Aug 10, 2018
Interview with Marisol Rosser, Foster Care Supervisor, Grand Rapids, Michigan
It’s when someone asks, “Where are you from?” and they don’t mean your local city. “No, before that. Where are you really from?”
- Subtext: You’re not from around here; you’re not one of us.
It’s when someone remarks with surprise, “You’re so articulate!”
- Subtext: You’re the exception among people of your race.
It’s when someone clutches their purse or crosses the street as you approach.
- Subtext: You’re perceived as threatening; up to no good; a criminal.
It’s when someone says, “I don’t see race. We’re all human.”
- Subtext: Your experience with racial disparities is invalid.
Microaggressions are intangible slights that people of color experience every day. Whether or not offense is intended, the undertones of an action or statement are just subtle enough to make a person of color question, “Did that happen because of my race?” Microaggressions reveal implicit bias and are constant reminders that you’re different. (No one asks a white person, “Can I touch your hair?”)
Most foster parents are committed to loving children and helping them feel safe. But parents who foster children of another race (transracial foster care) often underestimate how important it is to acknowledge a child’s racial identity. Children of color often navigate the world primarily through the lens of their racial identity. I’m not just a boy, but a black boy. I’m not just a girl, but Latina. The racial microaggressions they are likely experiencing add another layer to the complex emotions and trauma they already carry.
When I worked as a treatment foster care case manager, I regularly met with kids in care. Children of color were are often surprised to meet me and see that I’m a person of color. They were fascinated to know they could talk to me about race, and I would understand. They brought up race with me all the time, which tells me kids DO want to talk about it. If you’re a white foster parent with a child of color in your home, they probably won’t talk to you about racial differences or microaggressions they’re experiencing until they feel safe.
The following tips will help you create a safer, more multicultural foster home environment for children of color.
- Acknowledge racial and cultural differences. Talk about it. Don’t let it be an elephant in the room. There will be things about the child’s cultural or experience that will be difficult for you to understand because you’ve known a different culture or experience. When people of color say they’ve experienced a microaggression or an overt slight, others often ask for proof of motive rather than validating how the person experienced that event. The child in your home may say, “You’re white; you don’t understand.” Become the child’s advocate and seek to understand.
- Put yourself in their shoes. Go to a community event or a church where the people around you predominately have racial identities other than your own. Look around—you almost can’t help but notice, Who else is here that looks like me; am I the only one? Experience how that feels: what questions do you have? What fears? Sit with that discomfort a moment. Now imagine that same discomfort from a child’s perspective—a child who has experienced trauma is in a new environment, with people they don’t know, surrounded by cultural norms they don’t understand.
- Embrace the discomfort. Create a better balance of times when you’re outside of your comfort zone versus how often the child is outside of theirs. Is there a sport team or a youth group the child can join? (p.s. You may need to look beyond your neighborhood or church). Becoming a multicultural family means being willing to set aside your comfort to prioritize the child’s comfort. Don’t try to force multicultural friendships or mentors, but be intentional and know that by asking for help, you are meeting an important need for the child’s well-being.
- Learn more about the child’s community generally and the child specifically. While the child is part of a community that shares characteristics and cultural values, that can provide context; but remember that the child is an individual. Talk with each child in your home about specific ways the child is used to doing things in his or her home and family. Find ways to incorporate the child’s culture into your family rhythms. Make sure there are people in the child’s life from their racial community they can spend time with and relate to. What connections already exist that can be continued while the child is in care—a pastor? A teacher? Extended family members? A friend?
Taking time to understand someone else’s culture can return rich and beautiful blessings for those who care enough to be curious. As you incorporate a child’s familiar people, rhythms, music, values, foods, and more, you create a welcoming, multicultural environment that says, “You are welcome here, and we will meet your needs.”
- Dos and Don’ts of Transracial Fostering
- Did You Really Just Say That? Diffusing 5 Awkward Comments
- Nervous about Attachment in Foster Care? Learn How to Help a Child in Your Care Feel Safe