I’ve seen these two movements argue to the point of nausea. Of course ‘Black Lives’ matter as does all life. That said, imagine the label of a black foster child who stuck in a residential facility.
I recently asked seventeen-year-old son how he felt about being black.
He responded by saying something to the effect of, “I never knew what to do until I came to live here; it always seemed like everyone looked at me as a child in need or a problem. Before coming to live here I had never seen a black man looked at in a positive light unless he was an athlete or entertainer. I was just so angry because I was struggling to figure out who I was and how I could matter. After I met you, I realized that I could be one of those positive black men by being a good father like you.”
I was floored. This very insightful young man was teaching me the importance of a role-model as well as why open dialogue is so crucial to our own development.
I was once a black teenager going through the same struggle for an identity, but I can’t pretend that I know what he is and has been going through simply because I perceive our experiences as similar.
In order to parent a black foster child, we must empathize with them first. The only way for me to gain clarity was to ask him the tough questions.
This started a barrage of questions from me to him:
“Do you feel like you are treated different by authority figures because you are black?”
“How does it feel to be the only black kid in a room?”
“How do you view white families?”
“How do you think that women perceive you?”
“Are you afraid of police and if so, why?”
WE CANNOT BE AFRAID OF THESE CONVERSATIONS!
We had to talk! But I couldn’t have this dialogue with him until we had first built trust and respect. While I asked him all of these questions, I also shared my experiences and feelings.
In preparation of him driving one day, I told him the horror story of a routine traffic stop were an officer treated me like dirt and spat racial slurs towards me. I told him that I was scared and that all I could think about was getting back in my car and going home. I told him how I have a different kind of fear when a police officer gets behind me but when given the chance, I have been able to show him exactly what to do during a routine traffic stop. Despite the images that we all have seen on the news and on social media, I have been able to model proper behavior despite my fears of a worst-case scenario.
Learning all of these things about him and how he feels about certain situations gave me an advantage. I am able to upload this information into my menRolodexodex and parent him accordingly.
I also have to be a great model because this conversation reminded me he is a sponge that will always follow my lead.
I refuse to pretend that I have all of the answers as it pertains to raising a black foster child. However, there are things that I have done that I have had success with, which are;
1) Helping to mold a positive self-image.
2) Keeping the dialogue completely open for clarity.
3) Modeling proper behavior.