An Open Letter About Race

An important piece written by a father whose family has been touched by transracial adoption.

A big “thank you” to Adoption STAR clients Dr. John and Amanda Sauter for allowing us to reprint this powerful, important, thought provoking letter. Dr. Sauter is the Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs at Niagara University.Sauter Slide

There may be others who can do this more eloquently, but I have something to say. I have a transracial family. I am White. My son is not. I cannot always be there to protect my children from the world, the best I can do is to help prepare them for it and try to help make positive changes in the world through dialog with others and by the examples I leave behind. Please, take a moment to reflect on what I say below.

I both love and dread road trips with my family. I love being able to travel and show my kids the world. I love to visit with family and friends. However, I don’t enjoy all the things that surface on these trips that I cannot protect them from.

On our way home from Thanksgiving, I took my son to the bathroom at a public rest stop. On one wall of the stall was scratched “Kill [N-Word]s”. On the other was the homophobic slur “F__”, and a Swastika next to a Star of David. In between both hateful walls was my son, a young innocent boy who hasn’t yet learned to read. However, in the next year or two he will be able to read like his sister. He will see these hateful messages that threaten to “kill” him or others based on their skin color alone.

Sadly, these are not isolated incidents. Beyond those that make the national news, this isn’t the first time that I have seen racist messages scrawled across the places we travel, the places we work, the places where we learn, the places we live. As a Person of Color, as a boy, and eventually as a Black man, my son will face many things in his life that I, with my White privilege, have never had to face. What he experiences, what he reads, and even his interactions with others, including the police, will be different, because we live in a society that still doesn’t see everyone as equals, does not treat everyone with the same justice, does not value life to the same degree.

In some cases these issues are the virulent criminal acts of individuals, in some cases these are unintended consequences of people who may not have thought through or understood their actions, in other cases they are unexamined or unchallenged parts of our society. There is a legacy of hate behind such words as those on the wall. Unfortunately, this is not a post-racial America. White privilege exists and racism and other oppressions affect people on a daily basis.

I get that many different people have different levels of understanding, awareness, knowledge, and skills to address issues of racism. It is an ongoing process that takes time and energy. I once had a very naive view of race relations, growing up in a rural community with little diversity. Thankfully, I entered college with an open mind, and through my international experiences and later my studies of ally development and multicultural competence, I have gained a much broader understanding of racism and other oppressions. I have benefited from other allies and friends who were willing to dialog with me as I learned more. However, as a transracial parent, I have learned that there is much more that I need to know, more that I need to do. Sometimes love and good intentions are not enough.

I know from experience that it is hard to change the beliefs one has had all their life. I know that resistance from friends or family can make it harder. Exhaustion can affect whether one challenges a racial remark, statement, or a post. Fear of backlash or strained relationships may make one reluctant to enter into a discussion with peers, family members, or on social media. However, because of my White privilege, I have a choice as to whether or not I respond to or ignore issues of racism when they occur. My son, and many other People of Color do not have that option. My son cannot ignore messages that attack his own identity or person. They can leave physical and emotional scars. As a parent of a transracially adopted child, I cannot look the other way.

My son is a cute Black boy with loads of energy and a ready smile, but someday he will be a tall Black teen, a tall Black man. Will everyone find him as charming then? As the result of similar incidents, I will have to have “the Talk” with my son sooner than later, and I hope that I can do it justice. However, no matter how much I prepare him, it may not be adequate, at some point he will face these issues alone.

Understanding racism and other oppressive issues takes time and energy. If things are going to change, it is up to all of us to address racism and other forms of oppression. We cannot rely on someone else, especially someone burdened by oppression themselves, to take on the sole responsibility of educating our children, or ourselves.Sauter Family

If you are still reading this, I hope that you will reflect upon what I have said, become more aware of race issues around you, and perhaps even enter into dialog about oppression within your family, among your friends, and within your community. The more that we, as a society, talk about race, the less fearful the issues of race may become. There are many resources and voices out there that can help. Just remember that understanding and addressing issues of oppression is an ongoing process full of challenges. More importantly know that you are not alone.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

John P. Sauter, Jr

PS – Here are a few accessible articles that I recommend reading.
“White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack” by by Peggy McIntosh
“A Different Mirror”, by Ronald Takaki (Online)