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Raising kids for the movement, not just the moment

My name is Olivia Potash. I am a 34 year old mother to our son, Omri, who we adopted from birth in 2018 in Columbus. Omri is 100% Somali. We have an open relationship with our son’s birth mother.

When we began our adoption process in 2016, we were required to complete a series of trainings. One exercise that we completed during our training always sticks out in my mind. We were given a dixie cup and a pile of various colored beads. We were told to put a bead that represents the ethnicity of a child you think you will be matched with in the cup first. My husband and I were always open to adopting a child of any race, so we placed a brown bead in our cup. Then our instructor asked us to place a bead color that represents the race of the members of your immediate family, so a white bead went into the cup. Next, your neighbors. Another white bead. Your family physician, then your coworkers, and your friends. More white beads.

We began to see that this brown bead was being surrounded by a sea of white beads. It hit us like a ton of bricks. Our potential future child’s surroundings weren’t diverse and would not be a reflection of who they were. It was then and there we knew that we needed to make some changes. Take a minute to mentally do this bead exercise in your head. Who are your children surrounded by? What shows or movies do they watch? Are their teachers, caregivers, doctors, and community helpers all white?

A friend of mine, who is also a white mother of adopted black children, told me a story of the time she and her kids were in the playland area of a local McDonald’s and a white child asked if her son was “covered in mud”. The white child was no older than 5. Clearly, this child had never seen a person of color before. Are you confident that your child would not say that about a black child? Exposure to other races and diverse representation is imperative for our children. Racism is taught and learned. Children hear your words and see your actions. Even small microaggressions. Do you notice that your children avoid or do not choose to play with children of color at the park? Do your children always choose white dolls?

We knew that we needed to make some big changes in our lives. It started with reexamining my relationship with an individual I knew to be racist. I had maintained a friendship for 20 years with a woman whose political and social views were very different from mine. I thought I could keep our friendship and politics separate. She said things like “I don’t want my son to attend that school district, it’s getting too black” and “I don’t want to send my child to that daycare, there are too many black people working there and I don’t want my son to learn ebonics instead of proper English”. I was guilty of being silent and complacent for too long. When our son was born, I knew I had to cut her loose.

We also made it a point to meet other non-white families and to socialize with them regularly: black families, families of mixed races, and families with adoptive children. We read books on white fragility, and went to events that celebrated African American culture to learn all of the traditions we could. We made sure our son’s toys, dolls, shows, and books had diverse representations. And every night, we read a book to him that is titled I Am-Positive Affirmations for Brown Boys. At 2, our son repeats the affirmations: I am kind, I am handsome, I am smart, I am important, I am able, I am loved.

It is never too early to begin anti-racism conversations with your child. There are tons of books and resources available to aid in the conversation. I recommend children’s books like Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o, The ABCs of Diversity: Helping Kids (and ourselves) Embrace Our Differences by Carolyn B. Helsel and Y. Joy Harris-Smith, and Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry. For parents, I recommend Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi and White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin Diangelo.

Growing up with white privilege, I know that I will never understand the hatred and systemic racism that the black community has endured, but one thing that does resonate with me is the fear black mothers have. The fear that our children won’t return from playing in the park, going to the corner store, or a party. I pray that my son never fits the description and I don’t look forward to the necessary talks that I will have to have with him about what to do if he is approached by police.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this. Our children truly are the future, so let's raise them to be the ones to make a change for the better in our world. And remember, Black Lives Matter.