Friday, June 27, 2008

Ethnic/Racial Identiiy and the Foster Teen

My experience has been that a significant number of teens in foster care are alienated from their their ethnic and or racial identity. I'm not sure how better to put that. Sometimes it happened when they were removed from their parents.

In the case of two of my boys, it was more like Barak Obama's story, sort of. I like that he is such a national figure. Putting all politics aside, I think it is a wonderful thing for my kids to have the opportunity to know the story of a non-white man raised entirely by his white parent. My boys stories are different in that the parent who raised them did not encourage or help them to explore their identity. Carl's mom did a little better, I think. It seems very clear that Gary was raised as a white boy who happened just happened to get really tan in the summer. He knows almost nothing about his American Indian heritage.

I find myself disappointed by his lack of interest. I want to be the pro-active parent who finds resources for him. It is difficult to contain myself because American Indian is one of the few ethnic/racial groups for which I have resources. Andrew had a high school class that required a certain number of community service hours so he just asked one of his best friends if he could help out with the pow wow his dad organizes every year. It's a huge, three day event with stories, food, dancing, competitions. I could sign him up for lessons in drums, dancing, language. Not the romanticized "diversity" classes taught by well-meaning white folks at the Y. Real classes that are taught be tribal members to almost exclusively tribal children. Classes that are intended to preserve traditions and build community.

If he were five, I would so be there. I wouldn't force him to take classes he didn't want, but I would be getting involved myself as much as possible. I would be doing what I did with respect to the gay community when the other boys were here. I'm ready.

But he isn't.

He says learning more about the tribe wouldn't change who he is. He's just him.

And I know I have to respect that. He is fifteen, almost sixteen. I make sure he knows about the resources that are available, but that is about it.


  1. It's too bad Gary isn't interested. A friend of mine runs the Native American Education program in our school district and they do such wonderful things. I've brought Slugger to a few of her programs. While Slugger doesn't have any Native American blood, he's really learned a lot from her program.

    Slugger is part Hispanic, though, and he had no knowledge of that fact when I met him. So the loss of their ethnic background isn't limited to foster teens! Slugger understands now that he's part Hispanic and part Scandinavian. It is still a confusing concept to him, though. He doesn't understand how he doesn't have my ethnicity now that he has my last name. I'm working on it with him, but Slugger is very literal-minded and this is a somewhat abstract concept.

  2. I am struggling with this issue now as my little girl is AA and I am white. Now she is only 2 but I want to be prepared and expose her to as much of her heritage as possible as she gets old enough to understand. It will be tough but I am determined- she will grow up a Cosby kid- there is no way around that- but I want her to know her roots too.

  3. My eldest son is Asian Indian and I spent his whole life (he is 22) trying to share his ethnic identity with him. It was not well received. He finally asked me what the heck I was doing this for, he was happy just hte way he was. He is also an Aspie and I don't know if that plays in somehow.

    My AA kids I have more resources for. More AA friends, diverse crowds where we swim and such. AA literature, magazines and art are all part of our home. Still I get brought up short sometimes. One of the foster families impressed on me the importance of Kwanzaa and I was totally cool with that. Hey, I love holidays! (grin) We created a family kinera, got all the stuff, read the books, did crafts and meals and ceremonies, and my eldest AA son asked us to stop after a couple of years. Said he just wasn't into it!
    My other kids are too little to get anything out of it at this point but we will revisit when they are older.


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