In a country that surely has too many parenting books and blogs with varying advice, Nefertiti Austin discovered that none applied to a single Black woman looking to adopt a Black boy. There were elements she could take from the two-parent white experience, but she still had questions. How do you raise a Black boy in America? How do you create a team of people around a child so he has a community? Does every child need a mother and father? Because Austin knew no one like her, she wrote a memoir about growing up in a “Black adoption,” taking courses on fostering and adopting children to earn her license, and building a family on her own through the power of choice. Thankfully, we now have Motherhood So White: A Memoir of Race, Gender, and Parenting in America.
Because her parents couldn’t choose parenting, Nefertiti Austin and her brother were raised by their grandparents in what she explains is a “Black adoption.” Done for hundreds of years, traced back to Africa, a Black adoption doesn’t take place on paper. She writes, “The family taking in the child needed a connection with that child, even a tenuous one.” This moment of her off-paper adoption connects to the way her family feels about her adopting a stranger’s child. Why would she do such a white people thing, they wondered.
Let me be clear: in the United States, adoption stories we see in life and the media are always a white man and woman, often strongly Christian, adopting children from countries populated by brown people, like China. Austin changed my mind about what adoption can look like by sharing her experience:
Foster mother in Los Angeles County tended to be Black women, and the media reinforced the image of the scheming Black welfare mother who preyed on poor and neglected children to get out of real work.
The author’s story highlights a few important things: 1) that black women want to care for unknown children in their communities, 2) that the media won’t give them a chance, and 3) the media also does not see childcare as “real work,” a delusion that any parent can tell you is dangerously inaccurate.
Further disconnecting potential parents from children in need is false perceptions of a child’s origin story. Austin writes about families unwilling to foster or adopt Black boys because they are viewed as naturally rambunctious and problematic. There is also the fear of “crack babies,” used to describe Black children regardless of circumstance. Furthermore, the parenting classes Austin takes to become licensed to foster teaches her that children who are born to mothers who used crack will detox yet be stigmatized, whereas a child born to a mother who consumed alcohol will have life-long developmental issues yet not be ostracized like “crack babies.” Deep down, readers of this blog know that racism and stereotyping are wrong, but Austin airs everyone’s fears and writes through them in a straightforward fashion.
I’ve seen a proliferation of spaces where white people ask Black people questions without fear of judgment. I appreciated Emmanuel Acho’s appearance on CBS This Morning recently to talk about his video, “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man.” Similarly, Nefertiti Austin discusses naming black children, getting to uncomfortable truths, such as the way her foster son, named Kemarye, would struggle with employment despite his credentials, attitude, and family traditions. When she officially adopts him, she changes his legal name to August, after the prolific playwright August Wilson.
If you’re a mom or a mom supporter, you’ll recognize where Austin goes wrong in motherhood in small ways that could be avoided if we were pro-parents in the U.S. For instance, she feels like she’s not allowed to ever complain because she very intentionally chose motherhood. Like the Pixar movie Inside Out teaches us, if we aren’t sad or angry, no one around us is alerted to our need for assistance. Despite not being pregnant or giving birth, she’s physically exhausted in a way she hadn’t imagined possible, and I believe it’s easy for mothers with healthy bodies and financial security to feel the same way. Although Austin’s journey is different, all parents and people who support parents will connect with her story.
Beyond sharing her story — and this part completely warmed my heart — Austin includes an afterward in which she interviews several other Black women who adopted. This final special touch hits home that her journey is not unique, it’s just untold. There are important lessons in this final section, such as “love does not conquer all.” Austin explains, “And should you decide to adopt transracially. . . .You must do your homework and become culturally competent about your child’s heritage.”
Carla, a woman the author interviewed, has great advice for all parents, but especially those who adopted: “Advocate for your child at every turn and with everyone, including schools, doctors, family members, and so on.” Carla further notes that before she adopted, she found “a pediatrician, a pediatric dentist, an ophthalmologist (all Black men), and a babysitter. . .” The advice that adoptive mothers, especially those raising Black children, have is priceless for all parents because they’ve learned to craft a community, a village, really around an adopted child.
Motherhood So White is a beautiful, gorgeous, important memoir.