Out of the blue, a little over a year ago, I received the phone call every prospective adoptive parent can only dream about. A healthy baby had been born two days earlier and had just been given up for adoption. He was Caucasian and African-American. In a heartbeat, our prayers were answered. That one call transformed us from a family of four with two beautiful sons to a family of five with three beautiful, healthy sons. One of them just happens to be black.
The transition has been as close to fabulous as you could possibly imagine. The two older boys were 4 and 2 years old when the baby came into our lives, and from Day One there has been nothing but sheer love and "bromance" for this adorable little guy. But the events of last week in Missouri have come as a reminder that life for our youngest may be different.
When our baby was 6 months old, I started bathing all three boys together. "What's wrong with his penis? It's black!" my oldest son asked. I explained that there was nothing wrong with his penis, and reminded him of how his brother came from another mommy's tummy. My husband walked in, rolled his eyes and said, "All you really need to know is you're going to have to work on your tan more than your brother every summer."
And that sums up how we intend to continue raising our boys — loads of honesty and a whole lot of love. We are fortunate that we can give these three a great education and an awesome life in Virginia.
For the most part, especially while this amazing little boy is still so young, my husband and I can protect him. On occasion, there are comments made by strangers who cannot grasp that I have a blond 3-year-old at the playground hugging his black 14-month-old baby brother.
This adorable child is going to grow into a wonderful man, just as his brothers will. The only difference is, he is going to be black. And we will not be able to protect him when he is "out there."
Once, in a Wal-Mart in Tennessee, a woman walked up to me and asked, "Are they all yours?" I responded with so much pride that they were, in fact, all mine.
"But he's black!"
I leaned in and whispered in her ear, as if I were sharing the ultimate secret: "Shhh...don't tell my husband, I'm hoping he won't notice."
You see, stranger, it's none of your business. I am very quick to normalize the absurdity in a stranger's ignorant observations. I have always responded with as much grace and dignity (and occasional humor) as I possibly can for the person, but especially for my son.
I feel incredibly confident that my husband and I are the right people to raise this child. And yes, we will endeavor to protect him as much as we can for as long as we can. This adorable child is going to grow into a wonderful man, just like his brothers will. The only difference is, he is going to be black. We will not be able to protect him when he is "out there." On the street, out of the classroom and out in the still-racist world we live in.
In New York, for example, many black men have had trouble simply hailing cabs. If our president donned a baseball cap, would he have the same problem? The harsh reality is that there are taxi drivers out there who would honestly not stop for my third son, yet his two big brothers would be able to get a ride easily. I'm afraid my third son is going to be profiled every time he leaves the house and ventures down an unknown road. Borrowing my husband's car, wearing a hoodie...yes, he will probably be profiled with a chance of being stopped by the police.
Sadly, this is not news to African American friends who have shared similar fears with me over the years. But the idea that the world may treat one of our sons differently from the way it treats the others is something new for us.
The events of the last week in Missouri have saddened me beyond words. For our country, for the family of Michael Brown and for all the Michael Browns out there. Yet another life was taken too soon. But I am especially saddened — and somewhat terrified — for my third son. How on Earth can we protect him from being harassed, being judged? How do I explain to our sons that although they have the same parents, the same education and life experiences...it will not be the same? Pure and simple.
Recently, a neighbor mentioned how our baby is a different color from his brothers. My oldest son, now 6, piped up and exclaimed, "He is no different to me. He's my brother. We have the same bits everywhere."
So for now, I hold on to these glimmers of hope. That maybe not "seeing" color — which has happened in our family — will spread faster than any hate campaign, than any riot or before anymore deaths have to occur.