In his second inaugural speech, President Obama linked “Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall”—the birthplaces of the women’s, Black, and LGBT equality movements—and reminded us of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words that (as Obama paraphrased) “our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.” A new book about two lesbian moms and their children reminds us that LGBT equality is indeed bound to the need for racial justice.
American Family: Things Racial, by partners Stacy Cusulos and Barbara Waugh, is a wrenching, must-read memoir of the two White women’s adoption and raising of their Black daughter and son from infancy to adulthood. More than a family portrait, however, the book is also a hard look at the very personal effects of systemic racism and homophobia in our country today.
Cusulos is a minister and diversity trainer; Waugh a now-former executive at Hewlett-Packard. Before adopting their children, they had never realized their many privileges would not protect their family from the racism still deep in our society.
Their young son is labeled uncontrollable for exhibiting behaviors that are tolerated in his White peers. The moms later find themselves fighting school officials and the police to defend him against specious charges. They struggle to give him self-confidence along with the skills he will need to survive in a society that automatically treats Black men with suspicion. They must also work to keep their daughter safe as she faces assumptions and expectations based on her race and gender, and to support her when tragedy strikes.
Cusulos and Waugh share the difficulties—and joys—they encounter while learning to navigate among the White community, the Black community, and the White ethnic communities of their own families of origin. They show us their family, warts and all, not afraid to point out their own errors and prejudices or their children’s social and emotional struggles. (They wrote the book with their now-grown children’s permission.) Their point is not their own shortcomings, however, but rather the ongoing effects of racism on families today.
Despite the infuriating and tragic situations their family endures, their story is ultimately one of hope. The parents find unexpected allies both Black and White, gay and straight. They find strength in their children and each other.
Nevertheless, they leave us with the knowledge that there is more work to be done. At the end, they make suggestions for how people can support other “families under siege” from bias. They offer suggestions for how to begin to talk about racism. (Further resources are on their Web site, thingsracial.com.)
Part of their motivation to publish the book was a quote from Attorney General Eric Holder, who said that average Americans “simply do not talk enough with each other about race.” American Family: Things Racial is their attempt, personal and poignant, to start a conversation.
Waugh and Cusulos have self-published their book, but it is far above the quality often seen in self-published works. They deserve a publisher who can help bring this timely and important book to a larger audience.
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