by Stephen Story
Adopting a child with a skin color different than your own will force you to confront issues you’ve been oblivious to up to that point. And that’s a good thing.
My wife and I have three children, all through adoption. For better or worse our culture likes to categorize people by skin color, so if pressed I would classify our oldest two as bi-racial and our youngest, Branch, as African-American.
Branch was a preemie and spent his first 15 months in ICU. When we made the decision to adopt him the primary topic of discussion was his medical situation. We were several months into our adoption journey with Branch before I commented to my wife one day, “You know, we haven’t even talked about the fact that Branch is black.”
I was a little bit proud of the fact that Branch’s ethnicity wasn’t a big deal to us. I certainly didn’t think of myself as a racist or prejudiced person. But having a black son soon began to open my eyes to the fact that I was blissfully unaware of racial problems all around us.
Soon after adopting Branch I attended an adoption conference which included a session on transracial adoption. Several white parents with older black children shared stories that were instructive for me. One talked about being in a store with her adopted and biological children together. The store owner ignored her white children, while watching her black children like a hawk to make sure they weren’t going to pocket one of the toys they were playing with.
Another mom shared that her black son had been bullied at school by a white boy for months. One day on the playground he finally had all he could take and got into a fight with the boy. The bully was sent home with a note to his parents; her son was suspended.
Finally, the facilitator for the session — a black pastor — shared with the mostly white audience how he and other black parents typically talk to their children about issues that had never crossed my mind: How important it is to keep both hands on the steering wheel if they were stopped by police; how they should ask for permission from an officer before reaching for the wallet in their back pocket; how to dress a certain way so as to minimize suspicion from police; how they should think long and hard before deciding to own or carry a firearm.
I was stunned. I thought the Civil Rights era was behind us! You mean to tell me that in 21st century America there’s still an entire segment of the population that’s afraid of the police? And I’m supposed to take all of this into account as I raise my son?
Branch is young, so many of these experiences and conversations are yet to come for us. To this point our negative experiences have been limited to a few disapproving stares. But already, having a black son has challenged my own apathy toward the racial brokenness all around us.
Before Branch, I would have quietly rolled my eyes at Ferguson and moved on to other things. But as the father of a black boy I was forced to stop and think about the questions that were being raised. Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland — cultural moments that wouldn’t have registered as a blip on my radar in the past now left me somewhat conflicted. Things aren’t as clear cut as I’d like to imagine.
The current cultural narrative, especially after Dallas, attempts to lump everything into either #BlackLivesMatter or #BlueLivesMatter. Such dichotomies generally are unhelpful, and for me there have been moments of alternatively siding with and being angered by each of these two camps. Both sides seem at times to have valid points, and both seem at times to be missing the point.
From my perspective as a Christ-follower, the point is that people are suffering because something is broken. However complex that brokenness may be, we as Christians know that all brokenness is rooted in sin and sin can be remedied only by Jesus. We should step into brokenness, not turn a blind eye, because we know that we have the Answer.
What’s more, we shouldn’t be afraid of having our own ignorance and apathy challenged. Russell Moore helpfully comments,
Some white evangelicals […] assume that if they don’t harbor personal animus against those of other ethnicities, then there is no “race problem.” But we do not take the same view (and rightly so) when it comes to abortion. That’s why we rightly object to the pro-choice bumper sticker that reads, “Don’t like abortion? Don’t have one.”
Abortion is wrong and should be stopped, whether it personally affects us or not. Racial injustice is wrong and should be stopped, whether it personally affects us or not.
Again, we as Christians have the Answer to human suffering. If we are unknowingly overlooking some form of suffering, wouldn’t we want it brought to our attention so that we can offer hope?
“Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another” (Mark 9:50 ESV).
This is one reason that adopting a child with a skin color different than your own is such a blessing. It opens your eyes to see the needs of your neighbors in a new and more vivid way. It brings awareness of suffering that you didn’t know existed. Things that previously didn’t affect you on a personal level now hit very close to home. And it affords opportunities to apply the hope of the Gospel to needs that you didn’t know were there.
And as we long for the day when God’s kingdom will transform every part of this broken world, that is a very good thing.