The Our Children Initiative: How It Began
The impetus behind the Our Children: An Education and Empowerment Series, and the Raising Black Boys event in particular, sprang from a conversation well over a year ago between Cradle President, Julie Tye and our Vice President of Inclusion and Community Development, Nijole Yutkowitz. The topic of the discussion: why so many prospective parents have a strong preference for girls vs. boys. While this preference for girls is well known in adoption, it appears to be all the more pronounced when one is looking to adopt a black child. At its root is a profound concern that raising a black boy today is extremely difficult. How do you help him face a world that may be openly hostile towards him, not because of anything he has done, but simply because of what he looks like?
We felt compelled to become part of a solution and launched Our Children. This initiative is a multi-year series of events designed to engage families in some difficult yet critically important topics. Our goal: to help families better understand and prepare for the realities and injustices their children may experience.
The first step was to make sure we understood the needs of our families raising black children. We sent out a short survey and the response was overwhelming! Hundreds of families shared their experiences and even reached back to thank us for asking them. Many respondents took the time to share heartfelt, personal stories of joy and acceptance as well as those of struggle and injustice.
Here’s a brief summary of what we learned:
The overwhelming majority of transracial families felt prepared to parent a black child (77%). However, they were also quite surprised at some things. From the moment they became a multiracial family, they started noticing how prevalent and insidious incidents of racism are. They see the world differently now as they are confronted by ignorant remarks and jokes about race, sometimes even from family and friends.
Parents reported a heightened sensitivity and sadness at the injustice of racism, as they can now see how it might impact their own child’s future. They struggle with the fact that they don’t personally share their child’s experience with racism. They also want to do whatever is humanly possible to shield their child from the harsh reality they see played out on the evening news.
The respondents in general feel comfortable discussing racial differences. But discussing racism is much more difficult. How much should a parent say? How old should a child be before some hateful terms are even introduced? There was a strong desire for a roadmap for discussing racism at various ages and stages in a manner that was both based in reality but rooted in parental love and support.
One respondent summarized this nicely: “Sometimes I feel that it is hard to explain the full scope of the problem/issue. For example, when he asks if the reason I think Black Lives Matter (he used the term) is because he is black. I’ll start talking and not know how much detail I should go into. He’s just listening and not asking further questions.” Another drew the contrast: “We talk about race very openly, but I don’t think at 6 he’s ready to learn about racism without it hurting his self perception.”
African American Families
There were more similarities than differences in how African American parents responded to our survey as compared to their Caucasian counterparts. One key difference, however, was that significantly more of them (and at 87% it amounted to nearly every respondent) reported personally experiencing racism.
Perhaps this isn’t surprising. But it sure is sad.
Just a few examples: “Having employees follow me around in a store as if I was going to steal the merchandise.” And “Husband gets followed around stores. Wife called the 'n' word. Only a matter of time before our son experiences it.”
Our African American respondents also reported significantly less discomfort, as compared to Caucasian parents, in discussing racism with their children. Perhaps this is related to the above finding that almost all had personal experience with racism. Having experienced racism themselves, it may well be that our African American parents have simply grown accustomed to talking about that reality with their children.
“I talk to my children about who they are, how they may be perceived, and how to not buy into it.”
Sadly, the vast majority of the families raising black children (67%) have experienced racism. The examples shared ranged from insidious micro-aggressions to name calling and exclusion.
“A child did not want to hold my son’s hand because he was black.” “My daughter was told she could not swim in a pool because she would get it dirty.” “We have seen our child singled out as a behavior problem both at school and in little league when he was not behaving any differently than the white children around him.” “My daughter was in preschool and another child told her no one would want to marry her because her skin was black and ugly.”
Overwhelmingly, our families expressed that racism is personal to them and they feel compelled to advocate for change. “It absolutely feels personal and thinking about my two children facing these issues as they grow is crushing. We all need to advocate for change.”
The findings from this survey will inform our roundtable in February, Raising Black Boys, as well as all upcoming Our Children events. We will share the concerns and questions we heard and have our panelists and experts weigh in on how they have approached the topics of race and racism.
We look forward to sharing more in the near future. Stay tuned!
(Statistics above taken from an online survey fielded by The Cradle in November, 2015. 249 respondents participated.)