Growing Up Black IN White
My family started in a very unconventional way. I am the proud product of an affair between my White mother and Black father. In the summer of 1967, two weeks after the Detroit riots began, my lungs drew in the air that still carried fumes of the burning businesses and homes nearby.
I was birthed into a city as a biracial child; a city that struggled with how or if the races would or could or should get along. My birth mother’s husband forced her to give away the child that was not his and I was immediately put up for adoption.
I was transported by my mother from the hospital to a nearby foster home and it was the last time we would see each other. After 3 months in foster care, I was adopted by a White minister and his wife who already had 3 biological children.
In my instant family, I was the youngest and the darkest in a day when there were very few multicultural families. In the first three years of my life, we would be confronted by many who didn’t approve of our colorful family.
A burning cross in our front year would wake us in the early morning hours when I 11 months old showing us vividly that we were not welcome in that neighborhood. Soon after that my grandmother and father would passively and aggressively object to the family we were that they had envisioned would be different.
We were a conspicuous family no matter where we went. We stuck out everywhere and nowhere would just blend into the surroundings. For 5 years we lived in a Black neighborhood, my parents thought it was important that I be around people that looked like me.
It was in this neighborhood that the seeds of my racial identity were planted and because of that, I grew up comfortable in my almond skin. It was also in this neighborhood that my brothers were targeted because they were the different ones and while I was comfortable they struggled to be accepted.
We then moved to a White neighborhood and our roles were reversed. I struggled to be just another kid in the neighborhood instead of the “Black” kid. My brothers appeared comfortable in the White neighborhood but struggled at schools that were mostly Black.
I talk about this struggle with my mother today and she honestly says this was the biggest frustration she had as a parent. Her and my father couldn’t find a neighborhood where all of us would be comfortable. Because of Detroit’s long racial history, there were no diverse neighborhoods; there were White neighborhoods and Black neighborhoods.
I felt the struggle often yet the sense of family we created growing up was an amazing balm to sooth the scars that came from such a unique life. We pushed through when there was no path for multicultural families to walk.
We pushed through a dividing time when each of us was comfortable and concentrated on the family; a family that wasn’t seen as a traditional family. There were good times and hard times and my parents will admit they made mistakes along the way.
Out of such a unique family has grown my desire to help other families who now walk on a similar path. It is my calling to help smooth those paths for others and help them avoid some of the mistakes we made.
Kevin Hofmann, Author of Growing Up Black & White – Ohio