Can A White Guy Raise A Strong Black Man?

I am tasked with raising a strong black man and I’m afraid that I’m failing.

Please don’t misunderstand, my son is great.  Yosef is bright, charming, sweet and hardworking.  By most normal standards, I’m doing well to raise a solid young person.

Today, Yosef is a 10 year-old young man who just so happens to be black.  The problem is, he should be a strong, black young man who happens to be 10.

There is a difference.

I’ve failed so far at helping my son develop a racial identity.  Passing moments make this obvious to me – through his uncomfortable fidgeting at the barber shop; the way Yosef struggles to address older black men; and the relative ignorance he carries for social issues that he will face.

If I wanted to make myself feel better, I’d offer up excuses about why I haven’t done better:

It’s the age.

Yosef is just shy – he’ll grow out of this.

I’m stretched too thin to worry. 

I can’t let myself off the hook.

I think back to pre-adoption classes designed to prepare parents like me for racial differences.  Almost nine years ago, I remember feeling well-prepared to tackle these issues head-on.  I understood that resources were available to help bridge the gaps that were bound to exist between my son and I.

Too much time has passed.  Those resources, I’m sure, do still exist.  I, however, haven’t used them.

Yosef and I arriving from Ethiopia (April, 2007)

Yosef and I arriving from Ethiopia (April, 2007)

Sure, I have black friends.  Yosef’s grandfather is black.  Yosef’s school and community are diverse.  That isn’t good enough.

Learning to be black isn’t done through osmosis or by virtue of proximity alone.  Raising a strong black kid as a white guy requires more:

  1. More Honesty – I have to be transparent with my son about what I know and don’t know –  admitting where I’m comfortable and where I’m not.  If I do that, he might reciprocate.
  2. More Outreach – Opportunities exist that can help better immerse my son in black culture. It’s my responsibility to seek out mentoring relationships, find adoptive groups and to make a conscience effort to attend events geared toward the black community.
  3. More Vulnerability – Sharing my failures can be the best medicine. I don’t know the right answers but I will keep trying to find them.  I want to learn from the pitfalls of others before my family is the textbook example of what not to do for the next generation of adoptive families.

Success, to me, will be my ability to thoughtfully address one question every day:

What do I know about raising a strong black man? 

If I let it, my ego would drive me to say that raising kids is raising kids – no matter black or white.  That’s wrong.

The better way to respond is to admit that I’m learning and need help in the study.

I owe it to Yosef to help him find comfort in his own skin.  He has to fit into the communities that have, and will, experience similar struggles.

I’m trying hard not to be ashamed of having failed Yosef so far.  Thankfully, we have many chapters left to write together.

In my mind, I’ve written the last sentence of the final chapter already.  It’s less of a statement and more of an affirmation.

It will read:

“We didn’t raise a great man that just so happens to be black.  This white family – through struggle, through failure, through dogged effort – was able to bring up a strong black man that just so happened to make an impact.” 

There is certainly a difference.

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2 Comments

  1. Lori

    I’ll start by admitting that I am not a parent. I was raised by two incredible parents, but I haven’t reached that place yet. I am, however, a black woman who has strong black men surrounding me. After reading your post I am touched by your honesty and I applaud what you are setting out to do. Perhaps books will help as well. When I see black-owned bookstores I like to visit them purchase children’s books for my nephews and niece. They enjoy seeing themselves in the characters. Perhaps Yosef will as well. As they get older I will share authors like Baldwin, Chinua Achebe, Alexandre Dumas (when they can stomach a 500+ page book 🙂 ) and Ralph Ellison with them as well. Beside the fact that these are amazing writers, there is a real lack of focus on minority authors in public school, so I think exposing them to these types of authors will help them to be proud of their culture and history.

    • Tobin Walsh

      Lori,

      Thank you for reading, please come back often and share your thoughts – parent or not, it does not matter. Kids are kids and I love that you apply parent-like skills to children around you (ie: nieces and nephews). I like your idea about black authors – those subtleties really do help Yosef. I appreciate you reading and sharing your thoughts.

      Take Care,
      Toby

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