We always knew there would be challenges raising black children in a Caucasian home and a predominantly Caucasian culture. However, recognizing the need for homes for children in desperate need, we were willing to accept the risk of being a “different” family. After all, isn’t a child better off healthy and well educated in a culture where they don’t quite fit in, than having a sense of belonging in a culture where they would not receive education, health care, and proper nutrition?
So in August of 2012, we brought our very black children into our very white world. Our son now recounts the scariest moment of the entire time he’s been with us as the moment we walked off the plane in Nashville and into the arms of dozens of our friends. Our Caucasian friends. Our kids were given balloons, toys, signs, handshakes, high fives, and hugs. But all Palmer could see was all of the whiteness all around them. This is a child who has endured severe burns, wild animals, abandonment, starvation, and all manner of unspeakable evil, but the thing that frightened him the most was a bunch of white people?
As the kids began to speak more and more English, we realized that the differences in their color from ours was becoming a big deal to them. There were frequent questions like, “Why are there no black people at the zoo?” and “Why are there no black hockey players on our team?”. When we enrolled them in an all-Black summer enrichment program so they could be around other children who looked like them, they were bullied and teased, not only for being from Africa but for having white parents. Both kids showed subtle but clear signs of stress because they didn’t fit in with black kids, and yet they clearly weren’t white. And unfortunately, there is a severe lack of black children with white parents with whom they could identify in books, television, movies, and real life.
At Christmas time in 2013, I remember as I reflected on Christ coming to earth to live among us, how we had done just the opposite with our kids. Ken and I compelled our kids come to where we were comfortable, where people looked and sounded like us, where the food was familiar to us, and the spoken language was one in which we were fluent. But it wasn’t comfortable for Addie and Palmer. Our kids will likely always struggle with finding a place to fit in because we removed them from the culture to which they belonged. Ken and I had inadvertently laid this burden at the feet of our kids — who had already been through unimaginable tragedy.
If Jesus were in my shoes, would He not go to the needy and live among them? Would it not have been Him to take on the burden of not fitting in, to learning new ways of doing things, to feel uncomfortable in His own skin? Had we missed our opportunity to live incarnationally as Christ had done?
For the first time in our adoption process, I began to feel selfish. I had forced my two children to make the difficult transition here, when I am supposed to be the parent, the strong one, the sacrificial one. I felt imperialistic and arrogant for having assumed that the right answer for my children was moving them to where I felt comfortable. Why had I not been willing to move to them, instead of them to me?
I knew that moving our kids into a predominantly black neighborhood in the United States wouldn’t be the solution — they had suffered the most bullying from kids of the same skin color as they are. Skin color is not the same as culture or ethnicity. At least in a white neighborhood, we would be somewhat of a novelty, as long as we lived in an area where mixed race families were accepted. But that would still be my culture on my terms.
Was there any place where our family could safely, yet incarnationally, allow our children to live where they felt they belonged?
When the words, “I need you in Africa” floated across the table on June 8th, I wondered if this was our incarnational opportunity.
But how would our kids react to being asked to go back to Africa? Back to a continent where they had experienced so much pain and loss? Away from the affluent culture that they had come to love? Away from their new grandma and grandpa, whom they adore? Away from the excellent educational opportunities that had propelled them to success?
While moving them out of their culture seemed a bit unfair, was moving them back to Africa any better?