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A White Mom Wonders Whether Her Brown Babies Will Be Black Enough


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A few months ago, I found myself in a state of panic.

I am the proud mother of two baby girls, both of whom came into our family through domestic, transracial, open adoption.    My husband and I are white, our daughters are black.

I get an “A” in many areas of transracial parenting. We own dozens of diversity-minded, African American history, and adoption books (my toddler’s favorite is about the Underground Railroad; she walks around the house whispering a word from the book:  “Freedom.”  So precious!). We have brown baby dolls scattered throughout our home and plenty of Princess Tiana merchandise. My oldest daughter is not yet three years old and has already been to the Civil Rights Museum. We celebrate Black History Month with craft projects and stories. Our Christmas tree is covered in African American Santa and angel ornaments. Last Christmas I had custom stockings featuring African American ballerinas made for my girls. I am very particular about the lotion and hair products I use on my girls’ natural hair. My toddler knows she and her younger sister are “brown” and her parents are “pink.” Talking about race and adoption is a normal part of our everyday lives.

Furthermore, I have read hundreds of adoption books and articles. I facilitate an adoptive mother support group, and our family has befriended dozens of other transracial, adoptive families. Both our girls have open adoptions with their biological family members, and we see those family members three times a year.

I was feeling pretty proud of myself until I picked up a copy of a new book called Brown Babies, Pink Parents: A Practical Guide to Transracial Parentingby Amy Ford. In one part of the book, Amy talks about how she knows she isn’t black and will never be black and therefore, she needs to provide positive same-race influences (role models) for her children.

With each word I read, my heart sank lower and lower into my stomach. Though we live and work in diverse environments and befriend people of many races, I still felt our kids weren’t going to be black enough. I was reminded of a written narrative in which one of my students reflected on being taunted with the name “Oreo” after her family moved into a predominately white neighborhood. I also recalled the numerous adoption books I had read where black kids would consistently state that though many of them had joyful childhoods and loving families, their white parents had failed to provide them with the racial affirmation they desperately yearned for.

After some frantic soul-searching, I called a friend of mine who is African American and asked her to lunch. Meanwhile, I was a mess—nervous and uncertain. Normally, I’m a confident and driven person, full of passion and acting in precision, but in that moment I felt as though I was stepping outside myself. Had I royally screwed up my children? Would my precious daughters who look to me for everything wake up one day and realize I had failed them?

I decided to do what any type-A lady would and take some action. I called several African American churches seeking a program for mothers hoping that perhaps there I could befriend more women of color. Turns out there weren’t any nearby. I called a few dance studios located in predominately black towns to see if they had any openings for my toddler. Sadly, however, she was too young to enroll in their classes, so we had to stick to our current dance studio for the time being. I then ordered a subscription to Essence magazine, hoping that I could start staying more abreast the trends and issues going on in black culture. I was feeling rather desperate to make more meaningful connections to the black community.

Finally, the lunch date arrived. I was honest with my friend, Ann. I needed to know whether I was screwing up my kids—if I was doing enough with all of our trips, our toys, our books, and our family discussions.

Ann is a graceful woman in her sixties—confident and kind.  She shared with me that when she was young, her mother pulled her out of an all-black failing high school and put her in a flourishing school in the hopes that her daughter would succeed. Ann was the only black child in her new high school and despite the clear racial differences between Ann and her peers, she quickly made friends with whom she had things in common.

She then looked me in the eye and said, “Rachel, your girls are blessed to have you as their mother; you are doing a great job. You be sure to instill in them that it is the character of a person that matters, not the color.”

Tears filled my eyes. I was relieved. Not because I felt that I had less responsibility to affirm my children’s racial identity, but because I realized what was most important: to first raise children of good character, girls who love themselves, God, and their families, and then to surround them with those who do the same, regardless of race.

My daughters will inevitably face some prejudice due to their race and because of the way our family was created. However, they will find confidence and strength from the culmination of experiences and relationships they have encountered so far and will continue to encounter over their lifetime. I will fight for these opportunities, always insuring that my girls always know they are beautiful, they are loved, and they are black.

Rachel Garlinghouse is the proud mother of two brown babies. She is a freelance writer and college writing teacher. Read more about her family at White Sugar, Brown Sugar.

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  1. August 2, 2011 at 1:02 PM

    First of all, you and your husband has done a wonderful thing by adopting the babies with “Love” in your hearts. Please keep in mind that, there are millions of biracial children in similar living situations such as yours. So, don’t panic about things you are learning along the way. It appears as if you are doing all that you can to introduce the babies to their culture.

    One important suggestion I would like to offer is: “Teach them about “current” positive African-American role-models such as, the “President and his family.” (The slavery issue may be a bit too deep for them to fully understand at this point in life).

    The babies are also bi-racial so, there is no such thing as “Black Enough.” They are a beautiful combination of two cultures so, relax Mom. (Smile) The situations they will face may be a bit harsh (like all childhood bullying situations). I’m quite sure you would do all that you can to protect your daughters.

    The one advice I would like to give, (the other was only a suggestion). “Please” find an African-American hairstylist for your beautiful daughters. Laughing yet, “So Serious.” We are very picky about our hair. The rest… “I believe you two will do well!”

    Children grow and thrive from “Love” and they see “No Color” they know only that you and your husband are mom and dad. Continue to do the best job that you two are doing and just watch the outcome. They will remember long before they blossom into adulthood that their parents did everything they could to teach them about their culture.

    Sincere Blessings

  2. August 2, 2011 at 1:12 PM

    I see that this adoption is “trans-racial.” I overlooked that, perhaps you should as well. They were birthed by African-American parents now being raised by White parents. (Which makes this a bi-racial situation), where they still should learn both cultures. One of their birth parents and the other of the parents that adopted, cared for and will raise them with love.

  1. August 22, 2011 at 1:11 PM
  2. August 30, 2011 at 8:55 AM
  3. November 22, 2011 at 2:55 PM

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