It is not hard to look out on the landscape of America today and see the consequences of latent racism. Despite all the progress of activists, community and religious leaders, and politicians, racism remains deeply ingrained and systemic in American society. Whether through our prison industrial complex, staggering rates of poverty within minority communities, employment discrimination, or the preponderance of — reported or not — police violence against our black and brown brothers and sisters, the pernicious reality of racism is the sin that we as Americans have to reckon with every single day. In my professional life, I’ve partnered with a great many social justice activists to combat racism. And though as a Jew and a rabbi I could (at times) feel the sting of bigotry sent my way, the larger issues of ingrained racism never hit me as it did for others.
Not long ago, my family began fostering a Hispanic baby, not even a year old; in addition to raising our biological children, my wife and I have been blessed to care for multiple foster children who have come in and out of our home in recent years. Our latest foster child as well as our first (who was a child of color) have gone through circumstances I could never imagine. And though they are new to this world, as I held them in my arms, I sensed something I could never with my own children. While racism was once before an abstract concept I could only witness on a second-hand basis, there is now an immediate reason for my feelings. Besides being vulnerable to the elements of chance and bureaucracy, these little souls are exposed to a world where they will be constantly judged by the color of their skin.
This latter thought bores through my soul. As challenging as the fostering process is at times, I love these children. I thought I was helping them, but have only recently realized they were also helping me. But how? Simply put, they were helping to uproot bits of unconscious racism that I was sure were not there.
Fostering children of color makes me more aware of my own unconscious racism and latent biases. Clearly, I wasn’t prioritizing the issue enough because it wasn’t close enough to home before, only in news reports and front pages, far away from my family.
I have dreams for my children’s futures, but these dreams are unique because they have white privilege. When we were raising a mixed-race child (though pronouncedly and phenotypically black), I was worried that one day he might experience discrimination or, God forbid, be killed. Now raising a Latino-American child, I worry about him being discriminated against as not being truly American or targeted because of heated anti-immigrant, anti-Latino rhetoric.
Their future fears are my current fears.
The immense and lingering effects of racism is now a concrete reality. As opposed to racism that goes on in some distant space, it now creeps around my immediate family. It is now personal. Any mistreatment of this child is mistreatment of our family. As I come to love these children more and more, I break through the unconscious barriers posed by them looking different from me. Perhaps to expand the moral consciousness of what it means to be an American in 2017, we need to encourage others to consider fostering children; every vulnerable child— especially those who have been abused and/or neglected—needs a home. But there is a secondary benefit: the dreams of these children become our dreams. And if we are to live in a world where biases — unconscious or active — are wiped away, it would serve us well to see the world through others’ eyes, and have the temerity to stand up and say “No more racism! No more hate!” Having the courage to confront these urges doesn’t weaken us. It makes us stronger, more aware, and more empathetic. And that is what these children — and society — need right now.