Growing Up Black In White

What happens when you're black but raised white? 

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Addressing The Use of "The N Word" With Your Black Adoptee

Let's face it—if you have a black child, at some point they are either going to start asking questions about, or start using the n word. How do you address it as a white parent? This is a question I have seen come up surprisingly often and honestly, it's one I never thought about until recently. I didn't start using the word until my college years, so it never occurred to me that other black adoptees may start using it much younger. If you're anything like my family, you may have both white kids and black kids, and if your black child starts saying this word, how do you explain to your white kids that they can't? Is it your place to tell the black child they can't use it? There's a lot of questions and confusion around this topic, and honestly, I get it. Unfortunately, the answer is just as complicated.

First, let me just say that this is a debate even within the black community. I discussed the topic of black people using the n-word in a youtube video that I suggest you watch. The short version is that it is still a word with a lot of connotation attached to it. Many black people do not like saying or hearing the word, from anyone. Period, and I get it. Many older black folks, do not like the word, and who can blame them. They faced a lot of physical racism that we younger black people, have not had to experience. It's completely understandable that some people are not comfortable with that word. Other black people such as myself, have taken the approach to reclaim the word. Using it on our own terms and conditions to overcome it's oppressive nature. Both views can exist but we have to respect each other. If another black person asks me to not use the word around them, I won't. But when I am not around them, I will use it as a please. I will respect their wish, and they can respect mine. 

Secondly, no one who isn't black should be using this word. Ever. At all. I don't know how who decided that simply being a person of color, was a pass to use racial slurs that target black people, but they lied to y'all. In the same video, previously linked, I also discuss how reclaiming words works. One of the key points of reclaiming is that you are reclaiming something that is oppressive or effect YOU and YOUR culture. You can't reclaim something that has never effected you. Thus it is not reclaiming when nbpocs use the n-word, it's simply being anti-black. Additionally, if black people started using other slurs for other POCs, all hell would break lose. 

But back to the point. This isn't an easy topic to discuss nor is there a "correct" way to do so. It's a little harder for me to answer because I never had this problem in my family. As an adult, I say the word all the time, but none of my white family members have ever had a desire to say the word. Additionally, I don't say the word around my white family, it's something to use within my own community. So we never needed to have this talk. After a long brainstorming session and hearing some feedback from other WAPs and Black parents, this is best suggestion. 

Just ban the word from your house. At the end of the day, it is an inappropriate word. If your kids are younger, there is really no reason any of them need to be using it. Once your black adoptee is older and fully understands the word and history behind it, they can then decide for themselves if, and how they would like to use the word. But if your children are small, I really don't see the need to have the word allowed, at all. Now, I DO think if it comes up, you should have a conversation about it, however limited and appropriate for the age group (use your best judgement). You don't want to just freak out and say "NO DON'T SAY THAT!" without explaining why. Remember this is a word that we experience all the time. I remember hearing it and being called it before I was a teenager. So it's good to explain what this means. This conversation should also be with the WHOLE family, not just the black kid(s). As I say all the time, you are now a multicultural family. Everyone needs to be on the same page about this word Why it is inappropriate to be using, why you are not allowing it in the household. Many black families also do not allow the word in their household, so I don't think it's too far of a stretch to do the same in your house. Especially if there is mixed company. 

TL;DR Use your best judgement, if in doubt, just ban the word all together and you can have a deeper discussion about it when your TRA gets older. 

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The Internal Stuggles Of Growing Up Transracially Adopted

I started this post damn near a month ago, and have avoided publishing it purely due to the fact that, I didn't really know how to summarize all my internal struggles with adoption. I could list them all, but then we would be here till 2020 (which under this presidency, may not be a bad idea). However, I think I have been able to gather my thoughts and organize them into a somewhat understandable format. I wanted to talk about these very personal internal struggles for two reasons. One, I think it's important for adoptive parents to understand what kinds of thoughts and emotional stress their kids may be experiencing. Most of us are not going to feel comfortable discussing these things with parents. Not necessarily because we don't trust you, but because we don't know what the hell is going on ourselves. Second reason I wanted to talk about this, is for other adoptees. I wish I had someone. I felt like a lone alien on this planet. I really thought my family was the only family on the planet to do something wild like adopt some non white kids. I started blogging for that exact reason. I never want an adoptee to feel like they're going through this alone like I did. 

Anyways, we're getting deep before we even get to the good stuff, but before we get started, I want to just make a quick point. A lot of these things, I still don't have answers to. Many of these things, I still struggle with and pretty much all of them, are an ongoing battle that I don't know will ever actually end. So while I have been able to compile these thoughts, they're are by no means going to solve anyone's problems. I've been trying to solve these issues for years (I should probably see a therapist) to no avail, so don't count on me to fix you. 

???Whet???
I think this was one of the only thoughts in my head for a good 2-3 years. Like whet??? Being black in a white family, you don't really get that luxury of "discovering racism" like most pocs do. Most pocs get to live their lives in their poc families, in their culture and it's normal to them, until some experience, snaps them into realizing racism is a thing. This usually happen at a young age (i.e. some kid laughing about your skin color or calling you a derogatory name) but for me, it was immediate. I sat down in my overpriced Los Angeles, apartment trying to think of a single memory that I wasn't aware of my skin color, and I couldn't. The internal struggle came more from not understanding what that meant. Why Is was different than the rest of these people who are my family. My parents were very open with me about my adoption when I asked why I looked different, which I always appreciated. However, as a kid, you might as well have been speaking Mandarin Chinese. Adoption? Race? Two Families? Laws?

Whet? It's confusing and really just the beginning of the avalanche of questions and emotional stress. I'm not saying that you shouldn't tell your kids they're adopted, in fact that would be worse. I'm just saying how it felt to me. If we are being honest, I already knew something was off, I just didn't know what the word was for it. It's pretty clear when your blackity black while everyone else is white, that 2+2 ain't equaling 4. This whole section could've just been a big question mark. 

Do I Belong Here?
So if my birth family didn't want or couldn't keep me for whatever reason, and my current family ain't really even my family (from a child's perspective), do I really belong here? Do I? I spoke a little bit in my post "5 Things I Wish My White Parents Understood About Growing Up Black" about how being transracially adopted and not connected with the cultural backgrounds and celebrations of your white family, makes you feel like an outsider. As a child, I understood that my family loved me regardless of my skin color, I never felt unloved or even treated differently. But there is always a strange feeling of being on the outside looking in. It's like we are celebrating all the white history and my parents danish and Scottish heritage. One of my aunt's even is the great grandchild of the homie who started the Mosquito Fleets of Puget Sound, but we never once celebrated blackness. So as a black child, who already doesn't fit in with the family dynamic, adding the complete erasure of your identity and history, along with not really knowing where you fit it, just made me question if I belonged there. It's not only the heritage aspect, but there's just this weird unexplained feeling of not fitting in. It's what I would expect having an out of body experience would feel like. You're there, a part of the family, but not really. On some level, you're just on the outside looking in. 

Who Am I?
My high school graduation speech was on the topic of "Who Am I", I can't tell you how hard that question has always been for me to answer. I think I stared at blank word document for a good 12 hours before typing a corny summary of my life and calling it a day. Finding my identity, is something I think most all adoptees struggle with, both transracial or not. Then the added factor of race and not feeling like you really "fit in" with your family, it's just an added extra layer of emotional stress. This was something I struggled with well into adulthood, and if we're being honestly, up until 3-4 years ago. Finding out you're not related to your family, and then knowing that you don't connect with any of their cultural values or belief, it kind of feels staring in a mirror with no reflection looking back at you. Usually, you can build a foundation of "who you are" from your family's history, bloodline, cultural experiences and beliefs, but when you don't have any connections other than being legally bound, it's like trying to draw a map of an area you've never seen before. You literally have to start building your identity from nothing. You have nothing to base it on. I remember one of the most aggravating projects I ever had to do in my life was "draw your family tree".  I remember almost crying, I probably did at some point. Because do you draw your family or your "family"? Family trees are based on bloodlines, and I know nothing about mine. Imagine how embarrassing and frustrating it would be for a little kid, surrounded by other other kids happily scribbling away and making their 4D, interactive family trees, while you are sitting here and can't even get past the "me" box because you know nothing about your bloodline.  You don't know what they're like, if you share personalities, what their family history, values and cultural was, hell you don't even know if you share medical history (also an aggravating question).  So where do you start to answer the question of "who am I"?
 "My name is Rebekah Hutson, I grew up in Olympia, WA I was homeschooled and I like animals."
What does that even mean? Who am I? To hell if I know. Who knows? God, probably don't even know. Trying to answer this question was one of the driving forces in me deciding to seek out my birth family.  I felt that if I knew more about my birth family and their history, it would be the last piece of the puzzle I was missing. I'll write a separate post on that experience one day, as it is still on going, but I did find them, last year. I spoke to my mother and siblings. They still live in Houston and eventually I will go down to visit, but you know money is a luxury I do not have, so stay tuned. 

Where Do I Fit In?
Too black for the white kids, too white for the black kids.

I am from whitest of white cities in Washington. I wasn't around other black people outside of my family members. I didn't know anything about black culture or history. I didn't know what it was like to grow up in a black household, I didn't get the black references and jokes. I essentially "grew up white". Mind you, on top of everything else, we were also homeschooled, so we didn't have much interaction with other non relatives outside of church or family friends. So when we got to high school and switched to a more modern and diverse church, I finally was around people who looked like me. Only problem was, I realized how much I missed out on the black experience. For the white kids, I was "too black", I'm dark skinned I don't have "good hair", I talk with a mix of slang and "proper english", so I was either fetishized by white people, or just straight up shunned. It was always one extreme or the other. Then with the black community, I wasn't black enough for those same reasons. I didn't know "black things", I wasn't raised in the culture, I didn't speak black enough, so on and so forth. So where do I fit in? White people don't want me and neither do my own people. It's a weird line to walk. Especially when you didn't ask for any of this. No one asked us if we wanted to be adopted, or raised in this city, but here we are. Why should I be blamed for decisions I had no control over? It's frustrating. 

Who Do I Talk To?
Who do I go to with this? Who do I talk to? I don't even fully understand what is happening myself, so who else would get it? We tend to keep these things to ourselves, and never talk about it, hence the internal struggle part. I remember the few times I tried to share with friends, it was so exhausting having to walk them through everything. It's like talking to a brick wall. Even today, I don't bother talking about adoption things with people who aren't adopted, because it just becomes aggravating. You end up having defend yourself for having legitimate emotions, rather than having someone shut up and listen to you. Parents will jump to the "oh no, baby we love you" or "don't pay attention to those kids" *eye roll*, and friends will just tell you they don't get the big deal. I said in my post "5 Things I Wish My White Parents Understood About Growing Up Black" that you need to listen, don't dismiss. It applies to everyone. Sometimes people just need to vent and don't want to hear about how you get get it or dismissal of their feelings and experiences. I also have the added bonus of being very stubborn. I don't like to admit I need help, I always have things under control. It has backfired a lot in my lifetime, but it's something I'm working on. I have the feeling of needing to be the champion for everyone else. I know I'm strong and have the courage to be on the front lines, and people gravitate to that. I'm often the one people come to, to lay all their problems on and I don't mind, but in turn, it doesn't allow for myself to have any moments of "weakness" by admitting I sometimes need people to talk to as well. So that mixed with not knowing how to explain your thoughts, it was just easier to keep it all bottled inside, until this blog post. 

What Is My Life Plan?
Now, how much this is actually connected to being adopted, I don't know for sure. However, the more I think about it, the more the two seem to be connected in some way. As a kid, I had all the normal dreams of being president or an astronaut. For a long time, I actually wanted to be a veterinarian because I love animals so much, but that required a lot of science, that I just don't have the patience for. As I got older, I had less and less ambitions. Not necessarily to succeed, because I was a fantastic student. 4.0, valedictorian, got mad scholarships, I was in all the extracurricular programs, top player in sports, still hold the shot put record at my high school, won state, went to the Junior Olympics (shameless brag). On paper, I was amazing. Internally, I have no idea what on earth I was working towards. To be fair, not knowing what you want to do, is something every college student experiences at some point, which is why I'm not sure what percentage stems from just existing as a young adult and how much is from adoption But the reason I mentioned it here, is because it goes back to that loss of identity. I didn't know who I was, what I valued, what mark I wanted to leave on this world. I knew I wanted to be great, and do something great, but what was that thing? I originally went to college for a general business degree, but the thought of working 9-5 sitting in an office cubicle every day, was so boring just to think about. But what else was there? I also think the fact that I didn't see a lot of positive black role models, played a part as well. Today, with the internet and people like the Obamas, it's a little different, but when I was little and well into my teen years, I didn't see much of any black women that looked like me, doing anything extraordinary. There are so many extraordinary black women in the world, but they are never put in the media. So as a kid what is your path according to society? A secretary? A maid? Taking care of rich white people's kids in Manhattan? What do I do? 

I said before that I don't have the answers. I really don't. But I did think about what could have been done differently to avoid having these internal struggles, and honestly I couldn't think of anything. These are just experiences that will happen to some degree and I think parents just need to be there to help us when we need it. It'll suck for a while, but I does get better (clique, I know). Seriously, though, fellow adoptees, eventually you will grow and figure out how to be comfortable within yourself. Not saying it's easy, but take some comfort in knowing you are not the first or the last person to have dealt with this. 

We outchea.

 

 

How To Survive PWIs

***This is directed to adoptees of color, but like I often say both parents and adoptees can learn from all my posts***

Unless you're a cis-straight, white, male born in america, at some point you have probably been the only *insert identity group here*, in the room. Now I've talked a lot about being the only black person in my family, but going into white institutions (work, school, churches etc) was a whole different battle This is a battle that every poc, adopted or not, is struggling with. It's a a constant fight for your humanity and respect. My history with PWIs (predominately white institutions), goes back as far as I can remember. Being in a white family, naturally most of the friends, family, and institutions we were a part of, were primarily white, if not 400% white. On top of that, we lived in Olympia, WA, where, as more it's more diverse today, growing up it was was about as colorful, as a 6 pack of whiteout. Starting with this old Lutheran Church my mom grew up in, it was all white...white and old at that. The old white ladies would pinch my cheeks, grab my hair, laugh about "oh haha you look just like your family"

Obviously, their intent wasn't to be malicious (at least I hope so), but those kinds of things is the equivalent to being treated like a zoo animal. I was fairly young, six or seven, but we grew up in that church and these types of things continued well into middle school. When we got to high school age and we begged our mom to let us go to school (we were home schooled up until this point), I quickly learned the struggles of being the only black person in the entire school. Always being asked to speak for your race, being made fun of for not knowing "black" things or not being stereo-typically "black enough", the overall erasure of black people and culture from curriculum...all that fun stuff that other's have talked about.

My point is, being a person of color in a predominately white area or institution has it's own set of problems and I have a lot of experience with them. So, I wanted to share some of the key things I learned to help me survive in PWIs without cussing someone out every 30 seconds or punching them in the face (although, some people just deserve this). I think for most adoptees you will experience this the most in a school setting so I will focus on that narrative, but the general ideas expand into other areas like work, church, sports etc.   

  • You Deserve To Be There
    I think this was one of the hardest things for me to overcome, especially as both a woman and a person of color. Being in PWIs we are shunned from both white people and our own people. I was often made fun of for being able to attend private schools and go to things like summer camp, when other black kids were not able to. Accused of being "whitewashed" or "acting white". As women, we are often told we don't deserve our positions or we're only there to fill a quota. What the people on the outside looking in didn't understand is, my family was lower class too. My parents worked their asses off to make sure we could have privileges like private school and summer camps. Us, as kids worked too. We owned a certified organic meat farm called "Whispering Springs Farm". We did everything and I mean EVERYTHING ourselves. Us 6 kids got up every single day at 5 am to go birth animals, butcher 500 chicken, make sausage from scratch, go chase down Lilly Bell, our milk cow, who decided to take a stroll down the neighbors and more. We did this just so we could bring it into the Olympia's Farmers Market 5 days a week to sell. That is how we were able to eat. There we days we didn't have running water and had to haul up bucket from the local creek, there were times we went days or weeks without power, we were not spoiled kids who had the world handed to them on a silver platter. But when people don't know your struggles, they assume you just grew up with a silver spoon. So it was hard for me to understand that no matter what other people said or thought, I worked my ass off to get here, and I deserve to be here just as much as anyone else. I worked to keep a 4.0 GPA in high school and graduate valedictorian so that I could get scholarships to go to college that my family could otherwise never afford. I went to 3 different colleges before I was able to get my Bachelors. I worked 3 jobs and attended school full time for 3 years to be able to pay my college tuition and rent in Boston, MA. I fought just as hard as anyone else and I deserve to be here. Even if you didn't come from the "struggle" so to speak, you are still a human who is valid and you deserve to be wherever you please. Having that mindset and confidence will make all the difference when you're out here being an army of one. 
     
  • Know Yourself
    I mean two different things by knowing yourself. 
    First, stay rooted in who you are. Know who you are, know what you take pride in, know what goals, values and morals are. It's going to get tough out there and the #1 thing that kept me sane was staying rooted in myself. One of my mentors told me to dedicate at least 1 hour a week to re-rooting yourself. Whether that means going to a cultural event, doing one of your favorite hobbies, reading some blogs you love, do something that re-centers yourself on who you are and restores confidence.  Secondly, know your limits. The other side of this is to literally know yourself, so you know what your breaking point is. Whether in the workplace, school, or just walking down the street, someone is going to push your buttons. You need to know what things trigger you to the point of no return and what things just kinda get on your nerves. It's just a way to protect yourself and know what environments or people you need to avoid. 
     
  • Choose Your Battles
    Listen, people are going to try the fuck outta you. If I fought every battle that came my way, I'd be dead within the hour. Someone says or does something ignorant at least every 5 minutes in PWIs. So the only way to stay sane is to choose your battles. Choose which things are worth retaliating over and which are just not worth the effort. The best way I have found to do this, is first off, take a deep breath, calm down, don't punch them in the teeth...yet. Then ask yourself, is this conversation actually going to help this person grow? Do they care? Do I care? For example, if I'm walking down the street and some random person says something ignorant to me, I'm more than likely going to keep it pushing, and cuss them out in my head. Not because they don't deserve to be called out, but because I don't know them, they don't know me, we will probably never cross paths again, so why waste my energy? Or some super racist, trump -supporting asshole says something rude and problematic in class or at work. I ask myself, if i have this conversation are they actually going to listen? The answer is no, they chose to be racist and I'm not going to spend my life convincing people who are dead set on being racist, otherwise. It's a losing battle. I would rather focus my efforts on having conversations with people who are ignorant but are trying to do better. If you fight every battle that comes your way, you're going to wear yourself out. You'll never make it. It's also not your job. Someone else can "check" them, you don't have to educate every ignorant person. Now if you want to, go for it, but don't feel pbligated. 
     
  • Find Your People
    This is easier said than done, but you gotta find a support group of your peers. So whether your a black, asian, native, gay, trans or any other margazlied group, having the support from other people going through what you are, is crucial. Now assuming you're in a predominately white city/town, this task can prove difficult. For me, I really didn't have any other black peers until high school and really more like college. When I got to community college in 2010, it was the first time I met other people who had the same experiences I had with being black in PWIs. It was the first time I was able to just relax and be myself. I could let off steam to people who understood, I could get advice from people who had been where I was, I could overall just let my guard down. This is important for your own mental well being. I would start with student clubs or community organizations. I generally advise against relying on the internet, not that you can't have great support online, but because I believe you need that in person, face to face connection for it to be truly helpful. You can't meet your online friend in Kansas for coffee when you live is Los Angeles. However, if you really live in bumfuck nowhere and you have no other options, turn to online. Something is better than nothing. 
     
  • Get a Mentor
    I am very stubborn. I don't like to admit I need help, I don't like being told what to do, so the thought of having a mentor was laughable to me. Me? Need a mentor? HA! As if, I have everything under control.


In reality, I was a mess. After leaving my first college due to extreme racism and having to move back home and go to community college. I really felt like I had taken 12 steps backwards. I had my whole life planned out, go to college at 18, graduate top of my class at 21, be married by 25, have a kickass job but now here I am 25, blogging and working whatever temp jobs I can find in Los Angeles. Things didn't turn out how I'd planned and for a long time I was in a mild depression because I felt like I had completely failed at life. I should also mentioned that after having to leave my first college where I went in with a 4.0. my grades has dropped to 1.8 and I was on academic probation not doing well at all. When I got to community college, after joining the diversity & equity center, the director who is still one of my great friends (I call her my 2nd mom), really urged me to meet with this woman named Rhonda. Rhonda was a black woman who grew up in the south, in a black family and black communities and was now working in a PWI as the only black woman among a sea of white men. Pretty much the exact opposite upbringing of me.  She was on the president's board, she was VP of Student Services, she was always so confident and strong when she walked into a room. She was pretty bad ass and she was black. I reluctantly agreed to at least meet with her and it was life changing. Rhonda was the first one to sit me down and ask me what I wanted to do. She made me write a list, then she made me write down my short term and long term goals. After that, she made me think of how exactly I was going to get those goals accomplished, she pushed me to do better in school. She held me accountable every single quarter. If i got a bad grade, I got an email from Rhonda like "Girl...what is this?" because she knew me and she knows I'm a straight A student, so to see something like a D, was abnormal. So she would bring me in to talk about what the problem was. Was it too hard? Too easy, is it the teacher? How can we fix this. She helped me figure out what I wanted to major in, I wanted to work in entertainment but at the time I had no idea you could actually major in Entertainment Business. She helped me track down schools that offered those programs, she even helped me apply to Howard U at one point. Having a mentor really helped me get my life refocused. Rhonda challenged me to stop mopping around and get off my ass to make the changes I wanted to see. Just having a 3rd party perspective to hold you accountable and help you reach whatever goals you want to, is essential. I think everyone should have a mentor of some form. I would try to find someone who shares something in common with you, and preferably someone older than you who has been in your shoes and survived. You can have accountability partners who are your peers, but for a mentor, I really believe in getting some advise from people who have lived what you have is key. 

These points helped me make it through college, and are still helping me as a graduate going into the workplace. Just remember you are valid in whatever your identities are, and people who try and tear you down are only doing so because they are miserable themselves. Most importantly, you're not alone. You're not the first, nor will you be the last one to go through this, so don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it. :)