A month ago we celebrated Black History Month. Every year I enjoy its recognition. I enjoy seeing Black people celebrate their history and reach for their future.
And yet I can’t help but be frustrated at America’s fraught relationship with Black history. Currently in the mainstream, we see schools banning books that discuss race, gender, sexuality and challenge whiteness. Books like “Heavy” and “The Bluest Eye” are being banned because white people feel uncomfortable.
Supporters of such actions simply reflect their own shame and a fear of letting their children and grandchildren learn about how racist they are. This is a reflection that to be white in America is to be able to continue to lie and convince yourself that you are better than you actually are.
I wonder how this movement to remove Black history and literature from schools is impacting the child welfare community. Are foster families, child welfare agencies, departments of children and family services being given more of a license to lean away from much needed conversations about race and racism? I feel as though the foster care community already choses to be evasive when it comes to having these critical conversations. Is the foster care community feeling empowered to re-entrench themselves into practices that perpetuate racism in child welfare institutions?
When you consider that 23% of youth in foster care are Black and 21% are Latinx, it seems clear that the billion dollar industry of foster care and adoption is upheld in large part by the plight of children and families of color. In the summer of 2020, I thought that there was a movement emerging to address these grim numbers.
It was not long ago, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, that we saw countless open letters, public statements, op-eds, and commentary from the child welfare community reinforcing the mantra that Black Lives Matter.
Nearly two years later, I wonder where those same voices are. It seems as though a segment of the foster care community has retreated into the comfort of their privilege. The virtue signaling on social media and other spaces during that moment is what scholars call performative allyship — someone from a non-marginalized group attempting to advocate for a marginalized group in a way that is unhelpful and even harmful. This often stems from their lack of understanding the historical and contextual underpinnings of the issue, and their lack of understanding of their own positionality and privilege.
While the Jim Crow laws that once strategically disenfranchised Black people in America are gone, we have created other racial caste systems, like prisons and foster care, that marginalize people based on race. Once involved in these systems children and families become caught in a nexus of punishment, surveillance and incarceration. Those who are not Black also are dehumanized as a result of these systems; non-Black people become collateral damage, a causality of racist institutions.
There is a disposability of Black people’s lives that many in the foster care community are complicit in and comfortable perpetuating. That experience of being in foster care or even formerly incarcerated, should not matter, people’s lives should matter regardless of their status. To be visible, to be seen, to be affirmed makes us feel human.
Many in the child welfare space are quick to say Black Lives Matter, yet where are the policies aimed at anti-racism, family unification and permanence for Black children? As America continues to lie to itself about its history, segments of the foster care community also try to convince themselves they are not part of a system that is inherently racist.
The curtain can close on the theater that is social justice. I’d much rather the performers exit stage left, and give more space for those who are committed to creating and uplifting Black futures. And it starts with knowing and understanding our (Black) history.