For Kristen Howerton and her husband, Mark, the decision to adopt two black sons wasn’t tough. But as white parents, they admit it can be tough to talk to their boys and two biological daughters about racism.
“You can’t not think about racial bias … just look at the bias in adoption: The fact is that in our state, 7 percent of adopting couples are open to black children. Seven percent,” the Costa Mesa, Calif., mother of four tells Yahoo Parenting about forming her transracial family: sons Jafta, 10, adopted from L.A. County foster care; Kembe, 9, adopted from Haiti; and daughters India, 9, and Karis, 6. “You can’t go into adoption and know those statistics without understanding that our country has a race problem. … And it’s absolutely heartbreaking to think of the challenges that [my sons] will face based on these factors that are irrelevant to their character.”
In a candid interview about raising children of different races as part of Yahoo Parenting’s “What It’s Like” original video series, Kristen explains that her concerns are mostly the same as any parent’s. “But then there’s an extra component of fear, I think, when you’re raising black boys, like, they could get in a bad situation or mistakes could be made based on their appearance.”
Adoption was always on her agenda, though, says Kristen, 40, who decided to pursue it with Mark, 42, after she experienced several miscarriages. “I was very aware that black children, and specifically male black children, were over-represented in foster care.” With two biracial males already in her extended family, Kristen says, “I just felt like we could very comfortably adopt black males. So our criteria was wide open, but I knew that by doing that, it would be most likely that our placement would be a black child.” When Jafta was placed with them when he was 6 months old, she says, “We were thrilled.” (Three years later — after the couple welcomed their first daughter, India — they were able to formalize his adoption.)
“I always knew that we would adopt more than one child,” she continues. “Especially because our first child was black. I thought it was really important that he have someone in the family who mirrored him, who he could relate to on that level. … I didn’t want him to be isolated as the only person of his race in our family.” So before long, they began the process of adopting from Haiti, during which the Howertons welcomed another daughter, Karis.
“We chose to adopt from Haiti because I had actually been there a few times … and I really loved the country,” says the mom, who writes a blog Rage Against the Minivan. “I had friends who lived there and I was really aware that there were children waiting.” Kembe was 6 months old when the family committed to being his parents, but he wasn’t able to join them in California until he was 3 ½ because of red tape and the 2010 earthquake, from which he was evacuated on a military jet.
Welcoming Kembe at age 3 presented different challenges than the couple experienced in the beginning with Jafta, who’d been a baby when he joined the family. The greatest “learning curve” in terms of dealing with racial difference was caring for Jafta’s hair, says Kristen. With Kembe, they fielded larger cultural conundrums right off the bat. “We really had these grand ideas that we would keep his language and culture intact,” the mom says, noting she and her husband learned to speak some Creole and put up Haitian art in their home. Yet all her son wanted was to assimilate. “He did not want to be a Haitian kid,” she explains. “He wanted to be an American kid. He wanted to learn English very quickly and wanted to dress and act and look like every other kid that is here — to the point where we would be speaking to him in Creole and he would answer back in English.“ The parents told themselves, Kristen says, “‘That’s what he needs for right now. And we can come back and revisit this.’ And we do. We’ve gone back and visited Haiti as a family and tried to kind of reintroduce Creole. But [Kembe] very much wants to be a typical American kid. He wants to wear his skater clothes and to say ‘totally’ and ‘dude’ and have that California inflection. That’s who he is.”
As the white mother of two black sons, Kristen says she is constantly talking with her kids about race. “It’s easy to go into transracial adoption thinking love is all you need,” she says. “That your love will transcend, that color doesn’t matter. But it really does matter, and we’re noticing that absolutely more and more as our boys are getting older.”
How her sons are viewed by strangers, for instance, recently become an issue. “They’re perceived as older, and research shows that to be true,” she says. “They are perceived as more threatening than their white counterpoints. And that’s a steep learning curve [for us] because you’d like to think that society is better than it is on this issue.” If her sons go to a playground, she notes, “There’s this sort of ‘Where are the parents?’ feeling that I don’t feel like is the same for my girls. … And I’m always very on alert and making sure that any interaction with them from another adult is on par with what’s appropriate for their age.” Then, at home, the family talks about her sons’ race and their height. She says she tells the boys, “‘People are going to have different expectations of you, because you are 10 and look like a teenager.’ These are conversations that we have a lot.”
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SOURCE: Yahoo! Parenting – Jennifer O’Neill