Monday, January 21, 2013

for today

today is martin luther king jr. day.

it's also the second inauguration of barack obama, our nation's first black president (i don't care what your political views are, this is something to celebrate).

there are few things i can say that haven't already been said.

when we first began our adoption, i asked other black people for advice about how to successfully be a transracial family. one thing that came up over and over was that we needed to ensure that our children knew the history of black people in this country. "take them to the juneteenth celebration," one woman advised.

i had no clue what a juneteenth celebration even was.

later, when i found out that a juneteenth celebration honors the day black people were freed from slavery, i said that it made no sense for our family to partake in such a celebration, not because we don't rejoice that slavery was abolished, but because slavery wasn't our children's (or their ancestors') story.

my how i was wrong.

the history of slavery and the oppression of black people in america is the story for every person in this country with black skin -- regardless of how long they've lived here or where their ancestors are from. this is why telling my daughter about why today is so special feels like an epic task. i told her, even knowing she won't understand such concepts for awhile, how people with skin just like hers used to be slaves for white people -- how they weren't free. i told her that even when the government passed a law saying black people couldn't be slaves anymore, they were still treated badly and unfairly. i told her about how there used to be separate schools and restaurants for white and black people. i told her about MLK and how he stood up for what was right and got killed because some people didn't want to believe all people are created equally. i told her that if MLK hadn't fought for justice, we wouldn't be a family.

today is a day to celebrate, no doubt. but it's also a day to remember that racism still exists. in my wanting my daughter to see the greatness of MLK's work, i forgot to mention that many black people (and really, people of any color other than "white") are still treated badly. i don't have to look much further than social media to see that ignorant, arrogant people still use the n-word. and, in our brief experience so far as a transracial family, we have experienced people compartmentalize race so much in their minds that they make statements such as "your children won't be like them," suggesting not only that my children are somehow different from other black people simply because they have white parents, but also that there is something inherently wrong with or undesirable about being black.

my children will bear the effects of history until people start to believe the words found in our declaration of independence that obama referenced in his speech today: we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

i've cried tears of gratitude today as i've watched news coverage of the inauguration because my children do live in a country where they are free. i hope and pray that the freedom we all talk about does not come with conditions for those who have historically been considered unequals: black people, the poor, the disabled, the homosexual, etc.

because i don't want to be lying to my kids when i tell them they can be anything and do anything.