Woke.¹ It’s happening all around me and it is happening to me. Until recently I was unaware of how distressing the need for racial and social justice in our country truly is. Two and a half years ago I met my son, who is black, and just having him in my life has enlightened me to so much. Since that time, as an adoptive parent, I have become more and more thirsty to educate myself about race, white privilege and what it means to be in a healthy transracial family. Prior to meeting my sweet boy I never counted how many people of color were surrounding me at any particular time. Now I am forever tallying in my mind, no matter where I am. I am always aware of whether he is having representation or not. Some days I feel like our life is more diverse than others. For example, recently we went to our local playground (yes, playgrounds are open again). We walked there with our neighbor who is a white woman like myself, and her mixed race grandson. Half of the people at the park were POC and I felt SO happy for my little guy!! This was a day that felt like a win.
With that being said, there are many times that my son is the only black person in the crowd or one of very few. I know he is loved and doted on by friends and family, but at the same time it can feel troublesome that he can be the only person of color where we are.
Early on in my parenting journey, I approached BPAR for counseling on how to best support my son. When I first walked into my therapist’s office, I saw the book White Fragility on her desk and I felt a sigh of relief, thinking, “Yes, she gets it.” Being a single parent and being able to sit and talk for a full hour a week about my son is a Gift. I like how BPAR gives me constructive info, articles, and resources. I always leave a session with a new thought or perspective. BPAR nudges me to better myself and to be a better parent.
Some practical things I’ve learned to do in our everyday lives at home: I make sure our home library is diverse; I send my son to a daycare out of our town that is more diverse so that he has representation; I belong to a Facebook group called Parenting Across Racial Differences that meets up one time a month (pre-COVID); we go to a black barbershop in Cambridge; we try to maintain contact with his foster mom with a few visits and texts every few months; I started a diverse story time inspired by Little Diverse Libraries [link to https://www.friendscommunityschool.org/little-diverse-libraries]. All of it is a work in progress. I try to say yes more when friends ask us to do activities or go places where I know we are going to be surrounded by POC. Oh goodness, I feel like I am learning every day. I do know we have to acknowledge race and I wish our kids only needed love, but they also need to see themselves in others, to know that they look different in their transracial family but they are not different.
My extended family spends most of their summer in a close-knit, community orientated, Cape Cod neighborhood. When we are there it feels like all is right in the world. We are outside, at the beach, and playing hours upon hours. People help one another and make small talk, and it seems like the smiles never fade. My son is highly spirited, with a joyful personality, and often catches the attention of others. Amongst the many light skinned, blue-eyed playmates he looks different. As we know, kids see color and are learning. They see it as obvious, ask questions and carry on. I get questions from my nephews and niece and other neighborhood kids. I am glad they ask, and also I want to somehow answer them so as my son gets older he will not have to answer. Impossible, I know.
The questions vary. Why are the bottoms of his feet white? How come water bubbles off of his hair? Why do you put lotion on him every night? Do black people need sunblock? Again, I want them to ask and feel comfortable. I also want my son to know that although he looks different from his family, he is not different. I want these kids to be “woke” now and ask the questions. I want to have a person of color in their family and/or neighborhood and for it to become normalized. I want them to not have preconceived racist thoughts as many of us adults do from exposure to the media, news, systemic racism and the list goes on.
Upon becoming a mother to a child of another race, I slowly started learning, noticing, reading and seeking support. I now do not have to seek out information; it is at my fingertips every time I open social media. It breaks my heart to learn so much but at the same time, it gives me much HOPE for his future.
One of my sisters decided it was time to talk to her kids about race, diversify their library, and explain what “Black Lives Matter” means when they see it on a sign. As my six-year-old niece and my three-year-old can tell you, “The signs mean everyone can be friends no matter your skin color.” My sister said the first conversations with her kids felt wrong and awkward like she was talking about something that she shouldn’t or did not know the answers. As race has become part of our weekly and daily conversations, my niece decided to recycle a cardboard box, punch little holes around the edges (“So the light can shine through,” she says)— decorate it with hearts that are half black and half white, and write in large letters “BLACK LIVES MATTER.” She told her mom that she wanted to hang it at the basketball/tennis court in their Cape neighborhood. (Their mainly white privileged neighborhood.) Even as I type that, I feel like I am betraying the neighborhood because race feels like an edgy topic. My niece and I talked about her sign. I shared that her cousin and I attended a peaceful march in our neighborhood outside of Boston and maybe we could all do the same. I drafted the invitation, had my sister post it on the neighborhood Facebook page and let the anxiety set in. What if people did not want to join? What if people disagreed? I told myself even if it is just a few people, every bit counts. Family friends who have 10+ people in their family said they were looking forward to participating. Just seeing and hearing their passion and experiencing the power of people in numbers eased my worries. I told everyone I saw about the march and held my high as people varied in their interest.
It was a warm Sunday in June at 4:00 p.m. We all hopped on our bikes and met at the beach parking lot with our homemade signs. We had brought chalk to do a “chalk walk” as people gathered. On my way a mom and grandma had pinned “Black Lives Matter” signs to their shirts and taped one to their baby’s stroller. I did not know this family and I thought OMG people are coming. I get goosebumps as I write this! People SHOWED UP!!! Roughly 80 people of all ages showed up with their signs, and one person played music as we walked! No wait! It was more of a strut and a sashay around the neighborhood. I felt on cloud nine. My son ran in pure excitement to be with all of the kids, wearing his shark rain boots and banana swim trunks. In my mind people were showing up for him. My niece walked with her sign as she wore her bathing suit and robe with the PROUDEST smile. At one point she looked at me and said, “I just made this sign and now everyone came today.” I told her she was right and that she is helping other people learn. My mom, dad and other sister who were hesitant to attend all showed up. My mom later told me she was skeptical but came to support me and said she could not be more proud. My sister who was not sure how it would go also felt happy to have joined and later said, “Well, isn’t that the idea we are all teaching one another?” Later in the week that same sister texted me about a sticker that read, “I see you. I hear you. I stand with you,” and asked if it was appropriate for her car. I said, “Yes!” I am learning alongside millions of others, but I believe the idea is that we are standing up in solidarity to let others know how we treat one another. Yes, it is just a sticker and at the same time the sticker is a step in the direction to letting others know that she SUPPORTS people of color, it is a conversation starter and adds to agents of change.
I choose to believe deep in my heart that times are changing, people are growing, evolving, and learning, and peace is on the horizon. For the sake of my sweet sweet boy, my hope is that our march was a baby step, that the uncomfortable conversations leading up to it and the wake that it created after will have lasting effects.
How incredible to think that this post may help someone else read one more article, reach out to a group, react differently and begin their own process.
Have you been woke yet?
Written by Megan Cahill
Guest Writer, foster adoptive parent
¹Woke (/ˈwoʊk/) as a political term of African American origin refers to a perceived awareness of issues concerning social justice and racial justice. It is derived from the African-American Vernacular English expression “stay woke“, whose grammatical aspect refers to a continuing awareness of these issues.