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Don’t touch the hot stove.

Look both ways when you cross the street.

Don’t talk to strangers.

Don’t stick a fork in the electric wall socket.

Don’t taunt the dog next door

Mom said all those and more to me growing up. I sure wish I had listened to the fork and wall socket one. The spark and charge that came from the wall socket almost made me tinkle on myself.

The last warning came on the way home from the hospital. After a tetanus shot that followed an incident between Trooper, the next door neighbor’s dog and me. Trooper, took a chunk out of my left thigh. Sure wish I had known that PRIOR to my wrestling match with Trooper.  He won by the way.

shattered_heart_by_demonvash08-d4x2v4r

These are sayings from the parent handbook 101. Parents give their kids these rules to help keep them safe and protected because as parents that’s our job. We frame their life with rules so they don’t have to learn the lessons the hard way.

We don’t question that these rules will shatter their innocence. We don’t question that these rules may teach them stoves are dangerous, and cars and people, as well as wall sockets, and dogs. We don’t pause when they ask, “Why.”

“Why can’t I touch the stove?”

“Why do I have to stop at the corner and look both ways?”

“Why can’t I talk to the guy at the park in the panel van who has puppies to show me?”

“Why? Why? Why?”

‘cause it’s my job to keep you safe.

This logic falls apart when we talk about race. Immediately we begin to debate whether or not telling our children of color the rules will crush their innocence.

As a parent of a child of color there are rules I have shared with my sons that parents of White children don’t have to share. There are rules that I have to share with my sons to keep them safe.

“But why?”

“cause it’s my job to keep them safe.

Our youngest son, Zion wanted to go with his friends to a store in the neighborhood. Zion was the only one in the group who was Black. My wife sat him down and told him the rules.

“When you go in the store you can’t do what your friends can do. If you aren’t going to buy it don’t pick it up. You can’t wear a hoodie in to the store and no pants with large multiple pockets. Keep your hands out of your pockets and don’t fool around when you’re in the store. Keep your receipt for the items you buy. Have a good time.”

These are the rules to keep him safe. These are the rules that will help assure no one will accuse him of stealing.   As a parent I have to realize my son with the soft adorable round cheeks isn’t seen like that by everybody. Some store owners may see thief when they see my son.  In order to avoid a traumatic experience for my son who is filled with innocence up to his brown eyes I have to give him these rules.

“…but why?”

‘cause it’s my job to keep you safe.

When our oldest son was in high school we gave him the rules about what to do when he or the car he was in was pulled over by the police. We told him he couldn’t respond in the same manner his White friends do.

“When you get pulled over keep your hands where the officer can see them. Move slowly. Be respectful, humble, and calm. No sentence is complete without “sir” or “Mam” on the end. There is no such thing as curbside justice. Whether you agree with the police or not is irrelevant. This is not the time to debate whether you did what they say you did. Do what you have to to come home.”

“Why do I have to do all that and my friends don’t?”

“‘cause your friends don’t live with me and it’s my job to keep you safe.”

My wife grew up in a Black household and her parents gave her similar rules. They were presented as we did in a very matter-of-fact way initially and when she got older, and our boys got older the “whys” were answered in a more complete and comprehensive way.

My oldest is 19 now and as he got older I told him much will be assumed about him simply because of his appearance so he has to work hard at giving people what they don’t expect. Don’t be the sagging pants wearing “thug.” Don’t give anyone the reason or excuse to accuse you of wrong doing. He knows and gets it now. He accepts it as everyday and doesn’t question why. He is not traumatized by it or minimized by it. He understands the rules are unfair and unequal and yet understands they are necessary. They have not robbed him of his innocence they have given him security. By knowing the rules he is better at the game and he understands the rules are not personal.

life-preserver

 

Making a Dagwood

I’m Excited!

I have spent the last week re-reading, editing and adding to my book Growing Up Black In White.  The whole push behind the second edition was to add more “meat” and I gotta say this is turning into a Dagwood sandwich.

A good ol' Dagwood sandwich

A good ol’ Dagwood sandwich

At the end of each chapter I have added a section entitled, Lessons Learned.  In these sections I speak to families and share from my transracial adoptee’s perspective on different subjects all TRA families should know.  So far I have addressed subjects such as: self esteem and the adoptee, race, culture, should a TRA family move to a different neighborhood, honoring your own biological children and advocating for your children.

After I address a topic I follow it with an action item;  something the family can do to address the topic and strengthen the family.  By the end of the book each family with have 20 action items that will help them become like  Major Steve Austin, better, stronger, faster. Boy, am I showing my age today or what?

After I speak to families I then speak to communities, which can include businesses, churches, corporations, school districts, etc.  I speak to them on such topics as race, culture, diversity, inclusion, exclusion, White Privilege, and seeing things from a perspective that is different than the majority’s perspective.  This portion has been very exciting to write because it gently points out what so many large groups miss when it comes to the conversation of race and diversity.  They are also given action items to help them address these topics.

I can’t express how excited I am about this project.  I think this is really where I will be able to change lives!  Below I have included a portion of what I have come up with for the second edition.  This addresses advocating for your children and it gives you an idea of how the book will help.  This is directed to parents where an issue has come up at school.

On the subject of advocating for you children of color I wanted to share this.
1.  Be calm and controlled.  If you can’t be calm and controlled today, today is not the day to go to do it.  If you go into an office screaming no one will hear you.
2.  Not every injustice needs to be fought.  They should be challenged, but you just don’t have the time to fight them all so choose wisely.
3.  When you do decide this injustice is worthy of your time avoid the topic of racism.  For many once you say the “r” word everything you say after that isn’t heard.  You have to speak the language that will get attention.  If you talk about how you feel your child has been bullied instead of the racism that tends to get more attention.  Learn the buzz words and topics and use that to your advantage.
3.  Keep them honest.  Get follow up dates on when you can expect to hear from them.  If they aren’t met follow up.  Many will hope over time if they keep stalling you will go away.
4.  Include your children in the process.  Teaching them to stand up for themselves in a calm, professional manner will do great things for them in the future.
5.  Above all protect the child.  Don’t sacrifice your child to teach city hall a lesson.

One thing I learned when writing this book was the power of a story.  I found that if you can draw people in with a good story you can teach so much more.  The story is there, now it’s time to teach!

I should have the edits done in a few weeks and my hope is the funding will be there to pay for the edits and additions.  We are more than half way there!  I have updated the funding page and have included an incentive. Anyone who donates $50.00 or more will get a signed copy of the new edition.  I hope you will partner with me to make this happen so lives can be changed.

CLICK HERE TO DONATE

For those who want to share to your groups, pages, agencies.  Feel free to do so…after you contribute a small donation.  If I don’t value my work who will right?  Also please be sure site my blog as the source.

100 Soldiers Needed

army_mil-2008-11-20-1227214852 I need 100 soldiers to help me get to the next level. 5 years ago desperate to get my book published I decided to cut cost and try to edit the book myself. I am a writer and not an editor. This is a decision that haunts me every time I think about my book. It is a decision that may keeps me from getting to the next level. I have been blessed to be able to help so many but now I want to help even more people. I have the opportunity to use my book as a teaching tool to begin the conversation about diversity in schools. What an opportunity it would be to be able to teach schools how to talk about race, see race from a different point of view, and help them grow children who can thrive in a diverse world. Right now I can’t do that with the book in the condition it is in. I need to get the book professionally edited to reach that next level.  i will also be added at end of each chapter my lessons learned on race and adoption and tips on how we call can handle those topics better.

On this site I have posted over 150 posts over the last 5 years. They have reached over 138,000 people and access to this blog has always been and will remain free. I am simple asking, if my blog or book has taught you something, made you a better parent or individual, or given you insight in an area you didn’t, would you consider giving me a boost. I am looking for 100 soldiers who will sacrifice $20.00 to help me get the book edited so I can broaden the range of people I can serve. If you want to join my platoon just click below and give. THANK YOU!!!!!

CLICK HERE TO DONATE

When I was 8 years old my parents started shopping for a house. My father was a pastor at a Lutheran Church in Detroit and was being promoted to the assistant to the Bishop of South East Michigan. Soon we would leave the Black neighborhood where I was comfortable and move 2 miles away, still in Detroit, to a neighborhood that was all White.

This was an upper middle class neighborhood that we normally couldn’t afford on a Pastor’s salary. The real estate agent my parents were working with found out a property in this neighborhood was going to go in to foreclosure and the bank would be selling it. In 1973, my parents paid $20,000 for a 4 bedroom, 1 ½ bath home that was about 2000 square feet in the upper middle class neighborhood of Rosedale Park. The houses were beautiful, the streets were lined with trees, and this neighborhood was seemed straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Not only did my Dad get a promotion but the whole family got an upgrade.

We shared the community with what I saw as royalty. Leon Spinks, the heavy weight fighter who was one of a few who beat Muhammad Ali lived on the next street over.  Leon lived across the street from Emanuel Stewart, one of the greatest boxing trainings in the world. He trained boxing greats, Tommy Hearns, Lennox Lewis, Michale Morer and 39 other boxing Champions. He started the Kronx boxing gym that was the mecca of boxing in the ‘80’s. Emmanuel and Leon were the only two people of color in the neighborhood that I can remember at that time.

It was in this neighborhood that I ran the streets from dawn to dusk. It was here I rode my bike for miles everyday to keep up with the other neighborhood kids whose parents also gave them free reign of the community. It was in this neighborhood where I have my most vivid memories of childhood. They are memories crafted from filling up days with imagination, sports, fire crackers, fence jumping, and the energy of youth combined with growing testosterone.

One sunny afternoon on one of those bike rides, the group of kids from my street all decided to go over to Leon Spink’s home hoping to get a glimpse of the champ. His house sat on Outer Drive on a corner lot. The back yard faced a side street and as we rolled slowly down the side street there was the champ walking in his fenced in back yard. He looked up and smiled at us with his toothless smile and we felt like we touched Zeus. At Leon’s side stood a very stern looking gentleman who seemed to sweat muscles as he stood still and silent. Around his neck he wore one piece of jewelry; Leon’s Olympic gold medal. The placement of this medal was safer that any bank or vault. The quiet bodyguard had a shaved head in a time when Afros were still prominent. His smooth shiny head increased his scary-factor by 10 and he gained more of our attention than the champ because he was terrifying. We cut our visit short and rode away promising the champ we would be good kids at his encouragement. We all rode away occasionally looking back at this unusual bodyguard hoping he didn’t give chase.

Several years later the strong quiet bodyguard would go through a transformation. His hair cut would change and the Olympic gold medal was replaced with a pirate’s locker of gold chains. We would find out that he had a name, his name was Lawrence Tureaud and he would show up alongside Sylvester Stallone in Rocky III, and join forces with George Peppard on the TV series The A Team.  By then he was better known as Mr. T. After meeting him several years before we all pitied the fool who would even think about messing with him.

mr.t-leon-spinks-bodyguard-1970s-photo-GC

Mr. T & Leon Spinks

 

 

Life in the new upscale neighborhood painted my summers with fond memories like this one. It seemed the world turned slower during those times and it was all purchased with my parent’s White Privilege. I was a beneficiary of my parent’s membership in to this exclusive club and this club gave us access to things my Black friends were denied. I had Black friends who had one, if not two parents, who worked in the local auto plants; this was back when the auto plants were paying crazy money to their employees, yet my Black friends weren’t living in neighborhoods like this one.  Their families were making much more money than our family yet my friends weren’t given the opportunity to see neighborhoods like where we resided. Real estate agents simply didn’t take them to certain neighborhoods because of their skin color. The only people of color who could gain access to this type of neighborhood were professional athletes and boxing trainers. My friends were denied the freedom to live where they wanted and through my parent’s White privilege I gained access to this story book neighborhood.

The color of my skin initially made the move difficult and I would be lying if I said race was never an issue. It was! Part of the beauty of being an adolescent boy is the inability to see outside yourself.  I was so consumed with myself that I didn’t notice the racism that swirled around me. I was also not trained in spotting it. It was like an invisible vapor that was there but I didn’t have the trained eyes to see it. I often see the same inability in my children. I see racism and it subtleties easily now and my boys walk through it never noticing the vapor enveloping them. Maybe, the shadows cast by childhood innocence make it harder to see. But it is still there even if you don’t recognize it. My ignorance to it made it tolerable and I often dismissed the slights and disrespect towards me as the only child of color as something I did to cause this treatment. So the issue of racism which is a much bigger issue than me was interpreted by me as a “me” issue.

After about 5 years in this neighborhood, the bishop that my dad worked for decided to step down and the one that replaced him wasn’t a fan of our family.   The new Bishop didn’t like our family because I was in it and he didn’t approve of our multicultural family.  My father was soon out of a job. Being the patriarch of a multicultural family meant the Carte Blanche membership in to the club of White Privilege would have to be cashed in and redeemed for a more limiting membership. As my Dad looked for a new church to pastor, the subject of our family would come up and once the churches found out I was apart of the family they denied my father access to job after job. White Privilege was sacrificed as the result of us being a multicultural family.

It is interesting to me to see how my family’s White Privilege was affected by the decision my parents made to become a multicultural family. I benefited from it in some ways and my parents would have to give up some of it in some ways. It became this hybrid White Privilege that was still present but diluted in some ways. The White Privilege got us a house in a nice neighborhood, but it wasn’t strong enough to get my father a job. My father couldn’t get a job because he was seen as beige when those doing the hiring wanted undiluted White.

This is a side effect that most people don’t realize comes with transracial adoption. Many transracial parents also don’t realize that their children of color will benefit from the family’s White Privilege and that benefit may cause slight by the community of color. Many times while growing up I was seen by people of color as an Oreo, Black on the outside and White on the inside. They saw I lived with White people in a White neighborhood and saw me as beige or diluted Black. So I struggled with this identity that ebbed and flowed. On one hand I was proud of the home and neighborhood I went home to and on the other I didn’t want some to know because it would only add fuel to their “You aren’t really Black” argument. My full access to the Black community was often limited as well.

One of the biggest struggles transracial families experience is trying to find where your multicultural family fits. With this struggle comes the frustrating and inconsistent reaction from those around you and how they react to your multicultural family. The realization that the simple presence of your multicultural family will cause people to react can be hard for some. It may mean circles you were once a part of are no longer welcoming but it also may mean other circles are now open to you. It means committing to finding that balance while being aware of the give and take that comes with transracial adoption.  It is all part of the push and pull that most agencies don’t tell you about. Stay committed, push when you have to, pull when you must and find that balance because in that balance it where your family will thrive.

Coach’s Son Privilege

baseball-pic

Growing up Mom believed that all kids should be active so I was required to play baseball from 4-7th grade. It didn’t matter that I saw the baseball as an ember fashioned by the devil to maim me when ever I stepped in to the batter’s box. When I was in the 5th or 6th grade my team made it to the championship game. My coach was an old surly man who coached primarily to win and because he thought his son couldn’t be guided and nurtured by any one better than himself. His son was our starting pitcher and enjoyed all the perks of being the coach’s son.

I was not good at baseball. There was no way to hide that fact. Most of my energy was spents designing ways to avoid being hit by the devil’s ember. It was late in the championship game and because the league rules said everyone on the team had to play, I was forced to take a turn at bat. The game was tied, the bases were loaded, and the eyes of the pitcher 60 feet away from me glowed bright red. He wound up and hurled the canvas covered rock at me aiming for my head I was sure. I stood frozen and heard the ump yelled , “Striiiiike one!” The catcher lobbed the ball back to the pitcher and the pitcher readied himself. He smiled down on me from the mound and I could see his fanged teeth. He drew back and rocketed the ball directly towards my ribs. At the last second the ball took a 90 degree turn and landed in the catcher’s mitt. “Striiiiiike two,” was the call.

I glanced over at my coach and his eyes glowed red too but a more intense red than the pitchers. “Don’t just stand there Hofmann, SWING AT THE BALL!” I hated that he never called me Kevin. Calling me by my last name seemed so impersonal. The coach only spoke to me when he had to; my ability didn’t deserve to be acknowledged.

The pitcher hurled another pitch at me this time aimed at the tip of my nose. I backed away from the plate and did as I was told. I swung the bat to give the illusion that I cared. The planets came in to alignment at that moment. The ball somehow found the bat and launched itself in to right field over the head of the chubby right fielder. He was the opposing team’s me with a little extra weight.  I’m sure he sat in right field just praying the ball never came to him but for some reason God liked me better that day. I sprint to first, then to second, and then to third, while the poor outfield chases down the ball. I betrayed my own kind but for once I got to be part of the athletically elite and it felt good. I stand on third base and my team is cheering and screaming my name, my first name! I fight back the tears of joy.

A teammate hit me home and we score 4 runs and go in to the last inning where our opponents had to score 4 runs just to tie. I stood in left field praying that the ball would get hit to anyone but me. The other team got two men on and then got two outs. I was thankful the balls were hit to other more capable players to this point.  I heard the crack of a bat and the ball was coming in to the outfield. It was hit to center field and I ran over to back up our centerfielder. He bent down and the ball scooted under his glove and came right to me. The one that swatted the ball was rounding third. I run up and grab the ball and threw it on target to the second basemen.   He turned and threw it home and the catcher tags the hitter out. The game ends.

We were champions and we gathered around the bench to hear who would be awarded the game ball. It was crazy to think I had a shot at getting it. This shot was diffused quickly when the coach awarded his son, our pitcher, the game ball and said nothing about my contribution.

I couldn’t be mad at Paul, our pitcher. He simply benefited from Coach’s son privilege. It wasn’t the system that Paul set up. This practice of Coach’s son Privilege has gone on for years, decades even. Some have termed it simply; an unearned advantage. This wasn’t the first team I was on where the coach’s son got his pick of positions or his pick of equipment simply because he shared DNA with the coach. This was often decided before we had our first practice. But like I said I couldn’t be mad at Paul. It was the system that was flawed. Since then I often get asked how we change such an unfair system. It means the sons that benefit from the system have to speak up. If Paul would have simply stated that the right thing to do in this incident would have been to award the game ball to me it would have helped to dismantle Son privilege.

I wonder if Paul would admit that he did have an unfair advantage on his father’s team. Initially I’m sure he would argue he worked hard to be a pitcher and nothing was ever given to him. I would agree that Paul did work hard and usually pitched a good game. But on that day when things were equal he was given an unearned advantage and rewarded with the game ball. On that day it wasn’t performance that mattered. It wasn’t that Paul didn’t work hard but on this day he was out performed. I could even argue that athletically Paul was more suited for baseball than I was and for me to perform at this level with the athletic ability that came with my DNA meant I had to work much much harder than Paul on this day. It is frustrating reflecting back on that day, but again I was very aware of Son privilege and understood those of us who aren’t coach’s sons have to out perform the sons only to be considered their equal and even then things may not be fair.

Explaining White privilege is such a hard thing to do. Once someone hears privilege attached to White many get defensive. I’m always trying to find a unique way to explain such a difficult concept for some to grasp or even admit it exists. I hope seeing the unfair advantage Paul had on this one day helps some to realize how White Privilege works on a daily basis.

I was speaking in Dayton Ohio to a group of transracial parents a few years ago and my wife was there with me. My wife shared with the parents that as parents of children of color we have told our sons that simply to be considered equal to their White peers they have to out perform them. This was a hard fact of life we have shared with our sons. There was a TRA mom in the audience who became very emotional. She was saddened by the fact that the rules she grew up under as a White person will be different t for her child of color. I was shocked by her emotional response and that struck me. I thought about that a lot and wondered why she was so sad. My wife and I discussed it and came to the conclusion that from this White mother’s perspective she was sad because she was mourning the loss of complete and total access. This was so interesting to me because my wife and I agreed that although the system is unfair it wasn’t something that saddened us. We couldn’t lose something we never had.

I think this concept is very very difficult for a lot of multicultural families. As you raise children of color you become aware of truths that most people of color have always known. You have to understand that your all-access White-Privilege card has been replaced. You no longer have the all-inclusive membership. You still have most of the amenities but your access is limited. Your children can enjoy the membership but only when they are with you. This member will not be transferred to them.  But the beauty in this is you get to understand and see the world in a different way which isn’t bad.

Another struggle for some will be that now since you are squeezed to see the world in a different way, the friends and family that aren’t impacted by color will continue to see the world from their experiences only. So getting them to see your changed or different view of the world can often be frustrating. They aren’t wearing the same glasses you are to view the world.

For one day I was a hero. Every time I retell that baseball story I tear up. It is one of my fondest childhood memories. I don’t look at it bitterly because I didn’t get the game ball. The coach’s slight didn’t steal the joy of this memory. His son’s privilege won him the game ball but the memory of the day I was a hero just can’t be overshadowed.

 

 

 

 

walking away

In high school I ran track. Every weekday from January to June we practiced after school. It was understood that right after school we would go to the field house, change for practice, run a warm up mile and return to the parking lot outside the field house to stretch with the team.   This was the same field house that a rival all White high school spray painted the words, “Home of The Spear Chucker’s,” a few years later. It was a painful reminder to our school that was 98% Black that some saw us as “less then.”

In the parking lot we would line up in 5-6 lines and spread out. The team captains would be at the front of each line facing us and they would take us through the stretches. Prior to the stretching we would “clap it out.” In unison we would go through a series of claps that involved slapping our hands together as well as slapping our thighs.  It was a choreographed clap that sounded good and looked even better. When we stretched we would hold each stretch for an 8 count and at 8 we would all clap and move to the next stretch. It was an orderly and synchronized routine as well as an obvious display of unity.  When we would go to track meets this is how we would begin in the in-field stretching together. It was interesting to see the response we would get from the schools we ran against which were mostly White schools. On one hand we were playing into the stereotype that Black people have rhythm and on the other hand we showed them we were an organized and disciplined team which was not the picture many teams had of us prior to this display.  Like any team we had our differences but when we stepped on the track we were brothers and it was something I have always cherished. To be included in this group was the highlight of my high school experience.

One day I changed earlier than usual and decided to go get my warm up mile in and out of the way. It was one of the only times I ran alone and never ran it alone again.  As I exited the parking lot, I took a right turn on the sidewalk and was headed to the stop light a half a mile away. I would then turn around and return. On my way to the traffic light I saw a group of 3 teenagers walking down the side walk towards me. I got over to the right side of the sidewalk. My training in Detroit had taught me never to take a chance meeting lightly. About a year prior to this, I was walking with a friend to a corner store to get something to eat before practice. As we passed a group of teens in a car parked on the side of the road, the passenger said something to my friend which I didn’t hear. I smiled and turned to my friend and asked him what the passenger had said, before he could answer the passenger exited his car and started walking towards us reaching his hand into his Member’s Only jacket. It was the universal sign that he had a gun and was ready to pull it. Fortunately, we were ahead of him and began walking faster. He yelled after us asking me what was so funny. He followed us for about a half a block and then returned to his car. For several weeks after that I kept picturing the headline that would’ve ran had he caught us. “Young Teen Dies For Smiling!”

Because of this incident I had learned the proper way to approach a stranger coming towards me. I knew not to smile, I knew not to look up until the other person was approximately 5 feet away, and I knew not to ignore them. When I was 5 feet away I acknowledge them with a head nod or “What’s Up?” I knew to look them in the eyes so as not to appear intimidated and to validate their presence. On this day as I jogged my warm up mile I followed protocol. When I was 5’ away I looked up and acknowledge the stranger approaching me and said, “What’s Up?” He didn’t respond or acknowledge me and I knew at that point this would not be a typical encounter. As we were about even he stepped toward me and threw his shoulder into my cheek and kept walking. I stopped and looked over at him out of the corner of my eye but never turning my head. He and his two friends also stopped and braced themselves, hands at their sides with fist clinched. It was at this moment I had to make a choice. If I turned around it would be seen as an act of aggression and I would be out-manned and possibly out gunned. The pause I took let them know I wasn’t intimidated which gained some points with them. I knew this was not the time to fight this battle that I would not have won. I raised my head and continued with my jog. After they were a safe distance away and not following me the adrenaline wore off and my legs went to jelly. I was a very small teenager and my fighting resume was contained to my brothers and one kid in the forth grade.

When I returned from my run I told my teammates what happened and immediately Smitty took off to find them. He was sure to grab his brief case before he did and we all knew what he carried in it.   Fortunately for Smitty and those strangers he never found them.   Later I learned that they attacked 2 other team members who simply turned around when they were pushed.   The bruises on their faces told me I made the right decision. On that crisp spring afternoon I learned the lesson that not all battles are to be fought and not every ignorant action deserves a response.

**************

As the holidays approach and families come together many people will be sharing time and food to celebrate the holidays. I have heard voiced on social media that many families struggle with coming together with family members who may not share their same views. I belong to a Facebook page that was designed for transracial adoptive families and I can’t count the number of posts that center around the recent cases in Ferguson and New York and the insensitive things that their extended families are posting about these issues. The heartbreak can be felt in post after posts that all say the same thing. In very eloquent and painful ways many families are trying to figure out how to handle volatile topics like this at family gatherings. Many have voiced that these recent tragedies hit very close to home for them because they are raising children of color who may someday be confronted with similar hostility. Their fear of this combined with a family member who isn’t raising children of color and their callous response to such injustices makes many transracial families nervous. In preparation, many are designing game plans and playbooks to handle the insensitive remark that Uncle Billy may make after having a few egg nogs.   Every possible scenario is being contemplated and the perfect come back is being sought after more than the Holy Grail.   The posts take many forms but in the end they all want to know, “What do I say to the insensitive family member…, How do I respond…, How can I get them to see their view is wrong…

My answers are simple, “Nothing…, you don’t…you can’t. To clarify, you don’t say anything to the insensitive family member, you don’t respond and you can’t get them to see things different. You especially can’t change minds not in a few hours, in a room full of family, after some cocktails. As a person of color I have learned long ago I can’t combat every ignorant comment or insensitive remark and trying to do so only left me exhausted and frustrated. When I was younger I responded to a lot more of those comments than I do now and looking back I found some of those conversations were laid out for me and the instigator was just waiting for me to step in to their trap. Or those that said those things were speaking from their experience and had no concern or desire to hear about my experiences. I wish I had known that then. The time I spent on those futile arguments I will never get back.

My Prayer for all those that read this is that you enjoy the holidays and family and when Uncle Billy throws a shoulder to your cheek, you pause, consider the fact that not every ignorant or insensitive action deserves a response, and simply walk away.

alarm

The annoying buzzer of my cheap flip alarm clock goes off and it’s time to get up. It is 5:30 am and I am 12 years old. This has been my routine everyday for the past two years as I rise to get to work. There are 75-80 copies of the Detroit Free Press waiting for me two blocks away. The winter months are the months I dread. I pull on my long-johns, jeans, hand-me-down snow mobile boots, and my hand-me-down parka with the fake fur that frames my face. I exit the back door and go out to the detached garage to retrieve my Town and Country red wagon with the high wooden sides. The sound of the hard plastic wheels hitting the cold concrete stirs me awake. I walk down our drive way and at the end of the drive way is the street light that lights up the dark morning; the same street light that my siblings and I will hit several times as we learn how to drive over the years. A right turn at the intersection of the driveway and sidewalk takes me towards my paper drop. Two blocks away in the vestibule of a small diner on 6 mile road sits my stacks of papers that I must deliver to my customers. The street is quiet and I am paranoid as I make the walk always scanning the street and looking behind me to make sure no one is following me. Growing up in Detroit has heightened by senses and don’t realize until many many years later that my vigilant stance that I take on on a daily basis isn’t normal. My ears tune into every sound and I’m very aware of my surroundings.  I am not scared because the peace that comes in the early morning hours calms me. On a typical day I don’t see anyone walking the streets but in the back of my mind I understand the possibility is there that someone could be there. Now as a father I couldn’t imagine letting my children walk the streets at 5:30 in the morning, but in the 70’s & 80’s it was commonplace.

As I walk the lonely walk I whisper a short prayer; praying that the papers are there. There are mornings when the delivery truck is late and it pushes my morning back cutting down on the sleep I can squeeze in before having to get up for school. Today the papers are there and the race begins. Everyday the goal is the same. Get the papers delivered and get back to bed as quickly as possible. I dump the papers in the wagon and run to the first house, slip the paper in between the screen and storm door and move on. Experience has taught me a naked paper on a customer’s porch when met with the wind will cut into my tips. I deliver the first block of papers on my street and then move over to Outer Drive, the next street over, where I park the wagon and grab enough papers to do a large loop of deliveries on Outer Drive.   On this loop I will make up the most time without the wagon. I cut across lawns, jump off porches, and at times sprint all while balancing a stack of papers on my right hip.

I end my route by doing one last circle on my own block and run up the driveway dragging the empty wagon behind me. It is about 6:30 am now and my warm bed is screaming for me to return. I shed my parka and boots on the back porch and slide in to the kitchen to get a quick bowl of Wheaties. I vacuum up the cereal flakes and I’m back in bed by 6:35.

On Friday nights and Saturdays I go to my customers and collect money for the papers I delivered durig the week. At 12 I am very shy and quiet and uncomfortable around people I don’t know. In this all White environment I am especially reserved because I am very conscious of being the only Black child on my street. I feel an obligation to present to my White neighbors a Black they don’t expect. In a sense I feel as if I am an ambassador for those like me. Being one of first Black people in this neighborhood I understand if I can show them a shade of Black they can be comfortable with it may mean the neighborhood may be more willing to accept others like me. I desperately want more like me to come in to the neighborhood. The weight of being “the only one” can be unbearable at times.

From age ten to eighteen I was the only paperboy on this route and over those ten years I saw people change.  Some who were obviously very uncomfortable with a person of color in their neighborhood changed. I become more comfortable in the neighborhood and more like me began to move in. By the time I left for college, the landscape of the neighborhood changed. About 30% of the homes were occupied by Black families and I was able to see a very White neighborhood become more diverse.

I often hear TRA families defend living in a non-diverse neighborhood in hopes that their neighborhood will go through a similar change and that their children of color will be the ambassador for change like I was growing up.

A big difference between most White neighborhoods and the neighborhood I grew up in was that my neighborhood was in the middle of Detroit during the 70-80’s. Detroit was going through a major change as many of the White people that lived in the city moved out of the city to Whiter suburbs. A lot of the homes vacated by White families were purchased by Black families because Detroit had a large base of Black families in the area to move in. There are not a lot of cities that have that this type of situation and even with that big shift our neighborhood went from 0-30% in 10 years; it was a slow change. Most neighborhoods won’t go through such a significant racial change as we did

The burden of being the ambassador was felt.  Children shouldn’t be diversity ambassadors because while the change is or isn’t happening the burden of that responsibility on top of the pain you go through while everyone else is or isn’t changing is a weight no child should have to carry. Yes, I saw people change but I also was exposed to many who didn’t want to change and those interactions were difficult. There were interactions were there was an unjust hostility towards me that I couldn’t explain or justify. I now know there were some who were upset with what I represented. I represented to some the first of many to come. To them I was a scout not an ambassador and their facial expressions, their speech, and their mannerisms were very unwelcoming. These were the people who accused me of stealing, or accused me of vandalizing their property or who treated me as if I was invisible. Those inconsistent assaults to my self esteem left open wounds and scars that took years to heal. There were times when my immature mind couldn’t interpret, define or verbalize what was going on around me but the feeling of inadequacy was ever-present.

5 things I’ve learned as a newspaper carrying ambassador.

  • I had one job and didn’t need another. Being the pied piper of diversity is not a job for a child.
  • Developing a keen sense of awareness about what is going on around me was a great skill that has helped me in my life. The development of this skill could only come with the knowledge that there are people in the world who may try to hurt me. The lesson was worth the innocence sacrificed.
  • As a child I didn’t understand the power of race. When people treated me badly simply because I was Black I internalized it. I deduced their treatment of me was warranted because there was something broken in me that caused that unjust treatment.
  • I didn’t label it racism. There were things that were done and said that looking back on them were obviously racist but I didn’t see it…then. If my parents had asked me if I had encountered racism or racist people I would have said “no,” and felt that way up in to my 30’s. Parents have to have enough awareness to see what children can’t.
  • The clothes styles changed but a lot of what I struggled with is still very present today. Don’t write these lessons off as lessons of yesterday.
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