Every parent mourns the loss of innocence for their kid at some point—the first pet that dies or friend who moves away—but as parents of a Black child, my husband and I know that one day, we’ll have to have The Talk. The one we’ve already started with our 3-year-old son Khalil but have yet to finish. The one in which we have to tell him that because he is Black, he is more likely to be harmed by the police, convicted of a crime, and underpaid for his work.
By the time we adopted Khalil, we had already become his parents. (We became his foster parents in 2017 when he was 8 days old, only 12 hours after getting the call about him.) Nearly a year later, as we began the transition to adoptive parents, it was difficult to justify transracial adoption.
The child welfare system in the United States has been and continues to be oppressive to Black families—for example, a Black family under investigation is far more likely to have children removed from their families than a white family. Sitting in family court as foster and then adoptive parents was like sitting *inside* institutional racism—predominantly Black families lined the walls, meeting their attorneys minutes before life-changing hearings, while well-represented white families perched close by, preparing to leave with custody of the Black families’ children.
Ultimately, we adopted Khalil in late 2018 because we thought it was the best option for him—we had already become his parents. Not doing so would have been a heartbreaking and misguided effort to assuage my own guilt.
We take the responsibility of parenting a Black boy seriously. David and I have decades of our own prejudice, guilt, and fragility to work through so that we can give Khalil the love he deserves. In transracial adoption, love isn’t just presence, patience, and cuddles (lots of cuddles)—love means changing our community, our mindsets, and our relationships with people who aren’t able to become anti-racist allies. For so long, our white privilege allowed us to insulate ourselves from the reality of racism, and then when we finally, a few years before becoming foster parents, engaged in anti-racist work, we kept it at a distance to avoid becoming too uncomfortable. We are now showing up late to the work of dismantling white supremacy. We recognize that as white parents, we lack the generational wisdom that a Black family could pass on to Khalil.
We will share with him the history of racism in the United States—slavery, Jim Crow laws, redlining, gerrymandering, underrepresentation, mass incarceration, the child welfare system, and wealth inequality. We will have to tell him that he cannot escape racism and it will seep into every corner of his life. We will explain the ways that white people, including his dad and me, have perpetuated and benefited from oppressive systems. We will do our very best to remind him that the way he is treated does not reflect his worth and we will try, desperately, to teach him how to be safe in a world that is dangerous and unpredictable for Black boys.
But thankfully, we will be telling him all this from Canada, where chances are, he will be safer than if he were to grow up in our current home in North Carolina.
Our move, 100 percent for Khalil, is motivated by statistics. Here are a few:
The United States incarcerates its citizens at 6 times the rate of Canada. And in the U.S., incarcerated Black people make up 33 percent of the prison population but only 13 percent of the U.S. population.
The American public education system is extremely segregated and has significant racial disparities in test scores.
The rate of school shootings in the U.S. = 15 times higher than in Canada.
Our family isn’t alone either. Sabriyah Smith, 37, and LaMarr Smith, 40, live in Buffalo, New York. They are working on a move to Ontario. When LaMarr runs to the store, Sabriyah worries that he won’t come home alive and she is tired of feeling that way. Even with recent protests and changing policies, she doesn’t know if the United States will ever get to the point where she can trust that her husband will be safe when he leaves the house. They want to have children soon, and LaMarr explains: “I want a safe place for my wife, for my children, for my family, and for my friends.”
LaMarr says that the law enforcement abuses of the past months in the United States have triggered the “unfortunate memories and experiences of police brutality that I have experienced myself. And I’ve known friends and family who have experienced it.…For me, George Floyd’s murder was ultimately a reckoning. It was a recognition that I can’t do this. I can’t put my children through this.”
When asked if she grieves the move, Sabriyah explains that knowing LaMarr feels free in Canada is enough to make it worth it. “As a wife, that’s all I want my husband to feel,” she says.“ If you love someone, why would you want them to feel not free or not human? I want him to live his dreams and I want to live mine.”
Rolunda Coleman, 48, lives with her family in Lufkin, Texas, and wants to be in Canada with her son before he turns 16 in five years. She worries that she won’t be able to keep him safe after that. There is a long history of racially motivated violence in East Texas. The video of George Floyd reinforced her decision. “To hear him cry for his mom and to think at some point in his life my son would go through something like that and need my protection,” she says, “I have to do whatever it takes to give him that protection now.”
While we wish that the international move were bringing us to a perfect racism-free utopia, we know that Canada is not without discrimination and police brutality. Police officers in Canada are far more likely to use force against a Black person than against a white person. Canada, too, has a racial wealth gap, and the country’s history with its Indigenous residents is cruel with ongoing disparities. While Canada is more culturally diverse than the U.S. and more than 50 percent of Toronto’s population identifies as visible minorities, Black Canadians make up only 3.5 percent of the population. We will have to work much harder in Canada to ensure that Khalil has friends, teachers, and mentors who are Black. We know that he is more likely to be the only Black person in the room in Canada.
That said, when we were considering immigrating, we spoke with Black friends who have lived in both the United States and Canada, and their reports were consistent: They experienced oppression and discrimination in both places but felt (and statistically were) substantially safer in Canada.
I know the ability to immigrate is a privilege, and David’s and my whiteness contributed to an easier process for us—this isn’t an option for every family. Thanks to unearned generational wealth, we had the financial capacity to hire an immigration attorney, and we have master’s degrees without student loans, which made us more desirable applicants. The best route for us was to become permanent residents through the Express Entry program. It was inconvenient and complex but, from what I can tell, more predictable than the equivalent process in the United States. As a wheelchair user, I was concerned that I wouldn’t meet their health requirements, but they approved us all on our first attempt.
From beginning to end, it took around 18 months.
We are sad to leave home. Angry too. But we are also optimistic. We have started to make friends in our new city through social media, and Khalil loves to look at photos of Canada, particularly the snow. Nothing is perfect, and nothing is ever all-the-way right—but if Khalil can grow up in a country that allows him to feel, as LaMarr says, more free and more human, then it is worth it.
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