In grade school the premier sport was basketball. In fifth grade, although I didn’t like basketball, there was no question I was going to try out for the team and so did every other male in my class; to not be on the team was social suicide. My basketball skills were left on the assembly line floor when I was created, but I could run, push myself off the floor(most would say jump but the lack of vertical lift I got didn’t meet the definition of jump) and dribble a basketball so I made the team. And so did anyone who showed up for practice. I played 5th through 8th grade and cherished my spot on the team. As a TRA (transracial adoptee) my hidden fears of rejection sat on my shoulder like a pirate’s parrot, always squawking in my ear. I especially desired to fit in here because the school I went to was predominately black and I wanted to be recognized as simply one of the group. Fitting in was paramount and the basketball team was my vehicle to fitting in and it gave me a peace I can’t describe.
Friday nights were electric! It was game night and I loved pulling on the blue and gold uniform and lacing up my all leather Pro-Keds. Money was never in abundance in our house , so the purchase of leather shoes to play basketball was monumental. The day I got to abandon my red Beta Bullets(remember our colors were blue and gold,) which were a cheap version of the Converse All-Stars, was an historic day in my life. Converse All-Stars were about $5.00 in the 70’s, so to be any cheaper ,my mother would have to have gotten paid by the store to take the Beta Bullets off the shelves. Throwing the ripped red canvas Beta Bullets in the trash was a celebrated event but that was only done after a few more months of wearing them as my “play shoes.” I was only able to wear my “play shoes” after I put the allotted time in each day wearing my orthopedic shoes that were designed to cure my flat feet. The amazing thing with those shoes was how the salesman convinced my mother that not only did my brothers have flat feet but I somehow “inherited” their flat feet through simply living in the same house! Mom, I WAS ADOPTED how could I have inherited their flat feet? Those orthopedic shoes and their offensively high price tag was the reason it took so long to get matching basketball shoes.
We would start each game as if we were a professional team. The whole team would line up shortest to tallest in the locker room. Finally, my lack of height came with a perk! I stood at the front of the line and the coach would hand me the ball. It was my job to lead the team in to the gym, make a lap around the gym, and then make a layup. It was the closest thing to being a rock star that I had ever experienced.
I spent most of the game watching my teammates beat up on the smaller, rural, mostly all white teams we played. It was our starter’s job to go out and put a hurting on the other team so my friends and I could come in when the game was out of reach. One game the coach decided to stray away from this strategy. At the end of the first quarter we were winning 34-0. He called for me and 4 others whose ability was close to mine—nonexistent, to start the second quarter. At the end of the second quarter the score was 34-32. Coach never tried that strategy again and I was okay with that.
My eight grade year I was still watching mostly from the bench, but still on the team and happy. One of the perks of being on the 7th and 8th grade team was the end of year tournament held at a local high school. The opportunity to play on a big high school floor was like playing at Madison Square Garden. There was a limit to the number of people the coach could take to the tournament but traditionally the 8th graders took priority over the 7th graders. This way everyone would have a chance to experience this opportunity. My 8th grade year the coach posted on the bulletin board in the hallway of the school the names of the players going to the tournament. I ran to see who was going and my eyes ran up and down the list several times and each time my eyes failed to locate my name. I did notice name after name of 7th graders that were on the list but mine was not among those going. I was more embarrassed than anything. I wasn’t too disappointed because I could sit at home instead of on the bench and if I have to sit I’d rather do it home. Two other 8th graders didn’t make the team. My friends Mark and John would also be sitting at home. Mark was the one and only TRA I knew growing up and John was the only other biracial kid on the team. At 13 years old I never made the connection between the 3 left out, but Mom did.
The day after the traveling team was announced, Mom made a special trip to school without me know it. As we all sat down for dinner, one of my classmates called on the phone. I grabbed the phone and my excited friend shouted in my ear, “Kev, man your Mom came up to the school and cussed the coach out!!!! You should have been there it was GREAT!”
“She did what?” I said, as I looked at my Mom across the table. The look on her face told me she did what my friend said she did and I shocked. My Mom was very aware of the prejudices we as a family faced at times when I had no clue. The commonalities between the 3 cut kids screamed something wasn’t right. She had developed her BS thermometer so when things didn’t sound right the alarms went off in her head. We experienced a similar prejudice when I was in second grade from a black teacher who openly disapproved of white families adopting black children. The teacher found an unjustified reason to spank me in class and the next day I was in another class after Mom showed up at the school cussing someone else out. In both situations, I was oblivious to what was going on around me but Mom was tuned in and growled at those who were behind the offense.
I hung the phone up and Mom confessed to what she did earlier in the day. I was embarrassed and proud of Mom at the same time. It’s an unwritten rule in sports that you don’t speak out against the coach and you especially don’t have your Mom do it. The coach never conceded and I didn’t get to go to the tournament and I was relieved. Being put back on the team because my Mom complained would have been tough to recover from, but Mom became an icon among my friends. She was the dragon slayer and it was great to know I lived with someone who would slay a dragon on my behalf.
I am often asked how parents should respond to incidents like this. Below are a few tips
1) Be an advocate for your child. If you see something not right or your child brings something to you address it. This will be tough for some because many will rationalize why this isn’t racially motivated and talk themselves out of addressing it.
2) Explain to your child in a calm manner what happened in an age-appropriate way. The emotion that comes with racism can often make you want to yell and scream. Do that away from your child or it will translate to them that you’re yelling at them or it’s their fault.
3) Include your child in the process of addressing it. While the Momma Bear in you will make you want to attack, take a breath. Sit down and talk to your child and ask what they would like to see happen.
4) Don’t lead with racism. The moment you scream racism is the moment the offender shuts you off.
5) Take credit for what you do. Once it is address explain to your child what was done and how the situation will be resolved.
Now go be Dragon Slayers on behalf of your children!