Converging Realities: White Christian Culture and Adoption
Previously, we discussed the clash between the white, Christian understanding of race and the lived reality of children of color growing up in those adoptive families. There are a few converging realities with adoption and white Christian culture that we believe create this situation, but none beyond remedy.
Lack of Historical Knowledge
While a lack of historical knowledge is in no way unique to the white church, there is an added layer of not knowing our own church’s true history. Why did every large US denomination split in the 1800s? What did the ringing of the church bells signify in both antebellum and Jim Crow eras of US history? Why are there giant, well-funded churches in the suburbs? Why is there a historic Black church? These questions all have deeply painful racialized answers, but too often, white people are ignorant of them.
This ignorance is not benign. In fact, it holds us back from dealing with how our legacy of complicity with racism shaped white Christian theology and culture. As Chanequa Walker-Barnes explains in I Bring the Voices of My People, “The underlying assumption has been that White people – including White Christianity – have remained more or less unaffected by their participation in or compliance with a system that brutalized millions of Africans.”
Can we imbue transracially adopted children in white homes with an understanding of the faithfulness of their ancestors if we don’t know that past? Can we help them develop a sense of their own racial identity devoid of the historic knowledge that shapes its present reality?
White-centric Theology and Worship
White supremacy often disguises itself as white normativity. What is seen as normal, right, or the baseline becomes what all else is judged up against. In white churches, that’s white theologians, white musicians, and even white Jesus. When our vision of God is white in a white supremacist society, we are not countering the false and harmful messaging of the world, but rather emphasizing and strengthening it.
What will faith or belief mean to a child of color who only ever sees it through the lens of whiteness? What effect does it have to see no one who looks like them practicing this religion or having the wisdom, intelligence, and authority to teach or preach on who God is?
It’s no accident that most of us live hyper-segregated lives. In fact, it was designed that way. And rather than look to the example of the early church, a group of believers who had to be given a new name, Christian, because they broke down the barriers of division the culture of the time had built up between people groups; the white church in America embraced white supremacy, and convinced itself it was gaining rather than missing out, by worshiping in all-white spaces. As David Swanson says, “Instead of identifying and resisting these false narratives, most of our Christian discipleship practices have ignored them, and in doing so, we have told generations of white Christians that Jesus has nothing to say about racial injustice and segregation.”
And while segregation is a result of white supremacy, its ongoing legacy feeds white supremacy. It’s a symbiotic relationship that we have not sought to rectify. And now, it is becoming very common to see adopted children of color being brought up in these otherwise segregated spaces. How can we continue to encourage white parents to bring children of color into their homes and churches when they may be the first person of color to ever cross that threshold? What experiences is that setting them up to have?
White people generally lack vocabulary and practice when it comes to having a deep or meaningful conversation about race. We have not interrogated our own racial identity, or the impact race still has on modern-day society. We’ve often been taught to think about or talk about race is in itself racist! How can we expect white parents to help their children of color navigate a racialized world when they can’t even talk about race?
Discrimination and harassment are commonplace for Native Americans in various settings, from healthcare and interactions with police, to the education system. 80% of Asian Americans say violence toward them is increasing. 57% of Latinos say their skin color affects their daily life experiences. Over 75% of Black adults say their Blackness is very or extremely important to how they see themselves. Can white parents who lack racial literacy communicate about this complex reality with their children of color?
Listen and Learn
White parents adopting children of color and churches encouraging them to do so are unlikely to decrease in the near future. What we can see decrease are rates of segregation, racial illiteracy, historic ignorance, and the reliance on white people for understanding theology. Those things will take serious work and commitment, but if that’s not part and parcel when it comes to parenting, I don’t know what is! Raising children in homes where their trauma (as trauma is inherent in adoption) is not compounded by the racial ignorance of their parents is a worthwhile goal. We must decide that our children are worth it.
But also? We are worth it too. None of those realities is good for us regardless of the race of our children.
Post Author: Elizabeth Behrens, Be the Bridge Educator
Be the Bridge – https://amzn.to/39UHXcy
In their Own Voices – https://amzn.to/3HU0SRs
Divided by Faith – https://amzn.to/3HX9XbZ
The Color of Compromise – https://amzn.to/3OJX3An