[DA] I’m going to be honest: I don’t feel qualified at all to host a conversation about being an adoptive parent of a black or brown child in a world of deep seated racism. I’m a white guy with white biological children, and the honest truth is that in the past, when there have been surges in movements for racial equity, I have been shamefully disconnected. Shamefully detached. And to my black and brown brothers and sisters, I want to repent of my apathy, my lethargy, and my silence.
It’s time for humility. It’s time to listen. It’s time to take a close look at the harmful narratives that have been the basis for my myopic understanding of our nation and its oppressed people. It’s time to remove the old lens I have used to perceive the world around me and put a new lens in its place, one that sees the broader picture of injustice and actively listens to its victims to know how to become a part of the solution.
Black lives matter. Full stop. There is no disputing it. It’s a fact. It’s the shortest possible statement that simply, yet powerfully, asserts that black lives, being made in the image of God, have as much value as any other lives.
For many of our transracial adoptive families, race is a daily conversation. We wanted to provide a voice of education and encouragement as families navigate the best ways to talk with their own children about all that is happening in our world right now. So we reached out to an expert and friend of AGCI.
You’re listening to Together by AGCI. I’m Dayn Arnold.
Today, we’re going to have a conversation about race and adoption and how white parents can prepare their Black and Brown children with the foundation they need to feel supported and loved. Our guest today is a training specialist with the Karen Purvis Institute of Child Development at Texas Christian University, where her main focus is instructing professionals. Working with children who have experienced trauma in trust based relational intervention or TBRI. She is an adoptive mother and very recently joined the board of directors at All God’s Children International. Amanda Purvis, welcome to the podcast.
[AP] Yay. Thank you guys for having me. This is such an honor.
[DA] Of course. We’re excited to have you. For our listeners who maybe aren’t as familiar with TBRI, although if they have been in communication with AGCI for any length of time, they probably are at least familiar with the acronym, can you summarize what it is, and maybe even what got you interested in TBRI in the first place?
[AP] Sure. Yeah. Um, TBRI stands for Trust Based Relational Intervention, and I think a lot of adoptive parents, um, if they haven’t yet read The Connected Child, they’ve at least been told to read it because it’s a very well known, um, adoption book out there. Um, but The Connected Child is kind of, um, the beginnings of trust based relational intervention or TBRI. Dr. Karyn Purvis, um, who I have no relation to, um, and Dr. David Cross joined forces and created this intervention, which in reality is an attachment based, sensory rich, um, developmentally respectful, and trauma informed practice of… How do we help heal trauma? Um, and originally it was intended just for kids. Um, but the more research and science, that’s into all of this, the more that we realize that ultimately it’s about healing relationships and brains, no matter what the age.
And for me, my personal, um, kind of connection to TBRI is… When I was actually a little girl, um, I would ask my parents for an older brother all the time. Um, and they were like, We don’t, like, we’re not sure how to do that. Um, and I was like, well, that’s like, that’s what I want. Like I want an older brother. Um, and what I think… that was kind of like my heart stirring. Like I, I knew that adoption was going to be a part of my story from a very young age. Um, and so from that, um, I went into social work, um, in my career, and when I was dating my husband, I actually said to him on our very first date, I said, um, I’m going to adopt kids. So if that’s not something you’re into, I need to know that now. And he was like, uh… What’s your middle name?
[DA] That’s good, you laid it right out on the table. There’s no questions.
[AP] And he basically like, he actually… Like, the first words out of his mouth were, How long do I have to think about it? Um, because apparently it had not been in his heart since he was a little kid. Um, but needless to say, um, he did think about it and eventually said, I am open to that, um, in building our family.
So I was in social work. Um, we had begun in international adoption. Um, and it was at the time that everything was beginning to close down and become really difficult. And I was a caseworker, um, in a large county and the Denver Metro area. Um, and my caseload was kids who had, um, been in the hospital as a result of their abuse. So I worked directly in the hospitals. And, um, from that experience, um, every day I would come home, um, and… obviously distraught and upset and my husband would say, You know, what’s the best part of your job? And I would say like, Working with the foster families. I absolutely love these foster families. Um, and one night he just said to me, How come we aren’t doing foster care? Um, and I’d never thought about it before. Um, so that’s kind of how we began our journey, um, in to foster care and adoption. Um, while I was in school getting my degree, I studied Daniel Siegel very closely. Um, and that was around the time that Dr. Purvis and Dr. Cross, um, released The Connected Child book. And so I read that, um, and just fell in love with TBRI. So I looked them up and I basically followed them around. They did these conferences called “Empowered to Connect” and back in the day, they would travel to different cities and do these live conferences. And so I went to a bunch of those. Um, like I was like a roadie, kind of, and in the meantime, my husband and I were just saving our pennies. Um, he was a youth pastor at the time. Um, and I was a social worker, so it really was pennies that we were saving.
[AP] Um, and I eventually went to training, um, and then began training TBRI in Colorado, um, locally, just basically to anyone who would listen. Um, I would just go and train, train, train, um, to the point where then the Institute recruited me to join their team of trainers. So that’s kind of my personal journey in TBRI. And then obviously in our home, it has completely changed our lives. Um, my marriage, my own personal life, um, as well as for all of the kids who have come and gone, um, from our home.
[DA] What are some of the elements of TBRI that have had such a broad effect on your just relationships in general, like with your husband and with, with other people?
[AP] Yeah, I think, um, just really truly understanding attachment, um, and what it means to provide secure attachment and to be securely attached. Um, it brought light into the areas of, um, both my husband and I’s own childhood and how we interpret behaviors today. Um, I think so much of TBRI, oftentimes when people approach us and say, you know, Teach us TBRI, they, they want it because they have a kid that’s really difficult and they’re really wanting us to help change the kid. Um, and what TBRI has done for us is it’s changed us. Um, it’s changed who we are and how we see behaviors and how we see, um, needs and things like that. Um, so that was really the huge change for us.
[DA] You know, the, the more I hear about our TBRI trainings that we’ve been doing in Colombia and, just, you know, hearing peripherally about the, the care groups and the, uh, the caregivers themselves are really kind of coming to an understanding of the way that they grew up and their world view therefore, and, and all of that, and how that affects the way that they have relationships with everyone else. And, and then when they’re able to actually deal with their own trauma in their own lives, like the, the radical shift that that makes in their ability to care for others, it’s, it’s, it’s really astounding.
[AP] It is. You’re right. I think, um, for me too, I remember like the first time I sat and listened to Dr. Purvis and Dr. Cross, I looked at my husband and I said, This is it. And he’s like, What is it? And I was like, this is how we’re supposed to do this whole thing called the Gospel. Um, for me, it was like this really beautiful explanation of how to be the hands and feet and how to love our neighbor and how to love ourselves and how to, you know, um, honor God. And so to me, it was, um, it was just this natural bridge of all the things I’d always believed and been taught, but I wasn’t exactly sure, like, what does it look like in my own life? How do I walk it out? And TBRI has been that for me in my faith.
[DA] The thing that really strikes me, and it actually is really helpful for me, is… I feel like it gives you a great deal of empathy for others. When you start to see it in terms of trauma and, you know, I am not aware of the things that these people have grown up with. And so for me, it’s just like kind of a helpful lens to, to at least be able to look at other people and say, Oh my gosh, like they, you know, they’ve probably had all sorts of challenges that I’m just not aware of. And it at least allows me to kind of give the benefit of the doubt in those situations.
[AP] Yeah, that’s really it. I mean, I, um, I think when you know that you’ve truly, um, understood TBRI and its, you know, kind of effect on you is when there is a behavior, whether it’s someone cutting you off, you know, on the highway or, you know, a kid in front of you rolling their eyes, or, you know, whatever it might be, um, that when we see… Like, when we can see that behavior is the language of unmet need. And that idea, um, just really kind of is foundational for how we then approach relationships.
[DA] You know, speaking of that, you, you recently wrote a blog post on the TCU website, um, that was called that,
“Behavior is the Language of Unmet Needs.”
And, and it really addresses pretty directly, you know, the challenging times that we’re in right now. You know, for, for a lot of adoptive families, the last couple of weeks have been, you know, especially difficult as the, the, the struggle for racial equity has been amplified. Um, in your home, what has been the effect of the killings and the protests and the upheaval, like for you and for your kids?
[AP] Yeah. Um, I think like when we take this TBRI lens to all of this, um, and we think about being trauma informed, like really what you’re asking people to do is like, go to that next level.
So like, society would say, you know, What’s wrong with you? Trauma informed would say what happened to you? I think racially, or historically trauma-informed would say what happened to you and your people, and what’s still happening right now? Um, and so I think like when we, when we take that lens, um, as to everything that’s going on right now, I almost just say like, of course, like, of course, we’re here. Of course we have people
who are infuriated. Of course we have people who have felt voiceless because they have been voiceless for centuries. Um, so of course we have these, um, behaviors and these, um… You know, on both ends, right? We have white people acting out based on the beliefs that they have, and we have Black people and Brown people acting out based on their beliefs. Um, so, yeah, of course we’re here.
So like in our home, um… How has it affected us? It’s affected, I mean, it’s, it’s super duper heavy. We have, um, we have three Black kids, um, in our family. Um, two of whom are men, um… Young men, I should say. Um, and yeah, I mean, we, this is not a new discussion in our house.
This is not, this isn’t the first time we’ve talked about this. Um, this is something that’s talked about every single day in our home. Um, cause we really have taken on, um, like the Fred Rogers “what’s mentionable is manageable”.
Um, and just this idea that, um, we are going, gonna talk about this stuff at all times. Um, and I, I really think that that’s foundational, um, especially as white parents raising Black and Brown kids, um, I have to mention this stuff all the time in order for them to feel safe in my home, um, so that they know how I feel and what I believe, because otherwise the only assumption that they can make is that what they see on the news or what they hear on TV is how I, as a white person, feel.
[DA] Right. Yeah. Yeah, I can totally see how, if you’re not talking to your kids all the time and reaffirming that, um, you know, what, what they see in the media is, is not the only thing that people feel and it’s not how you feel. Um, it seems like that would be wildly important for your kids, especially.
[AP] Yeah. And I think, um, like I know in your intro, you said, I don’t remember exactly what you said, but something like, you know, how as white parents, we can make sure that our Black and Brown kids feel loved in our homes. Um, and I would say that that’s probably one of the biggest burdens that we have, um, as adoptive parents that we, we will not fulfill. Um, and I think that the, the notion that we can, as white people, um, provide just blanket… Like I’m gonna help you feel comfortable in your skin. We can not do that on our own.
[AP] Um, I think that we have to create communities that represent our children, um, in order for them to feel that.
Um, and that’s a bridge that some of us chose knowingly, um, when we adopted. Some of us were, you know, uh, ourselves included fairly ignorant on the journey. Um, like didn’t know that we were what we were saying yes to, um… I know for us, um, like when we got into foster parenting, um, we, we said, you know… Any, we would accept any child under, you know, whatever the age was. I think it was four at the time. Um, and… You know, we got 11 Black boys in a row. And so I finally asked a question, because I was a caseworker and I knew that all these kids coming in are not Black. And they said, Well, you’re actually the only family on the list in Denver who will accept Black [children].
[DA] Oh, wow.
[AP] So then suddenly I had to become an expert and I can’t be, I can’t be because I’m a white lady. Um, and so just that journey personally, that we’ve had to go through, um, is not something that we necessarily went into because we thought, Oh, we’ll be really good at this. Or we, you know, we have all the tools necessary to do this. Um, I never felt that way. Um, and I still don’t feel that way, um, because I can learn all I can, but like you said earlier, um, I can only learn. I can’t experience what it’s like. Um so…
[DA] Right. I, I think it would probably be useful for us to speak to the other adoptive families that are within the
AGCI family. And, um… You know, what are, what are some of the things that you feel like those parents should know? Like maybe we can assume that they feel pretty lost in all of this, what, what, what can people do at this stage?
[AP] Yeah, I would say, um, first, like welcome to the party where none of us know what we’re doing. Um, so I will offer, um, maybe not facts, but at least what we’ve tried or things that we’ve learned along our journey. Um, and, and just in hopes that we can all figure this out together. Um…
But the first thing I think that is really important is that we can no longer pretend, um, that racism doesn’t exist, or that color doesn’t matter. UThat that’s not true. Um, like we have to acknowledge it. We have to put words to it.
I grew up in a family of social workers. Um, I lived a lot of my elementary school years in Washington, DC. Um, so I was, um, you know, a lot of times the only white person in the room. Um, so I don’t think I ever heard, um, colorblindness until later on when I became a Christian actually. Um, so… But I will say, I don’t think the heart behind that is wrong. Right? Like the heart behind the, the thought is, you know, we should all be equal. We should all, um, you know, love each other. Um, the, the harmful message is that we’re all the same. Um, and I think in, and that’s not true.
I mean, developmentally, what we know is like around 18 months of age, like kids will already gravitate to people who are the same color as them. Um, they will pick out things that are the same color, like, so, um… And that’s how our minds work. Like we sort things, um, and we, um… You know, we notice differences. Um, and so noticing a difference isn’t bad. It’s, uh… You know, like it would be silly for me to say to my, you know, my black daughter, We’re, we’re the same. We’re not. Like, like we’re like, we look very, very different. Um, and, and it would be silly for me to say that to my biological daughter as well. Um, so I just think, um, the hope, um, is that we can point out differences and point out sameness. Right? So like, even when we talk about, um, like with little kids, like three to five years old, um, is like, when we start to point out things like, M&Ms. Look, these are all different colors, but they’re the same on the inside. Just like us. Just like our family. Just like our, you know, just like our church. Look, everyone at our church, right? Like we all look different. Some of us are tall. Some of us are short. Some of us are Brown. Some of us are tan. Some of us are… Right? And we point out that inside, God, you know, like God created our hearts, God created… And so allowing those differences to be okay. Because what ends up happening in our minds, if we don’t talk about how differences are okay, is it then becomes otherness. And otherness is when it can be dangerous. Um, and so if we’re constantly speaking that different is okay, um, then that is a, is a much, um, more healing, you know, message, or place to start from really.
As parents, you know, understanding even just how racial development occurs, um, if you… For any parent, whether you’re raising, um, you know, kids that are the same color as you are not, um, understanding racial development is important. Um, and so educating yourself on that and what that looks like.
So under three years old, um, as a parent, like, we’re just hoping to introduce different books and movies, celebrating diversity. You know, like we want to have friends in our circles that represent all different types of people. Um, and then mostly we don’t want to impose adult meaning, right? So like, if a kid says, like I’m not Black, I’m Brown, um, like for a three year old, that’s a really normal response to someone saying you’re Black and I’m white. Right? Cause they look at themselves and they say, I know what color Black is, and that’s not my color. Right? Because actual, like racial development hasn’t occurred yet.
It’s purely color-based. Um…
And then three to five years old is like when they began to kind of, um, expand that. And it goes from, you know, Brown and tan to all these different shades. And, um, so then like, as parents, you know, we want to be, especially if we’re parenting Black and Brown kids, we want to be picking things, um, and complimenting things that are Brown. Because this is when we can begin to, um, change the messages or kind of buffer the messages that they’re going to get from society.
So like, if I’m coloring with my four year old, I might say, Oh, I want that beautiful Brown, Brown crayon over there. Or, Oh, I love this Brown sweater. Or, Oh, I love this, you know? And so we’re going to make positive comments about Brown things… Or, you know, we’re going to pick the root beer barrel candy and say, I love Brown candy. It tastes so good. Or… Right like, we’re gonna make sure that we’re complementing, um, things that are Brown with, um, like beauty. Um, because they’re going to begin understanding the societal messages around this age, um, that white is beautiful and dark is not. Um, and so we want to buffer that. And then we want to encourage their curiosity. Um, so like when they ask questions, we don’t want to discourage them about not asking questions if it makes us uncomfortable. So like, if they say, you know, like, Why is that girl so dark? At the park, right? We want to say, Isn’t her, skin’s so beautiful? I’m so glad you noticed. Yeah. See how your skin is light Brown and her skin is dark Brown, what about inside? Right? And then we can use like, the M&M analogy or… And so we want to encourage them. We don’t want to say like, Oh, we don’t talk about that. Or we don’t ask questions. Right? Like we don’t want to shut down their curiosity because the message there, um, is that differences are negative. And so we want to make sure that when they begin asking those questions, we really encourage it. Um…
And I even found this in our own life. Um, one of my biological sons was born with three fingers on each hand. And when he was little, kids would, you know… And he was hanging around little kids, little kids would always ask questions at the park or at a playdate. And it was so interesting because I would watch their parents when they would ask questions. Um, and so many of the parents were so uncomfortable, um, that they would immediately shut down their children. Um, and so I would always intervene and say, I’m so glad you asked. Or I’m so, you know? And I would put voice to it and put words to it. Um, and let them know like, Yeah, this is how he was born. And just like, you were born with blonde curly hair, he was born with Brown hair and three fingers and you have you know, and… Um, and just encourage it because if we’re talking about it, we’re saying like, yeah, we all are different. Isn’t that awesome how you’re different than me and how I’m different than Papa and how, right? So don’t shut them down, like in that three to five years old, um, especially when they begin to notice differences.
Um, and this will be, um, this will be like when the beginning of those adoption questions will start too. Um, and just so you guys, like everyone knows, like, three to five years old, like they still live in that fantasy world. So they might get, you know… They believe things can be changed through magic. So, um, especially if, if their whole world was changed, right? Like if, if we’re talking about adoption, like I went from having these caregivers and living in this country to now having these caregivers, and living in this country and speaking a different language. And so, uh, it will be normal for them at this age to say like, Oh, when will my skin look like your skin? Or can you do this… You know, um, those are normal developmentally appropriate. It doesn’t mean they feel negatively about their skin or, you know, any of those things. Um…
I remember when my daughter was probably four, um, I told her… She actually went with me. I was going to get a spray tan, cause we were going to the beach. Um, and she’s like, what are we doing? And I was like, well, I am going to get a spray tan. And it’s going to make my skin like a much more beautiful Brown color because right now it’s not a beautiful Brown color. And I remember I came out of like the spray tan booth and she said, I’m so sorry, mama, but it didn’t work. You know, like I think she thought I was gonna walk out Black, you know, like her. And, and, um, she was, she felt so bad for me. And I said, I know, I feel bad too. I wish it had worked better. Uh, but they, they live in that kind of magical world. Um, and so don’t be alarmed, um, if they ask questions like that. Um, and I think that’s probably the most important, um, at that kind of three to five years old, um, age. This is also when they’re going to begin, um, like having conflicts around this. You know, kids will say things and it will hurt their feelings. And so we want to make sure that we’re really, um, open to like listening and helping them out, um, and helping them through those things.
[DA] Yeah. It seems to me, you know, I don’t have adopted kids. I have three very white children. And, it seems to me that while not all of what you’re talking about is applicable to my kids, but even talking about, to my four year old, I feel like I could mention to him, you know, pass me that beautiful Brown crayon, and it wouldn’t necessarily re-emphasize something about his own self worth, but it could help him to, you know, feel a little sense of the, the value in others. Like, I feel like there is maybe even a little bit more of a broader application for some of this for even kids that are, that are not adopted, that don’t have, um, the same kinds of, um, skin color visibility that, that my kids do.
[AP] No, I think you’re exactly right, Dayn. I think that’s, um… I think that would be you going from being like an inclusive parent to being an anti-racist parent. Like you are from the very beginning, like talking to your kids about this stuff and pointing these things out and… Um, whether it pertains to your immediate family or not.
And then, like, I think from ages five to seven, um, is when they begin to identify race accurately. Um, and this is why, like we talk about what’s mentionable is manageable. Um, especially, um, if we are white parents raising kids that aren’t the same color as us. Um, it’s really important that we prepare them because when they start going to school, we don’t want them, you know, like for… In the class, you know, let’s say it’s kindergarten. And you know, one of the Black girls says to my daughter like, Hey, come over here, cause the Black girls are sitting over here. And I don’t want my six year old to say, I’m not Black, I’m Brown. Right? Like I want her to know. Um, and I want to prepare her… Which, if she’s grown up in a white bubble, um, her saying that doesn’t… Like, it wouldn’t mean anything. But immediately when she says that in kindergarten with all the other black kids, they’re going to know, right? That something’s different. Um, and so preparing them, um, is really important.
So around age five to six is when we start to talk about race, and we’re still doing it in that, um, way where we’re pointing out differences are beautiful. Right? Like there’s nothing negative about differences. So we, we start to do that, and that’s like when they begin to understand permanency and genes, and so lots of adoption questions began to arise, um, around this age. Again, especially if your kids have been in a bubble, and then, you know, they see a black girl and she’s picked up by a Black mom and a Black dad every day from kindergarten. They’re going to say, Wait a minute. Why doesn’t my family look like that? Um, and so that’s when a lot of the questions, um, begin. And so it’s really important that at this age, we are making sure that they feel always comfortable in asking us those questions. And in order for our kids to feel comfortable, we have to be comfortable. And so that means that we have been having these conversations with our friends, with our spouses long before our kids are asking us those questions.
[DA] We’re going to stop here for the moment. But don’t worry, there’s a lot more to come in part 2. So take a minute to digest all of Amanda’s wisdom, breathe, and join me for the second part of my conversation with Amanda Purvis, available now wherever you listen to podcasts.
[End of Part 1]
[DA] You’re listening to Together by AGCI. I’m Dayn Arnold. Let’s not waste any time and get right to part two of my conversation with TBRI Training Specialist and adoptive mother, Amanda Purvis.
[DA] Let’s say we have a family that maybe adopted their child when the child was older. I mean, it seems like it would be different because they’ve, they already have some identity about their race. Do you feel like the, uh, the developmentally appropriate stages that we’re talking about here would still apply in the same kinds of way when, when you have a child that maybe did grow up in a, uh, more of a Black environment and now they’re with a white family? Does that make sense?
[AP] No, I think that’s a really, really good question. Um, and I think the answer is, it depends. Um, especially when we’re talking about international adoption and kids going from like predominantly, um, all black environment or all Brown environment, even, and then coming to America where they’re going to see lots of different colors. And, um… One thing we know about kids who, um, have experienced trauma and, or been in institutions, is that, although they might be 14, on average, that means they’re like six or seven developmentally. Or, um, although they might come to us at age 11, that means that really they’re more like four or five developmentally. Um, and so you’re not gonna, um, hurt anything by, you know, having these conversations with them and starting, you know, um, at some of those younger stages, um, and working your way up. You’ll know really quickly, um, where they stand and, you know, if, if this isn’t resonating. Um, but I think it’s so important, no matter what age they come to.
And I’m even thinking of, um… I love country music, which you can judge me as you may. Um, but I would listen.
[DA] Not too harshly.
[AP] Okay. Thank you. Um, but I, I would listen to country music and I remember about two weeks after he came to us, um, he said, um, Hey, miss Amanda, is, is it, is it only white people who sing this music? And I realized in that moment like, Oh, I am not giving him a variety of music. Like this is not reaching his heart like it is mine right now. Um, and he was like, Cause I’m, I’m pretty sure I haven’t heard any black people singing this kind of music. Um, and so… Now I love that I get to introduce him to some Black country artists, but at the time, I didn’t know. Like I wasn’t like who is, you know… I didn’t know about Darius Rucker was, I needed to point him out, or Kane Brown, like… But at the time I was like, Oh, he, like this in his mind is white music. And I need to widen my circle a little bit for him, um, in order for him to feel even comfortable riding in my car. Cause even the experience of riding in my car right now to him is a white world. Like he felt completely uncomfortable in my car because of the music I was listening to. So like when we think about the age of kids… And that can be racial or not just, you know, at any time, like when we have older kids coming to us through adoption, um, even those things like the music that’s playing in the background in the car, um, absolutely has to do with their felt safety. And do they feel othered, right? Do they feel like an other or do they feel like they belong, um, in our vehicle on the way to the grocery store?
[DA] You know, we were just talking about what, what maybe you can do for ages like five to seven. Um, are there any other, uh, tips or things that you feel like that, um, parents could really be using in that age group?
[AP] Um, I think for that, um, it’s, again, we want to point… We can begin to point out stereotypes and we can begin to challenge them. Um, whether it be on TV or on a movie they’re watching or in a book they’re reading, um, those types of things. Um… And then continue exposing them to the importance of their heritage. Um, so if, you know, where they’re from, they celebrate different holidays or they… You know, any of those things are really important for us to communicate, um, that, like, we’re in this journey together. Um, and who you are is important to us. We’re not going to just pretend like, you know, this doesn’t exist any longer. Um, this is now a part of our family too. Um, and so bringing in their cultural heritage is really important, um, especially at that age.
Um, and then I think like the last point in that age is like just, again, creating those honest discussions, um, especially as they go, um… Like as they begin to learn history, um, and all of those things in school, um… Or like in Disney movies, like this is a great age where like they’re watching a ton of Disney movies, usually, if your kids are like my kids. Um, so like saying things like, Hey, how come they’re talking about Africa like Africa is all the same? You know, like there’s so many different languages in Africa. There’s so many different religions. There’s so many different tribes. There’s so many different, like… And in this movie they’re acting like everyone in Africa is the same. Did you notice that? Or, you know, and asking questions like that and just opening it up to dialogue. Um, and again, what that says to them is, I’m comfortable with having these discussions. I’m comfortable with thinking through the lens that maybe the way things are presented isn’t always, what’s true. Um, and so we’re really just setting the foundation for felt safety as our kids really begin to, um, have deeper discussions with us as they get older.
[AP] And it can even be things like… Like I remember the other day I said to my son, we were watching a show and I said, Why do you think they always play this music when the Latino character comes on set? You know, like, why does this music represent that character? Um, and you know, just pointing those things out or, is going to help our kids, um, think critically about the messages that society is sending them. From the little nuances of background music, um, to, you know, the way that they present Africa to the way they present hair or skin or any of those things.
[DA] Well, I think it, it, it also, I mean, I would hope that it would force we as parents to also kind of put that critical lens on our world instead of just kind of accepting everything at face value or the way that we grew up. Um, are there some ways that, um, you feel that parents can even, I guess, increase their awareness of those stereotypes that we, you know, just kind of absentmindedly just accept and move on? Like what, what are some ways that we can kind of, um, improve in that area?
[AP] I think that the more educated we are, meaning that we’re, um, you know, that we have friends that represent all of the races. Um, that represent, you know, um, what our children look like. If we’re listening to them, if we’re listening to… Like, we can’t always listen to the same media. We can’t always listen to the same… So that when we’re getting other people’s perspectives, um, that’s going to help us think… Like you said, you know, outside of ourselves, you said, you know, TBRI helps you to think, Oh, what happened to them? Or, you know, what are they experiencing right now? Maybe that’s why they’re behaving this way. Um, that, that is this idea that, you know, we can think outside of ourselves. Maybe the way I look at the world, isn’t the only way. Um, and we can do that by, um, experiencing other, um, races. And so listening to people of different races. Um, you know, listening to their podcasts. Listening, you know, all those types of things. Um… I think is really important. Um… And then I think just read… Like, I’m a reader. I know not everyone likes to read books, but there are so many fabulous books out there. Um, and so maybe if you don’t want to be a reader, you can find the podcast interview of, you know, different authors or things like that. Um, and just become informed, um, about what is happening in the world and how different people see it.
[DA] I’ve seen, I’ve seen so much, especially lately, just because of the amplification of that message of Black Lives Matters at the moment is… I’ve seen so many publishing companies offering books either for free or for next to nothing, just to kind of get that stuff out in the world. And that’s, that’s such a, an encouraging kind of thing to see, is that there really is a desire to just like… Let’s get these stories and let’s get this information out there so that we can start to make those changes on a broader, on a broader level.
Yeah. I, I really believe that, um… And I’m speaking to white people right now. Like, you don’t have an excuse right now to say, I didn’t know, or I didn’t… Like, you have every available, um, thing. You have books you can read, you have podcasts you can listen to, you have free Netflix documentaries. You have, you know, like, so… Like Amazon Prime right now has all of these free documentaries that you can watch. You know, like there’s so many tools out there for us, um, to engage in, um, to learn other people’s point of views. Um, and what I would really hope is that we’re not just relying on books a
nd podcasts, and… All of those things are great. But if, if you don’t have Black and Brown friends, um, who look like your kids in your circle, um, I would encourage you to figure that out very quickly. Um, like, like we need real people… If I, right now, we’re just to be listening to what social media is telling me about our current circumstance, um, it’s… You know, white people need to amplify the voice of Black and Brown people right now, which I absolutely agree with. But I have probably talked to 30 different Black and Brown friends of mine over the past month, and every single one of them has said, Please, don’t be silent. Please say something. Please do something. This burden cannot lie on us every time. I can’t be the only one in a meeting bringing this up. I can’t be the only one, you know, organizing this protest. I can’t be… Like, we need your support. Um, and so if I were only listening to social media right now, I wouldn’t be doing this podcast and neither would my dog. But like, I wouldn’t be doing this podcast. I wouldn’t have written that blog because I would’ve felt like, Oh, I shouldn’t be speaking up right now. And I think that there is a hundred percent validity in the fact that we need to listen. We need to expose ourselves. We need to. But I also think that we need to support and speak up. Um, and so I think that there’s a, a tough balance, um, that we’re all having to figure out and what every single one of my Black and Brown friends have said to me is you figuring it out and fumbling your way through it, means so much more to us than you being silent and being afraid to say the wrong thing, or afraid to… And that really is the definition of white fragility, right? Like, I didn’t want to say the wrong thing, or I didn’t want to offend anyone or, um… And like, they’re all saying, like, This isn’t the time for that.
[DA] Yeah. That’s so good. I mean, that’s, that’s certainly something that I, I feel like I struggle with, even, even knowing that we were going to have a conversation about race, like… It’s hard to not kind of hide behind that, uh, the fear of saying the wrong thing or not using the most up to date terminology for something, for the fear of misrepresenting myself or other white people. But I think that you’re totally right in that, like… You’re just gonna make some mistakes and that’s how you learn, and that’s how you progress and move forward and become more aware of what race in American society, in our global society, honestly, like what, what that, what that actually looks like and how we can start to, start to talk about it and communicate more deeply and, um, you know, try and come to, um, I guess an understanding of, uh, what we can do to, to begin to be part of the solution.
[AP] Yeah. Yep. And I think like an easy way for us to do that is, um, even just beginning, like with identifying microaggressions. Um, if you’re parenting Black or Brown kids, I guarantee that they, and you have experienced, um, some microaggressions. And so beginning to identify those, beginning to talk about those and beginning to come up with responses, um, with your children that feel appropriate to them around those things,
[DA] What are some of those microaggressions?
[AP] Microaggressions in general are just these little underlying, like you said, you know, those, the underlying things that maybe we don’t realize. Um, but for example, like for any of our kids, um, they have experienced some sort of object of curiosity. Right? Like, Oh, like, where are they… Like when they’re little, right, people talk to us, not them. So where are they from? Or, uh, you know… And what all of those things communicate is otherness, right? Like you, you don’t look, you don’t look like the rest of us here. So, you know, they’re immediately… That communicates you don’t belong. Right? Um, and so the, like, from those to even…
I remember, um, when my son, when he was probably four, um, and he was in the cart and we were at Walmart, which… I feel like a lot of my stories start with, um, One time at Walmart, which means that I should probably, um, stop going to Walmart. But, um, I remember we were at Walmart and he was in the cart and I had stopped an employee and asked, you know, Where is your packing tape? Um, and the employee had started talking to him, um, and he said, Oh, what are you going to be when you grow up? Are you going to be a basketball player or a football player? Um, and I looked at the guy and I just thought, huh… He has no idea that he just communicated to this little Black boy that what you can do when you grow up is sports. Cause that’s how Black people become successful. That’s a microaggression. Now people can argue, Oh, well, most little boys want to play ball when they grow up, right? Or, you know, he’s just trying to connect with your son. And maybe those things are true. Um, but I looked at my son and I said, No, I think he’s probably going to be a scientist or, uh, you know, like… And I just, I wanted him to know he can do whatever he wants. Right? Like those aren’t the two ways for him to be successful. Um, and so like, that’s an example of a microaggression. It’s not racism out front in front of you. He’s not saying, Oh, only black people, like, are good at basketball, or… He’s not saying those blatant statements. It’s these little under the table.
Another time again at Walmart, I remember, um, a lady said to me, Oh, where are they from? And, um, they were all little at the time. And my biological son who is the oldest was about five. And he looked at her and said, We don’t know you. And it was just like his natural response of like, Who are you? Why are you asking us these personal questions? It’s like, and it was just like, you know, out of the mouths of babes. And I was like, that was a great way to respond, buddy, you know…
[DA] That’s the perfect response.
[AP] And it is, it’s this… I think as adoptive parents, we walk this line of wanting to educate and be friendly and, you know, wanting people to know and love adoption, like we do. Um, but also protecting our kids’ hearts and making sure they know and feel like they belong and that their stories are their stories and nobody else’s. Um, and not an object of curiosity. Um, and so like pointing those things out and coming up with… You know, for your family and your kids, what feels comfortable? Um, you know, like for my daughter, like I have to… You know, we had to come up with a way for her to say, You may not touch my hair, um, in a way that felt like her, right? Um, to me, I say like, Please don’t touch her without permission. And I can be that, you know, forward. Um, for her that felt like too much. And so, you know, she came up with like a little rhyme and a little dance that she did, where like… She would like jump away from people and do a dance and, you know, and she had like this little rhyme that she would say, um, that said, you can’t touch my hair without my permission. But it was fun and playful. And she owned that.
Um, but those are like those microaggressions. Someone just touching your child’s hair, um, that is a microaggression. Um, it… We would not allow a stranger to touch us walking through a store or, you know? Um, so again, that communicates all of this stuff historically about what black people are to white people, and that, you know, they’re property, and that they can like… So there are these lines that if we don’t know as white people… Like when I see a cute little girl with beautiful hair that I want to touch, like, it’s, it’s a natural… Those people are not being racist. But as, as parents who want to empower our kids to feel like they belong and that they are beautiful and they own who they are, um, we have to start with those things.
Um, I think the, the most helpful thing for me, um, is if, if first, um, as a white parent, you’re on this journey to discovery of like, what does this look like, and what does this feel like for my kids and how are we experiencing it? And, um… All of a sudden you’re going to get slapped in the face with all of it. Like if you haven’t yet opened your eyes to it, um, then you’re gonna have like this really rude awakening of, wow, this is happening all the time for my kids, for our family. Um, and you’re going to feel the weight of that.
Um, and so the first thing I would say is like,
when a situation arises, um, the first thing we have to do is manage our own emotions, um… So we make sure to keep it about our child and what they need from us. Um, so I remember, um, like my son came home, um, in fifth grade and they were learning about the Civil War. And he said, um, when he came back from recess, someone had taped Confederate flags all around his desk. Um, and he was one of two or three Black kids in his class. Um, and he had all these Confederate flags around his desk. Um, and he came home and told me, and the mama bear in me rose up. Right? Like I was like, I was going to flip the car around and go back to the school, like demand to know who did it, what was happened. Like I wanted all the things, right? Like I wanted to do all the things to say, this is not okay. And I will not allow this to happen to my son again. Um, and so just to manage my own emotions was a lot. Um, and so to just listen to him in that moment, um, and so… Just hearing, what does he need from me? Right? Like addressing their hurt first and not the person who hurt them.
So if, you know, if they’re five and you’re at the playground with them, and somebody says like, you can’t get on the merry go round with us cause you’re Black. Right? Like we, the mom and dad in us, like wants to march up to that kid and say like, here’s what you need to know, little boy, right? Here’s what you need to know, little girl. Um, but what we need to do is first of all, manage our own emotions, keep it about our kids, hear what they need from us and address them first, not the person who hurt them. Address them first. Um, and when we do that, we want to avoid using
to say like, that person has a problem with anyone who’s different, right? We don’t want to say that because what that says to our kid is: well, you’re different, and so that’s why they treated you that way, right? So instead we want to say like, that person has a problem with people who don’t look like them. Or that person has a problem with, um, people who don’t speak like them or whatever it might be. Um, especially like if your kids come home and they have a thick accent, um, that can be… So we, again, don’t want to use the word different in describing our children, um, especially in these kind of critical moments.
Um, and then we need to value our kids’ input, um, and work collaboratively with them to reach a resolution. Uh, it will be very natural for us to want to take over and fix the situation for them. Um, but what they need to hear in this moment is you have power, you have a voice, you matter, and I’m here to help you. This isn’t about actually educating other people in this moment. It isn’t about talking to other parents and making sure they know how to educate their children. It’s about helping our child. So what do they need from us?
Um, and consider honestly how your own white privilege can allow you to have a different response than your nonwhite child. Right? I can get angry at the park and not fear for my life because I’m a white woman. And that alone is a privilege. And so my son doesn’t have the ability to get angry at the park because someone was racially profiling him because his life will be in danger if he does that. And so even our responses to this can separate us from our children and communicate otherness, um, if we’re not really careful. Um, I can be bold in my statements, um, because I am not going to be labeled, um, an angry black woman. And my 13 year old daughter, she already is very aware that she doesn’t want anyone to discount what she’s saying, because she sounds angry. Right? So she’s already had to learn how to filter what she thinks and what she needs so that she isn’t put in that category of the angry black woman.
So we have to role model, like, different methods of response, right? And help our kids find their best fit. Um, how do they respond in a way that they feel more comfort… most comfortable. Um, and there’s lots of different ways, um, that we can help them respond. Whether it’s diffusing it, avoiding it, redirecting it, reporting it, ignoring it kind of like some sort of comeback, um, you know, we can help them find what fits them best.
[DA] Yeah. And you had, you had mentioned earlier about how like race in your family is a constant discussion. It’s, it’s something that doesn’t ebb and flow. It just is there. And I would think that role modeling, especially with younger kids, I would imagine it takes just loads of time for that to really kind of become something that becomes natural for them.
[AP] Yeah. And when they’re young, like you’re talking about, there’s so many opportunities, right? Cause they’re saying like, Why does that person talk like that? Why does that person walk like that? Why does that person look like that? Why does her hair look like that? Like I remember I had one kid who was like really keen on smell and he’d be like, Why does she smell like that? Why does she… Like, they’re asking those questions all the time? So it, it ends up, like, race becomes a part of who we are, not the thing that defines who we are. And so if we start from a young age of saying, You’re right, all of these things represent different people. Her hair looks different than her hair, which looks different than her hair because all of us are made differently. Isn’t that amazing that none of us have the same hair, that none of us, you know… All of those things. Um… So when we start from a young age, I think we just, we have much easier go at it, um, in terms of helping them to understand, um, that.
The other thing I would say is, um, if we begin talking about racism, um, at a young age, we are going to put language to and label what’s going on. Um, and the reason that’s important is because when you talk to any person of color as an adult and ask them, What’s the first time you remember, um, you know, an act of racism towards you, all of them will tell you a story. And what’s really powerful is that many people of color who were adopted into white families, um, will say they didn’t know that that was racism until they were much, much older. And they learned about it, usually in college. And so what they’ll say is, When those things were happening, I thought there was something wrong with me. Um, and so if we’re not talking about it and labeling it, um, what happens is when those microaggressions occur, when they feel systemic racism for the first time, when they have an individual, you know, instance of racism, they will internalize that as, I’m bad, I don’t belong, I’m different if we have not given them the, um, the language to say, no, this was a racist. That person was racist and that was a microaggression.
And so I think many times like as white parents, we feel like, Oh, we don’t want to talk about this because you know, it’s getting better. And our kids are so young and they don’t know that, that, you know, that that lady was actually being racist when she asked, What are you going to be when you grow up, you know? Um, but they do. Um, they, they absolutely feel it in their gut. And if they don’t have the words to say that was X, that was microaggression, that was systemic racism, then instead they say, I’m bad. I feel wrong. I feel like I don’t belong. I feel, and it becomes about who they are.
[DA] Yeah. And when it, when it, when it feels like it’s tied to their identity, then that’s even more devastating for them.
[AP] Yeah, absolutely. And I think the good part is like, we’re all just learning. Like there’s no… Like sometimes, like when we talk about this, it’s like, Okay, well, what are the three books I should read? And what are the four podcasts I should listen to? And like, then will I be done. Like then will I be prepared to parent transracially. And the answer is no. Like it’s a journey. Um, you know, like we’re all learning this and what works… You know, like the response my daughter came up with when people touch her hair is not gonna work for your daughter. And it’s not gonna work because it’s so individualized. And so we don’t want to make like this prescription just like we don’t prescribe how you do your faith. Right? Like we don’t prescribe what that looks like for you and your relationship. Um, it’s the same here. Like, yes, we want to become informed. Yes. But mostly we want to listen and we just want to keep learning together.
What we find in research, um, like the three most important, like racial identity resiliency factors is what they’re called. Um, but the three most important ones are, um, that there are racial mirrors and they’re living amongst diversity, um, that you talk openly about race in your family and that you trust and validate your child’s racial experiences.
Yeah, I think I would just end it, um, with just encouraging all of us. Um, cause if you’re listening to this podcast, um, then you’re ahead of, you know, you’re ahead of the curve. You realize, um, that parenting transracially, um, holds this, this other load. Um, I think there’s like this invisible load of parenting, um, Black and Brown children that exists for anyone who’s parenting Black and Brown children. Um, and then we also have, um, as adoptive parents, this other invisible load, um, of what it means to parent children that are not biologically, um, our own. And so those are two really, really heavy loads. So I just want to say, um, to all of the parents listening, um, we can do this. Um, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Um, he is, you know, his grace is sufficient. Um, his power is made perfect in our weakness.
I tell my kids all the time, you know, I’m, I’m really trying hard at this. I’m not taking this haphazardly. Um, and if I’m doing the wrong thing right now, um, I didn’t do it on purpose. Um, I, I really am trying my best and I believe that God will meet me there. Um, and so I just want to acknowledge that, like, what we’re doing is really hard. Um, and it’s okay to feel like this is really, really hard and really, really heavy because it is. It’s both of those things.
This is hard, but we can do it together, and we have such a beautiful community. I just think that we’re raising up a generation, that’s going to change the world and the effort that we’re putting in now, um, is going to come back tenfold.
[DA] Thank you so much for talking with me today and just sharing your wisdom and your experience. And I just appreciate your honesty and just the way that you approach this with such humility and yet such strength. So, I’m, I’m just so grateful to have had this conversation with you today.
[AP] Same. Thank you.
[DA] That was the incredibly wise and insightful Amanda Purvis.
If you were challenged or blessed by what you heard today, you can let us know at together @ allgodschildren.org, or you can share this two-part episode with your friends and family. Or both! We’d love to hear from you. And make sure you subscribe to our podcast wherever you listen.
Like Amanda and I talked about, race is not a conversation that ebbs and flows, despite the media cycles we experience. This is a conversation we want to keep having with you as we continue fighting against racial injustice. We hope that you will join us as we all walk toward a more equitable world, together.