My Brother And His Wife Adopted Two Children Of Color. I'm Afraid They Aren't Making Sure To Include Their Own Cultures In Their Lives

QUESTION: I am a white person. My brother and his wife found out that they couldn't have kids about 10 or 11 years ago, so they decided to adopt - which is fantastic! Both of these beautiful children are mixed and I'm afraid my brother and his wife might not be making sure to include their children's culture into their lives. As their aunt, I feel like I should do something to make sure but the situation is tricky. They live a couple states away and my brother and his wife are, I feel, pretty conservative about their beliefs. I just don't want to right off the bat say something to my brother and his wife about it and then they cut contact with my nephew, niece and I. I feel like they both would get super defensive (and yes, they are both white). 

My plan would be to maybe send my nephew and niece books or videos on some really great people through history with similar backgrounds and cultures. I just started thinking about this recently since I just started delving into my own journey with white privilege, fragility and racism. Do you think this would be a good plan? Or am I being too soft about it?

ANSWER: You are not being too soft and you are very much doing the right thing by considering how your brother and his wife might respond to you in these efforts. It’s a tricky landscape to navigate.

Hello there!

I’m so glad this question came through, because the circumstances surrounding it is full of nuance that make hard and fast rules really hard to apply in the space of antiracism – which is pretty much how real life works with this stuff in general. I’m no real fan of the hard and fast rules approach, anyway. So I appreciate this opportunity to share with this example of how that works with the Where Change Started community.  

Before I answer, however, I want to make sure we’re on the same page about one thing: Nothing I tell you today will make you antiracist. Neither will it equip you to intervene with your brother and his wife in what should be their own journey to antiracism. My response is limited to giving you a few tips for how best to show up for your niece and nephew WHILE continuing your own self-work of becoming antiracist.

Your role as Aunt to these sweet little humans is an important one. As their Aunt, who is starting her own journey with antiracism, you know that the impact of your actions matter more than your intentions. So being mindful of the emotional and ideological landscape you are navigating and thinking of how your words and actions would impact their situation in is such a great place for you to be starting with this question. Sometimes, we’re a little restricted in what our actions can look like, because the impact of them may leave us with less access to create the change we wish to see in any given situation. It’s an unfortunate reality of navigating this work as a white person still learning (WPSL), but it is what it is.

By your own admission, you are only just beginning this work. That means you have way more self-work ahead of you that needs to happen before you can even begin to act in intervention with your brother and sister. I know that is not what you asked about explicitly, but I think it’s important for you to understand that it’s not a matter of being “too soft” on them, but a matter of being under qualified to do much more. Without knowing more about how they are raising these children, how antagonistic they are to their cultures, why they haven’t done more to integrate their cultures into their lives (is it a lack of awareness in a white centered environment or is it intentional), and how open they would be to conversations about it, I couldn’t even begin to give you advice on that anyway. 

I’m so glad that you are at least able to see that your niece and nephew are missing opportunities to engage with their cultures after being adopted into your family. And I think that giving them books and showing them movies will be a good place to start. But there is something you really need to understand about yourself. You are still a work in progress and just because you give them books with people who look like them on the cover, doesn’t mean that your own unlearned racist patterns can’t harm them. The books and stories you’ll share with them will only be as diverse as your white view of it. Your lack of self-work could still lead you to pick books that harm them more than help. They can be full of horrible stereotypes. They can perpetuate respectability and model POC expectations. They can perpetuate white saviorism. They can be filled with traumatic imageries of oppression that is not age appropriate. They can be transphobic. The list goes on. 

I’m not saying this to scare you or to make you feel like there is nothing you can do. I just want you to understand that even in your attempts to show up for them, without your own constant self-work and reflection, you can still hurt them. And I know you don’t want to do that. You wouldn’t have written in if that were the case.

I have a few ideas for you to keep in mind when trying to minimize the possibility of harm your unresolved racist patterns would have on them. It won’t be full proof. And kids are resilient AF, so give yourself grace while you’re learning. But still, though. Keep these things in mind.

1.     Make sure the books are written by individuals from the culture being shared in the story itself. I don’t think I need to stress why this is important. It is. Black, indigenous, and people of color can tell our own stories. These little ones will benefit greatly from seeing people who look like them in authorship of books they can relate to.

2.     Read the books too.This will give you the ability to build relationship with them so that they’ll at least have you to discuss the books with. It’s important that you don’t just drop these book in their laps and run. Doing so would be peak performative allyship and only gives you the feeling of having done something, while they are still left with little to no one to relate to and be fully who they are with.  

3.     Give them books of other Black, Indigenous, and People of Color as well. It’s just as important for them to be able to relate to other cultures as their own. 

4.     Run your book choices by someone who shares the same culture as them. Do not trust yourself in this department. You’re still getting started in antiracism. You are not anywhere near equipped to see the subtleties of problematic content right now. Ask for help from someone within that culture that you trust. Or send me a private message on IG, if you need to. If they aren’t black, I can reach out to my network for guidance. 

Again, this list isn’t fool proof, but it’s a start for you. Please just remember that these kids don’t need you to save them. Check your saviorism every step of the way. They just need an Aunt. Keep working on being antiracist you and the rest (the ability to reach out to your brother and sister about their role in this area of their children’s lives) will begin to fall into place. I promise.

L. Glenise Pike