, says that something that happened to him/her was racist, etc.), shut your mouth and listen.   You are not the judge of their situation.  You aren't Black, you will never be Black, and you won't be able to be the best parent to your child unless you LISTEN and LEARN.

-If you adopt transracially, you need to always listen to your child

-If you adopt transracially, you need to teach your child Black history.  Do not rely on the school systems do this for your child.  (As a former college teacher, I can attest that my little ones know more than some college students in terms of their racial history, which of course is quite sad.)  Of course, in order to teach your child, you need to know Black history yourself.  I get that this might be intimidating for any parent, given that Black history isn't emphasized (at all) in school; this is why I wrote my book Homeschooling Your Young Black Child:  A Simple Getting Started Guide and Workbook.  

-If you adopt transracially, you are raising a child of color to become an adult of color.  This means you cannot rely on your own (White) experiences and understanding.  Again, this is why you have a village!  

- If you adopt transracially, consider having a same-race mentor for your child.  Our girls' mentor has been with us for three years, and she's become part of our family.  We love her dearly!  

-If you adopt transracially, be willing to stand up to ANY type of injustice:  racism, sexism, ageism, etc.  Teach your children to SPEAK UP and stand up for others.   

-If you adopt transracially, please do not talk about colorblindness being a real thing. COLOR SHOULD BE CELEBRATED AND ACKNOWLEDGED; NEVER IGNORED.   Colorblindness DOES NOT EXIST.   

-If you adopt transracially, know that your education NEVER ends.  You should be reading books and articles, watching documentaries, reading Black-edited and written magazines, taking classes, going to conferences, listening to Podcasts, etc.  Again, not every voice you read/hear is right for you and your family, but there are SOME voices that are.   

-If you adopt transracially, be willing to step up and educate others.  Ask your library if you can help put together a Black History Month display.  Start or join a transracial adoption support group.  Add to your child's classroom library or toy collection (with items that racially support your child).  

Not every step you take will be the right one.  Not every word you speak will be perfect.  Racial issues are uncomfortable.  But discomfort and growth are much better than complacency and ignorance. 

I urge you this week to fight burying your head in the sand or fight like hell to prove that all lives matter is right.  I urge you to lay down your pride.  I urge you to listen.  I urge you to ask questions.  I urge you to consider.  I urge you to do whatever you have to do to make sure you are doing the very best for your child.

If you are considering adopting transracially, I do not wish to scare you.  There are many, many wonderful transracial families formed by adoption who are doing the very best they can and are learning and growing and flourishing.   I don't want you to think you can just NEVER get this thing right.  Because that isn't true.   You just need to press on in education and with open hearts and minds.  

For more on all-things-transracial-adoption, you can get my book COME RAIN OR COME SHINE: A WHITE PARENT'S GUIDE TO ADOPTING AND PARENTING BLACK CHILDREN from Amazon as a paperback or e-book.  

I want to leave you with a few Bible verses to mull over.  Whether you are a person of faith or not, there is wisdom here:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves. (Phil. 2:3)

When pride comes, then comes disgrace,

but with humility comes wisdom. (Prov. 11:2)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Dear Sugar: Teaching Through Travel

Dear Sugar,

Happy Black History Month! 

Last week our family traveled to Indianapolis.  We only live three hours from there, but we'd never ventured there before.  Our initial motivation for the visit was to meet Rachel Macy Stafford (the Hands Free Mama), but as we researched Indy, we found that there were some great cultural opportunities!

Everyone told us we just had to visit the Indy Children's Museum.   Our kids enjoyed the giant chocolate slide, the princesses and pirates room, seeing a Darth Vader race car, visiting "China," and many more.  But what go to us was the room where kids and parents could get an in-depth understanding of the stories of three people:  Ryan White, Anne Frank, and Ruby Bridges.  This was appropriately named:  The Power of Children.  

My girls are familiar with Ruby's story.  In fact, Ruby is one of the ten females featured in my first children's book Black Girls Can: An Empowering Story of Yesterdays and Todays.  She's also in two poems in my second book Poems for the Smart, Spunky, and Sensational Black Girl.  I feel a connection to young Ruby, knowing she was so close to my daughters' ages when she pioneered integrating an all-White school.   Unlike many other equality-warriors, Ruby fought for rights as a little girl, as a child.   

Our family walked into a school room to learn more about Ruby.  Surrounding the entrance were cutouts of angry White people holding signs of protest, and an overhead speakers, voices chanted, "We won't integrate!"   Inside the classroom were workbooks from Ruby's time, alongside the pages was a question:  How would you feel if you never saw someone who looked like you in a book?  

We saw a "whites only" water foundation, mini models of the KKK, and much, much more.

I was an emotional mess the entire time.  

There were warning signs, stating the displays featuring the three children and their stories, were most appropriate for ages eight and up.   I questioned if I was doing the right thing, letting my kids meander from room to room, looking at pictures and objects.   

Then I asked myself, did Ruby, Ryan, and Anne have a choice at what age they faced their battles? There was no "age suggestion" for them.   They were making history.  They were history.  

I want my kids to know their history and respect and honor those who fought for the freedoms they, as people of color have, and our family as a whole has.   I want them to be proud of their culture, their skin color, their history.   

It's hard to swallow, though.  Knowing people who shared my skin color were the ones trying to scare sweet Ruby into not attending the school, one woman even stuffing a Black doll into a coffin and thrusting it into Ruby's line of vision to intimidate the little girl.   

I shared on IG and Twitter the other day that my daughter had been reading a biography on MLK, and one night she said she didn't want to read the book again.  I asked why, and she said because of the "devils."  She showed me an illustration from the book:  a sketch of the KKK standing by a burning cross.


I told her the KKK was/is a group of cowards who hide behind their costumes.  They are evil people who don't like Black people.   

And I thought about when my oldest was a baby and we took her to Memphis.  We saw the hotel balcony MLK was standing on when he was shot.   And then I also had this moment where I wondered if I should really be taking my infant daughter to a place where so much evil culminated.   Where MLK's life was stolen from him.

I have to remind myself that the story isn't about the ending or the beginning.  It's about the journey.  It's about Ruby walking into her school, day after day.  It's about MLK marching and speaking and writing.  It's about the choices these individuals made:  like when Ruby said that her reaction to the "haters" who screamed at her was to pray for them.   

We will continue to take our children places so they can learn about the people, locations, and objects they read about in the many books we own and borrow from the library.   We will continue to show them what making a difference means.  We will continue to empower them as people of color, deliberately, no matter how uncomfortable and terrifying it can be.   

We won't choose silence.  We won't sugar-coat.  We won't shush.  We won't hide.   

We will teach the babies.   

 As you continue to celebrate Black History Month, may you have the courage and dedication to teach, to learn, and to listen to the heroes of the past.  

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Dear Sugar: Black History Month and Inferiority

Dear Sugar,

Happy Black History Month!   

This is a month that is very special for our family.  We spend a lot of time reading our favorite books, listening to music, examining art, watching YouTube videos, etc.---all featuring Black people.  We do this year round, but we put a special emphasis on these things during this month.

Lately, I've seen this quote circulating social media:  
Typically, this is something I'd pin under "Random Goodness."  But this quote doesn't sit well with me, and here's why:

Though it's true that where we mentally linger can be a choice, what we feel and our reactions to situations aren't always a choice.  When something happens, our immediate head and heart responses just are what they are.  

When I think about the significance of this month, I also think about the evil-ugly things that happen to people of color, including my children.  

I think about what's going on in Flint.  

I think about the all-White Oscar nominations.  

I think about Tamir Rice.  

I think about what these things mean for my children, what messages they send.  

I think about my neighboring communities of Ferguson and Columbia (where Mizzou is located).  

I think about the time a young man drove by my home and yelled the n-word twice at my daughters who were riding bikes in our driveway.

I think about the woman who called my two-year-old son a "cute little thug."  

The American spirit, the dream tell us we can be and do anything, and that the heights we reach are within our control.  We are our own ceilings.  But this is not true.  

Just like "sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me" is not true.   

Feeling inferior can come upon someone immediately by a single, powerful, historically heavy word being yelled. Feeling inferior can come upon someone when they aren't greeted by a store cashier, but the next customer, a White woman, is greeted. 

When messages of less-than are hammered into a person for his or her entire life---by strangers, by the media, by films, by magazine advertisements, by textbooks, by toys (yes, even toys), by characters---inferiority is inevitable.   

Even as a mom who carefully monitors the media my children are exposed to, I cannot protect them forever.  There are a lot of people and things telling people of color that they are not of equal value to a person with less melanin.  

Feeling inferior is lurking.  It's inevitable.   It's scary.  

Black History Month matters because I can show my children examples of those who, despite great odds, were able to accomplish so much.  I can show them what it means to hold their heads high.  I can show them that challenges are opportunities.   I can teach them that God created them for a purpose and is on their side.  I can teach them that hurting people hurt people.  I can teach them to be the change.  

Above all, I can teach them that though there will be bouts of inferiority, sometimes so strong it feels like an emotional tidal wave, the choice is this:  to linger in that darkness or to reject the lies, the hatred, and the inequality.   To not entertain it. To call it out for exactly what it is.  To stand up to it. 

Sugars, this month, no matter the race of your babies, know that teaching Black history is critical.  Especially in today's racial climate.  

Thank you for being here, and I cannot wait to hear how you are celebrating this month.  Drop me a comment over on my Facebook page.


Here are my two children's books to help your daughter celebrate and KNOW her history!  Click on the pics for links.