Things changed when I became a mom through adoption. I looked at my brown baby girl and longed to see her in everything. Now, my eyes search and scour—my eyes range and rove—because representation matters.
Seeing faces like hers is valuable and necessary.
Recently, Aliana and I attended a story time at a local library and, afterward, we browsed the children’s book section. Standing with my best friend, my eyes immediately glanced through the books, looking for titles to inspire my curious black girl. As usual, there were a variety of beloved classics but I only had eyes for a book about Coretta Scott King, a leader in the Civil Rights Movement and wife of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
As parents, we all strive to empower our children. We want them to dream, shoot for the stars.
My husband and I also desire normalcy for our daughter, heroes that are tangible in her daily life. Aliana can make believe and dream of what she will become one day, but she can also just go to school, play with her friends, and belong to a community.
My daughter is a strong, beautiful, and confident black girl in a world of extremes. Every day, the need grows for her to see larger than life role models that are from minority groups, but also little girls and boys living life just like her.
Representation is vital for adoptive families and that’s why it’s the first topic I chose to tackle in this transracial adoption series. However, I have so much I want to discuss that this will only be part one in a multiple-part representation series!
Today, I talk about what I mean by “representation” and how it helps us, and our children, make sense of the world we live in.
What I Mean By “Representation”
Kids pick up on everything—even when we don’t want them to. Children adopted transracially are no exception.
Aliana learns from my husband and me; what we say, do, and act upon influences her mind and builds a framework for understanding the world.
We are both white; she is black. Our day-to-day experiences will differ greatly. The world views us through different lenses and, in many ways, that is okay. Our world is not “color blind”, nor should it be.
The problem lies in the fact that our culture often fails to accurately and consistently represent those in the minority.
It is easy to argue that our culture highlights those in the black community because it celebrates Black History Month; Martin Luther King, Jr.; Beyoncé; and Lebron James.
But that’s not all there is for my daughter, right?
Each of these people contribute greatly by providing powerful examples of success and achievement. But, my daughter doesn’t have to be a civil rights leader, a musician, or an athlete to make a difference.
Therefore, when I discuss “representation” in our Western culture, what I refer to is the ability to see minority figures portrayed in all walks of life. It is crucial for my little girl to see black women as teachers, doctors, lawyers, and police officers. Black women are intelligent, courageous, persistent, and gifted as mothers, wives, and a million other “everyday” roles.
Representation Helps Us Make Sense of the World
The media is important and formative, as much as we don’t want to admit it. As children, we learned from our immediate family, those in our schools, and what we were fed from our popular culture. Television. Books. Movies. And now, social media.
Hence, when the only black people my daughter sees on television are playing sports (particularly basketball and football) or singing while scantily clad, that’s how she will find her significance. Her place in the world is defined by performance and beauty. She no longer considers herself, a black girl, as a person with feelings, emotions, and everyday struggles.
Representation is vital for all of those in the American minority, but even more so for children adopted transracially. Our children do not have the luxury of seeing a black woman raise them every single day. They do not see a black man that goes to work each morning in order to provide for his family. My daughter does not have an extended family that looks like her to show her how to navigate the day-to-day life of a black girl in America.
So, what do we do? As adoptive parents with minority children, how do we care for them and represent their cultures well?
Steps Toward “Everyday” Representation
My husband and I are continuing to process this question because there is no “once and for all” answer. We continue to wrestle with this issue each day because this is our new normal.
Here are a couple of steps we have taken as a family:
- We moved to a more diverse, urban environment. Most of our neighbors look like Aliana, not me and Chris. We see them walking their dogs, coming home from work, mowing their grass—just like us.
- Chris and I chose a church that is deliberately pursuing diversity and representation. Ours is a neighborhood church that strives to represent the demographic of our community. It has been such a joy to see Aliana play with a diverse group of kids and for us to have black friends that we can learn from and worship with.
- We pursue relationships within our community. My husband now goes to the barber shop down the street to get to know the men there. He wants to know them, what they care about, and what motivates them. I take Aliana to a multicultural hair salon where Miss Nedra braids her hair into gorgeous cornrows. Aliana and I love to talk to Nedra and see pictures of her beautiful children.
These action steps may not be necessary or feasible for your family; however, if you are a transracial family, I urge you to consider these questions: how can we help our child make sense of their world? How can we expose them to enriching examples of cultural representation? Are there changes we need to make for the well-being of our children?
I would love to hear your thoughts and questions on representation and why it matters! Leave a comment below or find me on social media. I hope to hear from you!
This post is a part of a monthly adoption talk link up! For more about adoption, click on the button below!