I remember growing up in a home with six siblings. Five of the kids were adopted and two of us were foster kids. None of us were biologically related. They were all different shades and different ethnicities. Everyone had a different take on what their experience was like in this home. Some felt the need to honor my foster parents for all that they did and only saw the good side of growing up. Others felt the sting of the trauma but still understood that the foster parents who caused that trauma did so because of their own traumatic past.
There were certain kids that were favored over others and were allowed to do certain things others couldn’t. Up until I was in the 9th and 10th grade, I remember having to sit in a wooden chair as a young Black girl while everyone else could sit on the sofa. I was not always permitted to go into the refrigerator without asking permission while the other adopted kids could go in whenever they pleased. I was told that I had to ask permission to use the restroom. When my foster dad was home, I was not allowed to speak unless I was spoken to.
Both of my foster parents were Black. What was striking was that my white siblings were often favored by one foster parent while the Black kids with disabilities were treated distastefully. There were some incredibly bruising words, physical violence and hatred slung toward me and my foster brother. It’s quite disheartening as my foster brother and I were both Black kids with disabilities who dealt with an extreme amount of mistreatment from our foster parents. We were the awkward ducks who were treated inferior.
I have since left the home, aspiring for something more. I would sometimes still connect with my foster brother and see how he was doing. We were both very traumatized. I have since healed from my traumatic upbringing. But I kept thinking: What is it about being in a foster home with very different people that can lead foster parents to play favorites?
Fast forward to a year after graduating from University of California, San Diego. I was connecting with another family in another state who wanted to honorarily adopt me. They began creating a family where every child had a different complexion and received love all the same. They are not necessarily a family that follows a completely liberal ideology. But they are a Black and white couple with four children who really are the hands and feet of social justice when it comes to the foster care system, even creating their own safe haven for young teen foster girls.
It gave me hope to know that even though I experienced so much injustice growing up, both as a kid with disabilities and as a young Black child, there are still people making change toward healing, wholeness and health for foster youth like myself. There is hope for me to be the change I wish to see and advocate for policies that protect children from discrimination so that they feel safe enough to speak out about the injustices they face in the foster care system.
As I continue to advocate for foster youth, I realize not everyone knows how to care for children that don’t look like them. So I am appreciative of the start of services that support foster parents with the necessary tools to have conversations about race, equity and inclusion within the foster family. We need to eradicate the color lines because, in the words of sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois, “the color line had been a real and efficient cause of misery.”
Something I learned from my education at UC San Diego is that there are intersections of different identities that can experience injustice all at the same time. It’s not as simple as saying my foster parents were racist. They weren’t, but there were some issues that bled into hierarchies and power dynamics over the years where it gave me and my foster brother the impression of powerlessness and defeat. As I got older, I had no choice but to heal if I wanted to create an impact in the world. I understand that my foster parents are human with a very different upbringing than the one my future children will grow up in. A world where Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream would intentionally impact the foster care system and lead us to examine the way certain children get treated over others, both systematically and within the family structure. The only way we will get over this hill is to talk about and challenge our implicit biases. We can lose so much if we treat others unkindly and unjustly. When we value all children and choose to wholeheartedly serve one another, we have so much more to gain.