Nathan (l) and Mike (r) Daigneault at Alaska Public Media.
Nathan (l) and Mike (r) Daigneault at Alaska Public Media.

Nearly 16 years ago Mike Daigneault and his wife decided to adopt from the foster care system. They are white. The children they adopted are black. This is the story of Mike and his oldest son, Nathan. Part of their conversation contains a racial slur that may be objectionable to some listeners.

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Mike: There’s a little bit of apprehension, just in more feeling like whether or not we’d be accepted by the black community and recognizing that there’s a lot of pride and interest in keeping them within their culture. So there was a lot of concern for me just to feel like whether or not we’d measure up in their eyes.

Nathan: It never really occurred to me that I was a different race from my parents. Not until I was much older. Like once I got into like school. Like second grade. People would point it out to me. They’d be like ‘Why is your dad white and you’re black?’ And I didn’t really have a way to explain it back then. I was like, ‘I don’t know. That’s just the way it is.’ Everyone thought it was so weird.

M: They’d ask the ‘why’ questions, right? There’s be – and – he’s my son, it doesn’t matter what color he is, right? But they just recognized it as being different.

N: As I got older I started to feel more alienated just because it was this strange sort of — they didn’t associate me and my parents as part of the same family. It was that I was the black person and they were the white people. It makes you definitely feel different. Like not really in a bad or a good way. But it just points it out to you and you’ve gotta think, ‘I am not the same race as my parents.’

M: When these guys were early elementary age and walking through a mall, the place is packed. And the level of sense that you were the spectacle was so overwhelming. Actually to the point of hearing among just all the noise of the busyness of that place, younger adults, teenagers of that area that were actually making racial comments as we passed them. You know, like really degrading things, like spearchucker. All sorts of really, really hurtful things. To the point where, as a parent, all I wanted to do, like I had so much anger, to just… there’s this, I think about it later and just have sort of the shame of thinking about all I want to do is pummel these kids because they just needed to recognize the hurt that they were causing.

N: I’m becoming more proud of my race but it’s also hard because I don’t act like the stereotypical black person. Part of that may be because I was raised by white people, and I don’t take any shame in that. But it’s when people go, ‘Wow, you don’t really act like a black person.’ It makes me more conscious of the fact that I don’t. I may look like it, but I don’t act like it.

I spent a lot of time, like, listening to black people talk because I wanted to sound like them. This was back in like middle school. And sometimes I unconsciously talk like that when I meet a new black person. I don’t know why I do it. I think it’s a bit of a fear thing, but that’s something I do. Most of the time with white people I just get apprehensive, like are they going to think it’s weird? But with black people I change my attitude because I want to fit in a bit more, I think. But at the same time I’ve also sometimes wanted to be more white in other respects. Because you fit in more if you’re more white but you can be more part of your heritage when you’re more black. It’s a crossroads, really.

M: I want him to feel more confident in himself and who he is and that there’s value there. I’ve tried to sort of talk through the process of when you go somewhere, people are to make certain assumptions about who you are. And I could almost guarantee that the picture they’ll have in their mind will not be white parents in sheltered Anchorage, Alaska, and so there’s going to be somethings that you’re going to have to understand about how people are going to see you.

N: A lot of times you turn on the news you see, like, the stuff that happens to young black men. And the disconnect with me a lot of times forgetting that I am black. And the fact that it could happen to me and I could not even really be thinking about it. And if I’m walking down the street with my hands in my pockets and my hood up and someone says, ‘That’s a black person doing that.’ They don’t know that this is my dad. They’re expecting a completely different scenario, and the fact that I gotta be ready. No matter how much I’d like to live myself a certain way, there are things I have to prepare myself for in the real, kinda nasty world.

I think it’s really hard to prepare somebody for going out into that kind of world that doesn’t know itself what it thinks of race and is as uncertain as I about what it means to be a certain race. I think it’s really hard for any parent to fully, 100% make sure their kid is ready. And a lot of that is on me. And my ability to feel good about myself and who I am.

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After being told innumerable times that maybe she asked too many questions, Anne Hillman decided to pursue a career in journalism. She's reported from around Alaska since 2007 and briefly worked as a community radio journalism trainer in rural South Sudan. ahillman (at) alaskapublic (dot) org | 907.550.8447  |  About Anne