faces of (the human) race #6
Name: Kameron S.
Identifying Race: White
Ethnicity: I don’t feel connected to it but my ethnicity would be primarily French and British
Current Residency: Indonesia
You are not the average family…Can you tell me about your kids?
We have five total. Ivy (age 14) and Quincy (age 12) are both our biological children. Sarah (age 8) was adopted from Ethiopia at 10 months old, Markon (age 7) was adopted from Ethiopia at 15 months, and Bedria (age 21), also from Ethiopia, joined our family at 16 years old.
What is it like being a biracial family in North Idaho?
Coeur d’Alene (Idaho) is a small city and not very diverse, which gave us a different perspective to living in other parts of the country, like in bigger cities.
The challenges we expected and were fearful about when we adopted Sarah from Ethiopia didn’t really come to fruition and weren’t really the issues that we had to deal with.
Coeur d’Alene at one time was the headquarters of the Aryan Nations and we kind of expected some kind of outspoken racism.
But wherever you live, you have your circle of friends and community. The people we are in communion and fellowship with were incredibly supportive and loved our kids. For a long time that’s all we saw.
I do remember getting a lot of stares…A lot of times I would have to keep my head down at stores because people would always want to ask questions and ask where Sarah was from because she’s obviously adopted. That’s not always a conversation you want to have with your kid around. You don’t always want to talk about the fact that they’re different.
Even though they are different and we acknowledge that they’re different, it’s just kind of exhausting.
One time I was at Costco and Sarah was a year old and looked adorable…This sweet 80-year-old lady comes up and she’s just ooh-ing and ahh-ing all over Sarah.
She says, “You know when I was a kid, my daddy used to call people like her a ‘pick-a-ninny’, isn’t that funny?”
A pick-a-ninny is a racist term from when there were slaves who were cotton pickers. She was not being malicious or critical, she just had no idea. I think some generations don’t even understand. They can’t even recognize the way they view race, because it’s how they’ve always viewed it. I don’t think it’s always malicious.
Did your kids ever have run-ins with blatant racism?
No, I don’t think our littlest ones experienced blatant racism while in Idaho, however,
just recently our eldest had a tragic encounter with a racist man who physically threatened and verbally abused her, and even invited her to his weekly KKK meeting so she could get an idea of what they believe. It was sickening.
Thankfully it was her first real encounter with blatant racism, however, it was very traumatizing for her (and all of us).
Ivy’s first real run-in with racism was when she was at school and it was MLK Jr. day. They were talking about race, and this kid said he didn’t like black people. Ivy told him that hurt her feelings because her little sister is black, to which he said that he didn’t like her sister then.
When Ivy got off the bus that day she was hysterical. She could not understand how anybody in this world could not like her sister because of the color of her skin. We had to have some deep conversations about that.
How do you explain racism to your kids?
This is an ongoing conversation as it is simply so hard for kids to understand. Because of its complexity and how we are so personally impacted by it as a family, we tend to introduce more information and perspective as they grow and mature.
We explain to our kids that while racism hurts us and can (and should) make us VERY angry, we cannot respond with hateful words or actions, because that only fuels their racist beliefs and arguments.
Instead, by responding with intelligence, calmness, and wisdom, we can try to create a “vacuum” of sorts. Also, we also try to have our kids understand how unhappy and angry those people must be inside, and really how miserable they must be. Imagine going to a meeting, or gather together with your friends to talk about all the things you hate in this world! Just imagine what a bad mood you would be in, and how unhappy you would be if all you did was focus on your hate for something or someone.
Our eldest children obviously understand the roots and realities of racism more than our littlest. But regardless of what aspect of racism we are discussing, naturally they always have lots of “why” questions, which are always the hardest to answer. But in general, we tend to focus on the presence of hate, ignorance, and lack of empathy and compassion when trying to explain the “why”. And ultimately we believe that racism is the result of hate. We believe that God purposely and perfectly created humans to be beautifully diverse, whether it’s in the color of skin or expressions of culture, art, food, etc. We believe diversity is to be celebrated, this world would be boring if we were all the same!
Did you ever feel unsafe?
For the most part, we always felt safe…
We did get a piece of hate-mail one time that was addressed to our family. There’s a white-supremacist group that wants to separate from the United States and form its own nation in the Northwest. In the letter, it was talking about a very perverted form of Christianity. As a Christian, I was highly embarrassed that they would even claim to be followers of Christ. They were talking about how it was unbiblical to marry between the races. It was a disgusting letter. It was addressed to our family and there were parts of it that were actually highlighted with a yellow pen…We called the FBI and reported it because it’s hate-mail.
We tend to be optimists but we don’t want to be naïve. We were hurt by that letter, but we processed it and we’ve got to move on. We can’t let it make us bitter and angry because then they win.
Some people think it doesn’t make sense for white parents to raise black kids because of the culture gap. What is your response to that?
We have 3 black kids. To be honest, I’m sorry, it’s kind of emotional.
While I love my kids and while I would never want them to not be in my family, yeah, I do wish they could be raised by black parents.
That’s why we have 3 black kids honestly. I highly recommend [white] people who want to adopt from an African country to adopt more than one kid…I don’t want to say need, but I think it’s very beneficial for a black kid to have someone else in the family who looks like them.
I think that any adopted child has deep questions about their origins, their identity, their heritage, about their birth family, about where they come from. When a child looks different from their parents or their siblings, that’s just a reminder of that. Not that my kids think about their race all the time, but it’s just there.
The fact is that my kids were orphans. There is no way that I will say that they were better off being orphans in an orphanage and growing up without having a family than being in a family, in our family. Absolutely not. I think family is the most important thing. We have a lot of deep discussions in our family about their birth families and about where they come from, a lot of conversations about Ethiopia and poverty.
We hired an investigator and found Bedria’s birth mom. She’s in touch with her in Ethiopia, yet she fully claims us as her family, and as her mom and dad. And she’s a 21-year-old black woman. She recognizes that family surpasses the color of your skin.
We could ask the same question of biracial parents. They may have kids that don’t look like either of them or look only like the mom or only like the dad. Are those kids going to be able to relate to their parents? Of course. We’re relational beings, we live off connection.
How do you help your Ethiopian kids try to connect with their roots and Ethiopian culture?
Within our family, we embrace multi-culturalism and have a lot of elements of Ethiopian culture within our family and we make Ethiopian food. We intentionally have friends who have biracial families.
As their identity grows and forms, we try to keep Ethiopia around. Before we moved to Indonesia we used to have a lot of Ethiopian artwork around. I know how to cook Ethiopian food, including injera, which is really difficult to make. I learned how to make that. I’ve been to Ethiopia a lot for my work with Delivering Hope Int., so my kids are just used to Ethiopia being a part of our lives. We will certainly take the kids back to Ethiopia when they are an appropriate age. It’s going to be painful and hard, so we’re going to have to make sure it’s done at the right time.