“We are white parents planning to adopt our four-year-old foster son of color. Any suggestions on how to handle the race questions ahead?”
I doubt that you need any advice in acquainting him with the rich heritage his culture provides. He has many black heroes to emulate: in entertainment, in sports, in religion, in politics, and in literature. And much to be proud of. He is lucky to anticipate growing up in two cultures. You can share stories with him of both black and white accomplishments.
Even more important is a black presence. If you do not already have black friends, involve yourselves in areas of work and play where you can meet and enjoy the company of people of color. Some of your new friends might become godparents or honorary uncles and aunties. You might develop ties with a family with whom your child can visit or spend a sleepover.
He also needs peers that look like him. If his color makes him a nearly invisible minority in school, consider other more integrated schools. If that is not possible, enroll him in sports and other activities as he grows older where having black friends seems more natural. Check with nearby black churches or community centers to explore options.
Unfortunately, as time passes, your son is likely to be mentally or physically bullied because of his color. Don’t make a big deal of it, but don’t wait until something unpleasant happens either. Let your son know that you are open to hearing about any racial bullying or hurtful experiences.
When he shares a bad moment, you might mention that all bullies act big and tough because they feel little inside. They are insecure. They need to show off and assert themselves by picking on others who seem vulnerable. When someone picks on your son, he needs to hear and know that he is a bigger and better person than the bully. After offering reassurance, help your son figure out how and when to respond and what to ignore.
As he become a teen, the problems become more adult. How should he respond when a store clerk follows him around? When a traffic cop stops him for “driving while black?” Perhaps he might share his hurt or anger with friends he can trust to be supportive. Hopefully he will continue to be comfortable sharing with you.
And always tell your child that he is loved and special. That he must be stronger and better than racial bullies.