By Deb Besinger
Racism is real … I’ve experienced it even as an adoptive white mom of black kids.
To my friends who are uncomfortable with the thought that they or any of their other friends have a “racial bone in their body.”
Let me assure you, you do.
Having a “token black friend” at work doesn’t make you less racist. If you really talked to that friend, or put yourself in their culture, your heart would ache for how their experience differs from yours. So quit using that to convince yourself you treat and look at black people the same way you look at your own kind.
We all have biases that make us uncomfortable around those that are different than us. Even though I have adopted black kids, I sometimes find myself biased, too. Guess what? Even my black children can find themselves with these same societal biases. Americans are deeply programmed to see black Americans negatively.
I once saw a phrase in the middle of a sentence and it wasn’t even the point, but it said “Society is God.” Despite your religious beliefs, that is so very true. And society has profusely trained us to fear the black man and to have negative views about black women, too.
But the black man, unless he’s dressed in a suit and highly educated, is immediately lumped into the “I might need to be afraid of this person” category.
Black teenage boys with hoodies are often seen the same way.
This week, I was sitting at the bedside of my son Clay, who was experiencing complications from a surgery. I missed all the news coverage and I only saw one-sentence news notices I get on my phone. The police shootings were going on while my son was in critical danger. I didn’t have the mental capacity in my worry over my son to process anything.
But, I saw my Facebook feed the next day that showed me who some of my friends really are… some good and some not so good.
I also answered the scared texts from my 15-year-old daughter who is asking a lot of hard questions about how she can feel safe in a world that sees her first and foremost for her skin, and may not give her the opportunity to show her beautiful and fierce heart.
When I was a new adoptive mom 20 years ago, I would see the puzzled looks on people’s faces as they tried to figure out why a middle-class white woman had black children with her.
Over the years people have asked me some stupid questions like “Where are they from?” I reply “America!” They seem confused. Mostly, I developed a skill to not pay attention to the looks and stares and quizzical glances. And it works most of the time.
When my kids hit their teenage years, the looks started being more blatant.
One thing that always happened is when I am with my lighter-skinned, bi-racial son, Clay, people treated me differently. You know why?
THEY ASSUMED I HAD BEEN WITH A BLACK MAN. And they treated ME differently than I am treated as a middle-class white woman when I am out alone. When I’m with Clay, they looked at me differently… sometimes with contempt.
You know who didn’t look at me different EVER?
Black people. Black people thanked me (although that was never necessary). Black people were gracious and kind.
Since Clay’s mid-teens, he could easily pass for a full grown black man in his 20s. Despite being bi-racial, the world will ALWAYS see the black first and respond to societal norms based on his blackness, forgetting his whiteness. People notice him… then me… and it’s hard to always know what they are thinking now that he is grown, but I know it’s because of a hidden racial narrative that they notice us in the first place.
When Trayvon Martin was killed, I had to sit Clay down and tell him if he is ever involved with police that he be respectful, EVEN IF THEY GOT IT WRONG AND HE IS INNOCENT. I told him to comply, put his hands up, be respectful, don’t resist. I told him to do whatever they want and when he gets to the police station to call me and we will work it out from there. He just needs to get home alive.
I HAD to tell Clay when he’s at the Mall right down the road, the security guards and mall cops will be watching him more than his white friends. I told him this because it’s TRUE, because I’ve seen it when he is with me a few feet away. My white friends don’t have to have this conversation with their white sons, but all of my black friends have had to have it with theirs.
Clay was thrown from the backseat in a car crash a couple of weeks ago…he was with four of his fellow football players, all black. The policeman actually told me how cooperative and respectful the other boys all were (even though Clay wasn’t able to be interviewed then). The policemen and EMT workers were respectful, too.
When I arrived at the scene and despite riding on the ambulance with him to the trauma center, I was questioned over and over again about being his mother.
This is people seeing a middle-class white woman, who alone would not be expected to be associated in any way with a young black male teenager, and then treated differently when the assumption is that I am a “n*gger-lover” (and yes, that’s been said to me before).
I felt harassed after being questioned about my right to be there for my son six times in just a couple of hours.
The biases can work in other ways, too. When I am just with my kids that are not bi-racial, that are darker, there are some same looks.
However, there is a quicker assumption that I am their adoptive mom. I’m seen as a saint (which I hate) and they are seen as special and somehow “not as black.”
I experience being black-by-proxy and they experience being white-by-proxy.
This is not the case when they are out alone of course, they are just seen as black teenagers. How confusing that must be for them to process… to experience white privilege when the adoption is known, but treated with the society impressions of what it is to be black the rest of the time.
The bottom line is this: of course all lives matter, of course all policemen matter ― and to support one or all of these things doesn’t mean you are against the other.
However, to be offended by BLACK LIVES MATTER is a glaring representation that YOU don’t get it.
It shows that YOU are uncomfortable admitting to yourself or others that black people in America are treated differently. You are comfortable in your white privilege and just don’t care that other people’s experiences are different than your own.
Yet if your sibling got treated as a black person does for a week, you would take up the cause, you would be emotional about the injustice they experienced. You would stand up for them.
If you can say you love everyone exactly the same…and your behavior and thoughts reflect it, then great. If that’s actually 100% true, then we need you…because you can be a leader in this movement.
Does that make you pause and start with a list of excuses? I thought so.
MLK’s work is not done, he died for it.
Right now, these sweet black souls that have died in the past year to bring this all to light have too.
Be assured it was not news to the black community…it’s only news to those of us who are cocooned in our privilege…they HAD to get loud and angry for us to even pay attention.
The best way we can honor them is to take a big gulp and start to understand and admit that racism is ugly, real, and relevant and start to change our own hearts, stand in solidarity and say, “Black Lives Matter, too.”
This article originally appeared on The Huffington Post
Photo courtesy of author.