Can white parents successfully raise Black children in the U.S?
Here's the short answer: I sure hope so.
Here's the longer answer: I do think it's possible, but I also think it takes more work than many white parents realize.
Honestly, there are things I know I should be working on, but I put them off because of the effort or time required.
We do really well making sure there are books, music, art, and educational toys that bring African American history and culture (hmm, culture, really? I'm not sure.) into our home. We like toys and music and art! Once we find them and buy them and put them in our home, they are just there. We read the books, we play with the toys, we listen to the music... Those things are easy!
The more important part is working on bringing actual African American people into our social, professional, and faith communities. Or, often, bringing our family into African American communities. We want to provide lots of opportunities for the boys to feel comfortable and accepted among African Americans, and eventually to be able to establish their own friendships without having to try to "figure out" African American culture as older kids or adults.
Working on relationships with people of color can be hard at times, because Beloved and I feel out of place (poor us, huh?), we're nervous about intruding in a established community, or whatever. I'm not trying to say, "But it's so haaarrrd!" because it's not. And we are honored and blessed by these new relationships. But relationships take lots of time and emotional/personal investment.
I could list some things were are pleased about, but it annoys me a little when white parents say, "Hey, we have diversity in our lives! We have a Black dentist!" or whatever. So I don't want to make a list of our successes, as if I'm justifying our ability to raise Black kids. I'll just say that in some ways we are doing well with this, and in others not so much.
I should also say that just because we are making a special effort to help the boys connect with other African Americans doesn't mean that we assume they will always feel comfortable being around white people. They will have a lot of practice at it, because the culture of white folks is the default culture in the US. (Some people might wonder, "Culture of white folks? There is no "white culture." And that's the point. It's so assumed that we don't even recognize it.)
I have read that sometimes Black people feel like they need to be Extra Super Cheerful! and Social! around white people to avoid getting labeled as having "attitude" or to avoid being thought of as stuck up or overly sensitive.
Of course I don't know, but I wonder if that might be correct. My siblings who were adopted seem to have had this experience as children. My brother (Black) is naturally very outgoing and social. He never seemed to have a problem making friends or being included in his mostly white town. My sister (Korean American) is more naturally shy and not likely to be open to a real friendship until she trusts the other person. Lots of people are like this, and I don't think she is significantly out of the ordinary as far as her personality. But she did have trouble making friends and being included. If she were white, I wonder if more of the white people around her might be more "forgiving" of her shyness.
Even now, I think my brother and sister (or any people of color) are likely to be quickly judged by white people to be "stuck up" or "full of attitude" or "over sensitive." But as adults they have more confidence and have learned how to manage the image they project to other people. It might be partly because they are both living in more racially diverse areas now. I'm not sure...
So here's part of my point: I can't assume that just because white culture is the default culture in the U.S., and because my boys will grow up mostly in that culture because their parents are white, that they will certainly feel comfortable here. To be accepted, they may need to develop the skills of charisma and emotional/personal sensitivity to how they are perceived.
Sometimes I feel completely overwhelmed by the responsibility of raising my boys. Sometimes just parenting in general has me baffled. Sometimes it's the worry of raising boys in a world that seems more and more to be telling them that men are stupid, ineffective, and predatory. (I could write a whole different post about that.) Sometimes it's the job of raising my boys ultimately to be confident, articulate, kind, compassionate, and strong Black men.
It seems like so much could possibly go so wrong, and I might not know what mistakes I'm making until it's too late.
Shannon at Peter's Cross Station wrote something a while back (November 10, 2005) that stuck with me and gave me comfort. A commenter asked about whether Nat might resent Shannon and Cole as she got older. After listing the multiple things Nat might resent (as any kid might resent her parents), Shannon said:
"Sometimes I read these things and the kids talk about how they didn't really understand what being black was all about until they went to college or something like that. They had sort of a racial awakening. Hopefully, we'll be able to raise Nat with a clear, happy and complete sense of the many facets of her identity including race, but if the worst-case scenario is that she has a racial coming-out experience in college, I'm not worried.
... families of origin can do better and worse jobs of supporting children through coming out experiences. I do run "worst-case" scenarios through my head sometimes and if Nat comes home from college all Black Nationalist radical and calling white people devils, that's okay. If she doesn't come home for a while because she's sorting it out, that's okay. We'll love her enough to let her do what and be whom she need to when she needs to. It may not always be easy, but that's parenting, right? I think when people are parented well, they come "home" to the good values their parents gave them. Sometimes those values take a radically different form or expression than their parents' did, but there's a bottom line shared. So who know what Nat will do and who she will be? But I trust she will do it well and be a good person. Maybe even that is an unfair expectation, but it seems like a reasonable enough one."
Well said, isn't it?
We will do our best to raise our boys. We will do well at some things and inadequately at others. We hope and pray that we will give our kids a good foundation in essential values, and a good beginning experience as members of the Black community. Even though we are not perfect, we have faith in God's grace and work in their lives. (This is our own faith, which obviously not everyone shares.)
If the worst that happens is that my sons have a "coming out" experience as Black American men, they'll be okay.
They will be alright.