Some days I wonder if I have done a disservice to my black children by bringing them to America. Years ago, when my friend Thabiti shared his fears about moving back to the United States from the Bahamas with his black son, his words struck a chord for me. I, too, knew the feeling of both loving my country and hating how my country treats black children.
I’ve wanted to write about this for a long time, but I’ve held off. I haven’t wanted to be misunderstood. I haven’t wanted to be maligned or attacked. But I’ve realized that there’s no way to say these hard things without inviting pushback, so I’ll risk the response instead of hiding behind the privilege of saying nothing.
Before I go further, let me be clear about one fact: I stand by our decision to adopt. I am thankful for the children I have the privilege of parenting. I am thankful we had private investigations done in their home countries before we added them to our family to ensure that international adoption was truly in their best interests. Nothing about this article is admitting some corruption after the fact. Adoption always involves loss and too often includes colonialism or trafficking, but many - ours included - are good.
But our country isn’t. Our country bears beautiful and horrible things. Our adoption wasn’t corrupt, but the country to which we brought our children is. We were so corrupt from our beginnings that many of the forefathers we celebrate were the orchestrators of Native genocide. We are so corrupt in our current day that we elected a leader who leveraged racism for his own political gain. My husband and I brought these beautiful black children into a country in which the second amendment only applies to those whose skin is like mine, in which we’ve declared an open season on black bodies. While we decry the sexualization of children as a whole, we choose to ignore the criminalization of black ones. My white son can play with a toy gun in our yard or a park. My black son cannot.
On the rich clay roads of Uganda, life was hard. But blackness was beautiful and beloved. There, most deaths made sense. Malaria makes sense. Police brutality doesn’t. I can’t explain why Philando Castile or so many others like him have died, not in the same way I can explain the losses experienced on Ugandan soil. Deaths by malnutrition and AIDS-related illnesses can be dissected and described and researched. Moral diseases like racism aren’t even up for discussion among many of our leaders, as they like to pretend it doesn’t exist just because it doesn’t seem to harm them.
I grew up as a white child in a white family in which we saluted the flag and lit sprinklers. The Fourth of Julies of my childhood were full of parades and anthems and ignorance, though not much was said about Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Now I’m raising children who are black and white and Asian, and I can see what I didn’t know as a child. Then I believed that America was great. Now I acknowledge that in America whiteness is great.
I’m not disowning my country or denying that which is beautiful here. I love America. But I love her like I love my own children. I nurture them in what is good and right, but I don’t stop there. I encourage them to keep growing and knowing better so that, in the words of Maya Angelou, they can do better.
At the same time, I’m exhorting myself to do likewise, and I’m asking the same of my fellow countrypeople. America, let’s know better. Let’s do better. Let’s be better.
I love this country, and I love independence. But I can’t and won’t celebrate our nation’s independence as if we really are the land of the free. We aren’t, not yet, but I hold hope that we can be. For that to be possible, though, we need to be honest instead of only smiling upon the most sanitized quotes said by Martin Luther King, Jr. We need to stop looking down on places like my children’s birth country as if black children in our own country are safe from harm. I know all of Africa is beautiful, and I’ve had my breath taken away by the abundantly vibrant life and land that is Uganda. America doesn’t have a monopoly on hope or joy or wonder.
I see pictures of our Vice President laying a wreath at the MLK Jr Memorial only a few months after he wasted taxpayer money on the political stunt of leaving a sporting event because of the peaceful protest of black Americans. I hear the President speak positively about King’s legacy after referring to countries of black and brown people as shitholes. As I do, I can’t help but think of James 3:10: “Out of the same mouth comes praising and cursing; this should not be.”
I brought three of my precious children from one imperfectly sublime land to another. I love both countries, each almost as dear to me as each of our babies. As we lit sparklers and set off firecrackers and watched parades this summer, celebrating our country like I did each July growing up, we didn’t do so with the side of ignorance I swallowed as a child.
No, we spoke both love and truth, both patriotism and promise for a better tomorrow, both honesty about now and hope for the future. I will keep speaking that truth and love and raising my children to do so, even when it makes others uncomfortable, until independence from tyranny is a reality for all of us in this country.
And I will not stand by while we pretend the white majority would embrace King today, when we never even liked him in the first place until we had shot him down.
(Special thanks to the artist Daniel Rarela who created even of these graphics and allowed them for use here.)