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How Being Black, Transracially Adopted and Cool Looks in White Suburbs

The nation’s black children are raised with some understanding of what it means to live in a melaninated body; that is to say, they are raised with acute racial awareness through received wisdoms passed down from their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. The same cannot be said for most white American families. But white adoptive parents of black children do not have the luxury to deny their children a critical racial awareness, else they run the risk of raising them to be “socially white.” Although there is not one way to be white or one way to be black, there are unique attributes with each culture. African American children with well-developed positive racial identities have been found to have high self-esteem, improved coping skills, and overall resilience against the toxicity of racism. On the hand, black children with limited exposure and awareness of black culture commonly develop identity-related inter-and intrapersonal confusion and psychic conflicts. Research has documented that transracial adoptees (black children raised in white families)who grow up in white communities often report feelings of discomfort with their physical appearance and challenges in social interactions with other African American youth. African Americans with less-developed racial identities are associated with lower levels of self-actualization and self-acceptance as well as feelings of inferiority and personal inadequacy. Likewise, they are more vulnerable to anxiety and depression, academic difficulties in school, and even marital discord later in life.

One way in which black male adoptees can find some semblance of self-pride and self-acceptance is to develop a thick skin in the face of white power and privilege. Here we see black male adoptees perform the use cool pose. People are drawn to “cool” black males because they represent strength and vitality. Their urban black counterparts use it differently, as a means of projecting toughness in the neglected and often mean streets of America’s urban spaces. Adoptees, instead, use cool to validate their own sense of blackness through a distorted vision of black masculinity gleaned from the media. This act requires effort or “emotional labor,” to describe the toll this has on one’s health and happiness.

Black males have been performing cool pose for centuries to resist whiteness at every turn with their bodies, attitudes and swagger. This distinctively black style can be heard in the trumpeter’s horn, in the rhythmic melodies and improvisation of jazz music. It is also present in the frankness and rage of black literature. And cool can be further gleaned even in the repudiation of the traditional Western handshake in lieu of a “dap,” a more elaborate and theatrical pantomime to include fist bumps and finger snaps. Cool, however, is more than trivial aesthetics and pop culture fads. For black males, whether middle class or otherwise, being cool is about feigned emotions in the face of an unreachable manhood (as defined by whites). Cool pose was erected within the psychology of the black male, from the earliest days of the European colonization of Africa, to nullify the pain and legacy of white oppression and the persistence of racial inequality. Seen mostly in large, black, urban centers across the United States, cool developed as an art form, a method to guide black boys and men to achieve some level of respectability in their shattered communities.

There is distinction, however, between black males raised in black neighborhoods and black TRAs reared in majority white settings. The former have inherited scripts or a “code of the streets” handed down from other black males in the community on how to be a man and gain respect through a display of physical and mental toughness. For suburban black males, on the other hand, being cool is a way to foster confidence, acceptance and deflect the feelings of inferiority placed upon them from the broader white world in which they reside. Many of these adoptees feel the brunt of racial identity confusion, especially as they get older. This daily grind of existing while black in a predominately white setting can have devastating effects on the mental faculties of young people over time. Almost intuitively, black male adoptees unwittingly act cool to reconcile the warring feelings of conflict between the love of their white parents and the rejection by other whites within their surroundings. As a result, some black male adoptees might behave in a manner similar to their urban brothers in masking behaviors to cope with this deep disjuncture. Unfortunately, these TRAs have few, if any, black role models. Hence, they obtain most of their understandings of black and cool from popular media.

Of all the approaches that black males have devised to cope with daily grind of systemic white racism, cool represents the most pervading response to decades long male-on-male oppression. This is an emotionally exhaustive undertaking of restraint through masking behavior. This way of life remains a means of survival for black males and shows no signs of abating as long as white racism and discrimination linger as a guiding principle in determining access, opportunity and a sense of belonging.

Dr. Darron T. Smith is faculty member at the University of Memphis in the Department of Sociology. He is contributor for Huffington Post on various issues of inequality in the form of racism, classism and other systems of U.S. based oppression. He has also contributed to various forums from Religion Dispatches and ESPN’s Outside the Lines to The New York Times and Chicago Tribune op-ed sections. Dr. Smith was recently featured in the CBS Sports documentary, “The Black 14: Wyoming Football 1969.” His research spans a wide myriad of topics to include healthcare inequities, Religious Studies, Race & Sports, Stress & Mindfulness, Transracial Adoption and the Black Family. His is author of, When Race, Religion & Sports Collide: Blacks Athletes at BYU and Beyond, was recently released to critical praise in November 2016.

originally published in Adoption Today

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