Raising teenage boys of color is probably one of the most challenging demographics that one can tackle. Not only do we have to navigate the learning curve of our individual kids, we must also understand what they must overcome are truly dealing with being black, a black man in American, and a black man living within the foster care system of America. That is a lot of barriers facing you all at once.
Foster care is the very definition of oppression. I don’t know of any other system in the world that forces a kid to face his tormentor or abuser and label it “parenting time.” Add transracial adoption/fostering to the mix and you now have a system that displaces a child from their very culture and heritage. This is not an indictment on transracial adoptions, as I truly believe that every child deserves a loving home regardless of family racial make-up, but it is important to point out the trauma our children of color experience when leaving their homes, families, and communities for a community that looks nothing like them.
When one takes Black or Latino teenage males into one’s home through the foster care system, understanding culture is of the utmost importance. Culture can mean a lot of things – views of police, fashion, language, and other cultures’ perception of our children’s fashion and language. Timberland boots, sagging jeans, and a hoodie is a cultural fashion standard, and our children are targeted for it – whether by shop owners following him through the store or by a police officer while he is walking through a park. For our children, police brutality is real. Stereotypes are real. If we truly want to provide a meaningful, loving home for young black men, we must acknowledge our communities’ and our own prejudices of minority cultures
Despite all of this, we must teach our child to embrace his culture and heritage because it is what makes our children who they are – connect them to their history, help them understand who they are.
So how do we teach a child to embrace their culture even if it is something that we may not understand or even believe in?
How do we discuss the way society’s stereotypes could also make the practice of this culture and heritage potentially dangerous?
On the first day of my classes, I can’t force my students to dress a certain way or speak to me with respect. They would not know why I would be asking and, without a relationship, would not think I deserved the respect I demanded.
In order for these children to grow and evolve, I need to invest some time into building a relationship, listening to their experiences, acknowledging their barriers, and discussing where these barriers or experiences are influenced by societies stereotypes. It is also important that, in building these relationships, we spend time experiencing culture – theirs, their classmates’, even mine. Showing them how, despite oppression making them think otherwise, they matter and I will always be listening.
So I believe the answer to this question is:
Connections and relationships + Acceptance + (positive influential exposure to other cultures) = positive change.