Twenty-three years ago my wife and I adopted a two-month-old multiracial boy. We did not think too deeply about what racial trials he would go through because we believed that the racial nature of our country would continue to change for the better as it had so dramatically in the decades preceding his birth. We mostly ignored the slights and subtle slurs that were occasionally heard as we went out and about with our child. Some of these came from neighbors who had previously seemed open and accepting. Others came from strangers we encountered on the street. When one not too diplomatic neighbor asked us why we didn’t wait for a white baby, we ignored him. When another said, “Well you sure took on a handful”, we ignored that too. We continued to believe that these and a host of other biases would pass as America’s acceptance of diversity grew and its obsession with race diminished.
As our child grew into a handsome, wholesome teenage male we started to notice an increasing number of stares and even occasional frowns from passers by, and yes we even experienced embarrassing moments. On one occasion, a police officer allowed me to pass while stopping my son at a barricade in front of a fancy Upper Westside apartment where they were blowing up the balloons for the Thanksgiving Parade. I protested strongly that he was my son and was also invited to the party in that block, and then reluctantly, he allowed him in. Not long after this, our son came into the house and burst into tears. Local police had forced him out of our car he had parked in front of our neighbors house where he was sitting with two teenage white girls who were friends. The officers made multiple accusations and continued to harass him, even after the mother of one of the girls came out of her house and insisted that he was a family friend and had done nothing wrong.
As our son grew into an even more handsome and muscular college boy he would occasionally tell us about the slights and embarrassments that visited him as he made his way through his ever more expanded life, but sometimes he would simply shrug and say to us “Mom, Dad, you simply don’t get it do you? This is what I go through every day in some small or not so small way.”
We continue to believe that America is moving forward in its endless quest for racial understanding and parity. We are even further encouraged in this very special election year when a presidential candidate like Barack Obama can give a complex and multilayered analysis of our nation’s racial divide and many people actually are beginning to “get” it.
I believe that with Barack Obama’s election, America has moved the goal posts a little farther downfield toward racial equality. Last night our son called and said “Dad, I do believe people are starting to get it.”
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