There are also some universal things adoptees go through in terms of identity formation, regardless of who’s adopting them. One could argue that racial differences exacerbate that, but these are also just parts of being an adoptee.
TR: So, do you think race doesn’t matter in adoption?
SP: I think it’s problematic when a black child hears from his or her adoptive parents that “race doesn’t matter,” when color is something they have to deal with every day …
On the other hand, it’s misleading to say only black parents can teach black children how to look at race.
It’s important for us to look at individual situations when it comes to children.
TR: How else does your own experience in foster care inform your work with Spare the Kids—and how does that overlap with your cultural competency trainings?
SP: My whole goal is to keep parents out of prison and kids out of foster care. There’s this tribalism where you have, on the one hand, black folks saying, “White people shouldn’t be adopting black kids because it’s damaging, and we’re the only ones who are capable.” And then you have this unhealthy intraracial tribalism where good black parenting is defined by being harsh with your kids, beating them, whipping them, to prepare them for being a black child in a society that fundamentally hates them. As a result, you get these parents who are feeding their kids to the foster system and juvenile justice system. All of this is deeply embedded in slavery and Jim Crow history.
We say, “Nobody else can love our kids than us,” but we’re doing some really jacked up stuff to them under the guise of love.
I try to help social work professionals understand the historical roots of corporal punishment in black families, where it comes from, what expressions it takes and how black parents are increasingly using social media to film themselves beating their kid. This is horrifying stuff. It brings tears to my eyes. It’s awful.
But they have to be able to listen. What is the parent’s fear? Once you start with that, you can get into the cultural aspects of this, so you can develop the literacy to be able to have conversations with these parents in a nonjudgmental way.