Bikes, Bodyguards, Benefits, and Balance

When I was 8 years old my parents started shopping for a house. My father was a pastor at a Lutheran Church in Detroit and was being promoted to the assistant to the Bishop of South East Michigan. Soon we would leave the Black neighborhood where I was comfortable and move 2 miles away, still in Detroit, to a neighborhood that was all White.

This was an upper middle class neighborhood that we normally couldn’t afford on a Pastor’s salary. The real estate agent my parents were working with found out a property in this neighborhood was going to go into foreclosure and the bank would be selling it. In 1973, my parents paid $20,000 for a 4 bedroom, 1 ½ bath home that was about 2000 square feet in the upper middle class neighborhood of Rosedale Park. The houses were beautiful, the streets were lined with trees, and this neighborhood was seemed straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Not only did my Dad get a promotion but the whole family got an upgrade.

We shared the community with what I saw as royalty. Leon Spinks, the heavy weight fighter who was one of a few who beat Muhammad Ali lived on the next street over.  Leon lived across the street from Emanuel Stewart, one of the greatest boxing trainings in the world.  He trained boxing greats, Tommy Hearns, Lennox Lewis, Michale Morer and 39 other boxing Champions. He started the Kronx boxing gym that was the mecca of boxing in the ‘80’s.  Emmanuel and Leon were the only two people of color in the neighborhood that I can remember at that time.

It was in this neighborhood that I ran the streets from dawn to dusk. It was here I rode my bike for miles everyday to keep up with the other neighborhood kids whose parents also gave them free reign of the community. It was in this neighborhood where I have my most vivid memories of childhood. They are memories crafted from filling up days with imagination, sports, fire crackers, fence jumping, and the energy of youth combined with growing testosterone.

One sunny afternoon on one of those bike rides, the group of kids from my street all decided to go over to Leon Spink’s home hoping to get a glimpse of the champ. His house sat on Outer Drive on a corner lot. The backyard faced a side-street and as we rolled slowly down the side street there was the champ walking in his fenced in back yard. He looked up and smiled at us with his toothless smile and we felt like we touched Zeus.  At Leon’s side stood a very stern looking gentleman who seemed to sweat muscles as he stood still and silent.  Around his neck he wore one piece of jewelry: Leon’s Olympic gold medal. The placement of this medal was safer than any bank or vault.  The quiet bodyguard had a shaved head in a time when Afros were still prominent.  His smooth shiny head increased his scary-factor by 10 and he gained more of our attention than the champ because he was terrifying.  We cut our visit short and rode away promising the champ we would be good kids at his encouragement.  We all rode away occasionally looking back at this unusual bodyguard hoping he didn’t give chase.

Several years later the strong quiet bodyguard would go through a transformation. His hair cut would change and the Olympic gold medal was replaced with a pirate’s locker of gold chains. We would find out that he had a name, his name was Lawrence Tureaud and he would show up alongside Sylvester Stallone in Rocky III, and join forces with George Peppard on the TV series The A Team.  By then he was better known as Mr. T.  After meeting him several years before we all pitied the fool who would even think about messing with him.

mr.t-leon-spinks-bodyguard-1970s-photo-GC
Mr. T & Leon Spinks

Life in the new upscale neighborhood painted my summers with fond memories like this one. It seemed the world turned slower during those times and it was all purchased with my parent’s White Privilege. I was a beneficiary of my parent’s membership in to this exclusive club and this club gave us access to things my Black friends were denied. I had Black friends who had one, if not two parents, who worked in the local auto plants; this was back when the auto plants were paying crazy money to their employees, yet my Black friends weren’t living in neighborhoods like this one.  Their families were making much more money than our family yet my friends weren’t given the opportunity to see neighborhoods like where we resided. Real estate agents simply didn’t take them to certain neighborhoods because of their skin color. The only people of color who could gain access to this type of neighborhood were professional athletes and boxing trainers.  My friends were denied the freedom to live where they wanted and through my parent’s White privilege I gained access to this storybook neighborhood.

The color of my skin initially made the move difficult and I would be lying if I said race was never an issue. It was! Part of the beauty of being an adolescent boy is the inability to see outside yourself.  I was so consumed with myself that I didn’t notice the racism that swirled around me. I was also not trained in spotting it. It was like an invisible vapor that was there but I didn’t have the trained eyes to see it. I often see the same inability in my children. I see racism and it subtleties easily now and my boys walk through it never noticing the vapor enveloping them. Maybe, the shadows cast by childhood innocence make it harder to see. But it is still there even if you don’t recognize it. My ignorance to it made it tolerable and I often dismissed the slights and disrespect towards me as the only child of color as something I did to cause this treatment. So the issue of racism which is a much bigger issue than me was interpreted by me as a “me” issue.

After about 5 years in this neighborhood, the bishop that my dad worked for decided to step down and the one that replaced him wasn’t a fan of our family.   The new Bishop didn’t like our family because I was in it and he didn’t approve of our multicultural family.  My father was soon out of a job. Being the patriarch of a multicultural family meant the Carte Blanche membership in to the club of White Privilege would have to be cashed in and redeemed for a more limiting membership. As my Dad looked for a new church to pastor, the subject of our family would come up and once the churches found out I was apart of the family they denied my father access to job after job. White Privilege was sacrificed as the result of us being a multicultural family.

It is interesting to me to see how my family’s White Privilege was affected by the decision my parents made to become a multicultural family. I benefited from it in some ways and my parents would have to give up some of it in some ways. It became this hybrid White Privilege that was still present but diluted in some ways. The White Privilege got us a house in a nice neighborhood, but it wasn’t strong enough to get my father a job. My father couldn’t get a job because he was seen as beige when those doing the hiring wanted undiluted White.

This is a side effect that most people don’t realize comes with transracial adoption. Many transracial parents also don’t realize that their children of color will benefit from the family’s White Privilege and that benefit may cause slight by the community of color.

Many times while growing up I was seen by people of color as an Oreo, Black on the outside and White on the inside. They saw I lived with White people in a White neighborhood and saw me as beige or diluted Black. So I struggled with this identity that ebbed and flowed. On one hand I was proud of the home and neighborhood I went home to and on the other I didn’t want some to know because it would only add fuel to their “You aren’t really Black” argument. My full access to the Black community was often limited as well.

One of the biggest struggles transracial families experience is trying to find where your multicultural family fits. With this struggle comes the frustrating and inconsistent reaction from those around you and how they react to your multicultural family. The realization that the simple presence of your multicultural family will cause people to react can be hard for some. It may mean circles you were once a part of are no longer welcoming but it also may mean other circles are now open to you. It means committing to finding that balance while being aware of the give and take that comes with transracial adoption.  It is all part of the push and pull that most agencies don’t tell you about. Stay committed, push when you have to, pull when you must and find that balance because in that balance it where your family will thrive.

This was posted on Kevin’s blog: My Mind on Paper: The Inspired Writing of Kevin D. Hofmann

on January 28, 2015. LINK

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