For The Root on Tuesday I interviewed three black adoptees who were raised by white parents. While all said they appreciated the love their parents gave them, they didn’t quite appreciate growing up without knowledge, culture and context around race in America.
Author and performer Chad Goller-Sojourner used to be afraid of black people, despite being a black person himself. “I used to cross the street when I saw multiples of them. Rap music scared me,” he said.
Raised by white parents in a mostly white community, Goller-Sojourner had an identity that was completely assimilated. “One of the interesting things from when I was younger is when you grow up with white parents, white neighborhood, white church, your default identity is a white kid. Blackness comes later,” he said, adding, “People always reminded me I was black.”
It wasn’t until he went off to college, to a town he described as whiter than his hometown, that he began the work of unpacking his “blackness.” He had to move away from his parents and the privilege of their whiteness to see the reality surrounding him.
“Regardless of how you got to the front of the line, no one wants to be sent to the back of the line, giving up things you’ve held so dear as white,” Goller-Sojourner said of letting go of his “whiteness.” “Sophomore year, I went to my first black house party … it was like, 12 people. I remember the police came and I thought, ‘Wait a second, over [at white parties], white kids are jumping off the roof, banisters, fire escapes.’ Air was different there. These police officers were looking at us the way I’d look at others before crossing the street.”
After that, he added “Sojourner” to his name, changed his major to African-American studies and launched himself headfirst into better understanding his cultural roots. “All that happened very quickly because I was making up for lost time,” he said.