It’s Okay To Be A Token. Really.

Deesha Philyaw is a freelance writer and adjunct professor in the Master of Professional Writing Program at Chatham University. She is a black co-parenting mom of two girls, ages 7 and 12, one of whom is adopted, and stepmom of two girls, age 12 and 14. Deesha has written a series of blogs for us to help celebrate Black History Month throughout February.

While I chafed many years ago at a white mom (not adoptive) declaring her glee at having me as her “black friend”, I do believe that it’s necessary for parents to be purposeful in creating cross-cultural experiences for their children and for themselves, particularly when their neighborhoods and schools are predominantly white. However, those experiences should be woven into the fabric of our lives, not as add-ons, nor as, in the cringe-worthy sense of the word, tokens. So too should our celebrations of Black History Month be more than just a fleeting effort in the larger scheme of our everyday lives as parents and as citizens. What allows a multi-cultural experience or activity (or friendship) to transcend tokenism and become cross-cultural and meaningful? In other words, how can we celebrate Black History Month all year round?

For starters: intentions matter. Somewhere between the feelings of self-flagellation we may feel for not doing enough or not doing Black History Month “right”, and the self-congratulatory pat on the back we give ourselves for the homemade Martin Luther King, Jr. place-mats, somewhere in there, our hearts are in the right place. A place where guilt isn’t our sole motivation, and we’re confident enough and open enough to embrace new ideas and step out of our comfort zones. There’s always more to do and learn. Cross-cultural exploration is an on-going journey.

So, what else gets us from tokenism to substance during Black History Month? Investment. We invest time and resources, seeking out relevant experiences and experts, during the other eleven months of the year as well. Adoptive mom Catherine M. Anderson told me that, “All year, we are celebrate [my sons’] history, legacy, and family background. I acknowledge that it is Black History Month because I want them to understand how we set aside this month to be even more special than others in a way.”

Catherine is mom to Sam age 6, who is Black American and was adopted at birth; and to Marcel, age 3, who is biracial, and Catherine’s biological offspring, conceived with the help of a Black known donor. She blogs about her experiences, and she contributes to The Adoption Mosaic Constellation, Adoptive Families Magazine, and Catherine goes on to share:

“I am an educator in a public middle school, so I have additional access to people, events, performances and resources. When the Congalese Dance Ensemble came to our school, I got my oldest out of daycare and brought him too. Same for the African drumming circle, and the spoken word performers.

“Our home library is almost exclusively made up of informational texts, and fictional texts celebrating Black civil rights activists, athletes, writers, poets, dancers, scientists, and adventurers.

“When we go to church, we go to a Black Church. When we go to a touring performance it is of a Black dance troupe, or musical ensemble. The posters on the walls of their room are of Miles Davis, BB King, David from David’s Drawing (a children’s book fave) and their president. For their birthdays, I ask people to choose books, action figures, or other toys and gifts that have a multi-racial theme or presentation.

“As a parent of a Black child and a biracial child, it is our combined history that we are exploring and learning about together. I want to be culturally literate in Black history, and I want that for them. I can only do that as far as I can. As a white woman, my access to Black history is not a lived one, but a sought-out one.”

Please come back to read the other articles Deesha has shared for Black History Month, including the continuation of this post

MLJ Adoptions is a Non-Profit, Hague-Accredited adoption service provider located in Indianapolis, Indiana, working in Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Pacific Isles. We are passionate about serving children in need.