Kevin was born in Detroit in August 1967 two weeks after the riots that changed that city forever. It was out of these amazing circumstances his life began. It is out of these experiences he tells his story; a story of struggle and joy, pain and passion, and most of all hope. You can learn more about Kevin and his work, or invite him to your school or organization at kevinhofmann.com
Your Challenge Invitation from Kevin
You can find all Kevin’s contact links at kevinhofmann.com
You can connect with Damianne on the Changes BIG and small website, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube. You’re also invited to join the Changes BIG and small Facebook community.
If we see the world from different angles, whose view is correct? – Kevin HofmannTweet
Timeline of the Chat
00:00 – Intro
00:18 – Kevin’s Biography
01:10 – Kevin talks about his childhood beginnings
03:16 – How Kevin learned his origin story
03:45 – Developing personal identity
06:24 – The Biggest Challenge
09:04 – Finding people you can relate to
09:52 – Learning from Challenging Times
10:55 – The talk of Black parents
12:27 – Comparing the civil rights movement and current protests
15:15 – How George Floyd’s murder highlights the need for change
18:59 – What does diversity look like and why we need more of it
22:27 – Having conversations about race in a muliracial family
24:59 – Kevin’s speaking and teaching work
29:22 – Difficult conversations about racism and race
31:07 – Recommended resources to learn more about issues of race, equality and justice
32:35 -Raising two sons
36:16 – Call to Action from Kevin
37:37 – An invitation to educate yourself about the issues
42:27 – Outro
Instead of protect and serve how about we become linked to these communities and we all work to make the communities better? – Kevin HofmannTweet
- White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo
- So You Want To Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo
- Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations About Race, Beverly Daniel Tatum
- Growing Up Black in White, Kevin Hofmann
- Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man, Emmanuel Acho
- Jane Elliot
- Tim Wise
- Kimberly Jones
If you don’t see color, I must be invisible. – Kevin HofmannTweet
Transcript of the Episode
Kevin’s Biography [00:18]
Damianne:[00:19] Today I have a special guest, Kevin Hoffman. By the time he turned two years old, Kevin had survived an abortion, been given away by his mother, adopted by a family of another race and woke up to a burning cross in his front yard.
Kevin was born in Detroit in August, 1967, two weeks after the riots that changed that city forever. It was one of those amazing circumstances in which his life began.
It is out of those experiences that he tells his story, the story of struggle and joy, pain and passion and most of all, hope. You can learn about Kevin and his work or invite him to your school or organization at kevinhoffman.com.
Kevin: [01:08] Thanks. Thanks for having me.
Kevin talks about his childhood beginnings [01:10]
Damianne: [01:10] Thanks for chatting with me today. So you were born in Detroit and now you live in Toledo
Kevin: [01:17] Yeah.
Damianne: [01:18] You were adopted when you were two years old. Tell us about the family you grew up with or in.
Kevin: [01:24] Yeah. So I was adopted at three months old, actually…
I was adopted by White family, White minister, his wife and they have three biological children. So I’m the youngest of the four in that family, and yeah, I’m the darkest in the family as well.
Damianne: [01:44] And you can see a photo of Kevin and his family on his website. What was special and what was difficult about growing up in such a diverse family?
Kevin: [01:55] I think what was special was that it was just so unique. So I am what’s called a transracial adoptee. So I’m a child of color adopted by a white family; that’s pretty much how a transracial adoption works in this country.
And so, yeah, I was adopted by this white family. We stuck out everywhere we went. People were always wondering how we all fit together. And so that was always kind of a challenge.
People would always come up and then and ask you some really personal questions because they couldn’t figure out your family.
I grew up in a black city with a white family. I’m biracial. My biological mother is white; biological father is black. They had an affair and I was the result of it, their affair. And then for obvious reasons, my white mother’s husband, white husband, you know, forced her to put me up for adoption.
Damianne:[02:50] When did you become aware of all of this background. At what age?
Kevin: [02:54] Well, I always knew I was different cause I could just see that my skin didn’t match my parents or my brothers and sister. And so I always knew I wasn’t biologically theirs. That’s good and bad.
So I always knew I was adopted. I guess that’s the advantage for being a transracial adoptee. Your skin colors don’t match so you know that you’re adopted
How Kevin learned his origin story [03:16]
Damianne: [03:16] What about the rest of it?
Kevin: [03:18] Yeah, the rest of the story I didn’t know until I wrote the book 10 years ago.
Damianne: [03:24] So you went digging and you found out.
Kevin: [03:27] Yeah, I went and interviewed my parents and asked all these questions and found out about the cross burning and you know, my father being blacklisted from the church cause he had adopted me; friends disappeared cause they had adopted me.
I mean they went through a lot just to bring this child into their home.
Developing personal identity [03:45]
Damianne: [03:45] And so growing up into your teenage years, your adult years, how did you develop your sense of identity? How did your family help you embrace your identity as a transracial person, as a black person in the world?
Kevin: [04:02] I was very fortunate. So when I was brought to their home, when I was three months old, they lived in a white suburb of Detroit. That’s where the cross was burned on our front yard when I was about 11 months old.
After about three years of living in that neighborhood, I think my parents came to the conclusion that that neighborhood was going to change us before we changed it.
And so we moved and my parents, my father accepted a call to a church in Detroit where the parsonage of the home that we lived in was in a Black neighborhood. So ever since I can remember, I always had black friends.
I had Black friends in that black neighborhood. My father gets a promotion when I was eight and we moved two miles away, but now into a white neighborhood but the schools that I’m going to are like 95, 98% Black.
So I was always around kids that looked like me, and that was life changing because I wanted to be like them; they became my superheroes. A lot of transracial adoptees, when they’re in all white environments, grow up secretly wishing they weren’t black. And I never had that experience.
I had black friends that I looked up to. I was fortunate when I moved into that black neighborhood, there was a guy there, Derek, who was about five years older than me, black guy. He took me under his wing. He protected me. I think he went to all the other Black kids in the neighborhood and said hands off this kid.
So my White brothers, they were picked on, but I never was. It’s because Derek kind of took me under his wing. And because of that, I wanted to grow up and be just like him. And I just felt a sense of home with the Black community.
Damianne: [05:50] What do you think Derek saw in you that got him to take you under his wing? Did you ever discuss it?
Kevin: [05:58] I think he was just this compassionate kid who thought, you know, this black kid growing up in this white house, I could see how the other kids might want to pick on him and so I’m going to make sure that, you know, he protected me.
I call him the Don of the neighborhood. He controlled the neighborhood so what he said went. I was just so fortunate that, you know, he, he took a liking to me and picked me.
The Biggest Challenge [06:24]
Damianne: [06:24] Regardless of your upbringing, the fact that you were biracial transracial, Black, what would you say was the biggest challenge that you have encountered in your life, or the most life changing challenge, not necessarily biggest.
Kevin: [06:40] It was probably growing, so I grew up in Detroit. Again, the schools that I went to 95, 98% black, graduated from high school and made a decision that I didn’t understand.
I chose to go to college at this small Presbyterian, private college in the middle of Michigan in the middle of corn fields. And going from Detroit where I saw Black people every day to going up to this college was in the middle of nowhere, where the student body was about 1100 students and only 13 of us were black.
That was the biggest challenge for me because I didn’t understand that the world wasn’t like Detroit. I just assumed at 18 that I would always run into people that look like me. And so for four years in college, that was a real struggle.
And I, for the first time in my life, totally understood what oppression was, because I didn’t have a voice on that campus. And those kids could say and do whatever they wanted because nobody was checking them on it.
Often the college didn’t know what to do with us and so yeah that was, I look at that time as just a four year prison term.
Damianne: [07:50] Yeah, I wouldn’t necessarily put it in such stark terms but I moved from St. Lucia in the Caribbean, where people looked like me to a small town outside of Ottawa where I was the only black student in my high school for years. So I understand a bit of what you’re talking about.
Kevin: [08:10] Yeah, exactly. People don’t understand the weight that one has to carry being the only one in an environment like that. And like I said on that college campus, I just did not have a voice.
Quite honestly, I look again, 1100 students, 13 of us were black and the college wasn’t going to close if all 13 of us left; they didn’t need us. And so, yeah, they didn’t really spend a lot of time with us in trying to help us kind of navigate things in that environment.
Damianne: [08:43] One thing that really helped me back then was that there happened to be a Black woman who was a teacher at my school. And even though she never taught me, that was incredibly helpful to me.
You describe your four years as having been as a prison term. Was there anything that helped you through that time?
Finding people you can relate to [09:04]
Kevin: [09:04] Yeah, so I was fortunate the first week I was on campus. And if you’ve ever been in an environment where you’re the only one, you are starved for people that look like you. And so I remember walking across campus and seeing this small black kid. And again, I just needed that companionship.
And so we struck up a friendship. He was from Brooklyn, New York, I was from Detroit, two of the toughest, blackest cities in the country. And quite honestly, we passed the time we became roommates and we just locked ourselves up in our room.
We’d just sit there and talk about this crazy experience we were having and the crazy White students that we were having this experience with. So yes, he got me through that; there’s no doubt about that.
Learning from Challenging Times [09:52]
Damianne: [09:52] What has stayed with you from that time? What did you learn that you carry forth with you? Is there anything?
Kevin:[09:59] Again, people don’t understand the weight that someone has to carry being the only one. There were things that I needed to learn about our society that I learned in college. And it was kind of that inequality that, you know, there’s going to be places where you’re going to be so outnumbered that your voice won’t matter.
And that actually prepared me for the work world, where I was going to go into a world that was predominantly white and I was going to have to figure out how to navigate that. And unfortunately, as people of color, that becomes our responsibility.
Especially with all that’s going on today, the majority just doesn’t understand that, the weight that we carry with things like George Floyd and people being killed that look like us and then we got to go to work and act like nothing happened cause we don’t really get space to talk about or express that at work. College prepared me for that, which I guess was a good thing.
The talk of Black parents [10:55]
Damianne: [10:55] Yeah, we hear a lot of Black parents talk about having to have the talk with their children. I wonder, what does that look like when you grew up in a white family? Did somebody identify that they need to have the talk with you?
Kevin: [11:06] You don’t have the talk, that’s what it looks like. It’s just nothing. And so, you know, I was really fortunate that I grew up so close to the Black community so that I got that to learn things through my Black friends.
I talk to some of those friends still today, and they’ll tell you, man, some of your thoughts and beliefs about certain things was kind of weird.
And so when they would talk about the police and say that those interactions could potentially be deadly, I didn’t have that same viewpoint. But my friends, they were having that talk with their parents.
I had a good friend; his mom was actually Detroit police officer and she had that talk with him. She warned him about her fellow coworkers.
Damianne:[11:51] Yeah. I was interviewing a woman from Czech Republic a couple of episodes ago in episode 38 and she was talking about how Black people who grow up often biracial people who grew up in Czech Republic, who were born in Czech Republic, raised here, it’s only now that some of them are beginning to understand some of the issues that exist and it was brought to the forefront because of George Floyd and worldwide protests.
She was saying how much, sometimes you take things on because you don’t know any better or because you don’t even know that another perspective exists, which is some of what I’m hearing you say as well.
Comparing the civil rights movement and current protests [12:27]
So you were born in August, 1967, and that was a hot time. And now we’re in 2020. And look at what’s going on all around us right now. We’re still having this fight for justice. We’re still in the fight for racial equality and you have a big interest in bridging those divides. Tell us about your response to this time and about your work. Kevin:[12:51] It’s good and bad. So the bad is 53 years later, I mean, I was literally born into a time like now, and it’s so frustrating that you can take news clips from 67 and exchange them to today and there’s not a whole lot of difference. You know, they’ve replaced fire hoses and German shepherds with rubber bullets and tear gas.
And it’s interesting that all the attention that’s been on police brutality, almost daily at these protests we’re getting police officers who can’t figure that out. Like I’m thinking this is such a big issue, why are you going at people like that? And so that whole system needs to be rebuilt. it’s a broken, flawed system.
It’s frustrating that we’re still dealing with those same things. You can pull quotes from the late sixties that are right in line with what’s going on today. A lot of Martin Luther King’s quotes, you know, the riots are the voice of the unheard, he was saying that back in the mid sixties.
So that’s the frustrating thing is we’re still dealing with the same things and we’ve been dealing with them since the sixties and before. It’s just frustrating that it doesn’t seem like anybody was listening.
And a lot of people will say it’s just gotten out of control lately and it hasn’t. The same things that worked in the sixties are working today. One of the reasons why so much attention was put on the late sixties was TV.
TV brought it into everyone’s homes. You were seeing nightly images of police dogs ripping at black flesh or fire hoses being turned on black people. And it was that attention that caused enough people to say this isn’t right.
And we’re seeing the advent of that very similar with the cell phone. The cell phone has brought this into everybody’s living room.
And so it’s not as if it’s blowing up. It’s never gone away. We’ve been talking about it for decades, but I think we’re now at the point; we’ve never been at a point like this in my life where finally it’s gotten to be so horrible.
How George Floyd’s murder highlights the need for change [15:15]
What they did to George Floyd was so horrible, so heartless that it’s caused a lot of people to sit up and pay attention and start listening.
Damianne:[15:24] I haven’t watched the video. I started watching it and I did not make it all the way through.
Kevin: [15:28] Yeah it’s hard. Neither have I.
Damianne: [15:30] What people talk about is just when you watch the expression of the officer as he’s kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, and you see the lack of humanity there.
Kevin: [15:41] Yeah. And, and three or four people standing around him and they’re just…
Damianne: [15:46] And just so confident and comfortable. Yeah, it’s amazing.
Kevin: [15:51] Yeah, just casually watching this guy die. And so you get the pushback now not all cops are bad. One we’ve never said that and 2 we don’t have enough good cops speaking up. You want to be a good cop, then when you’re in that incident, you pull your partner off of someone.
Damianne: [16:12] Right. And does the system actually allow this?
Kevin: [16:16] It doesn’t, it doesn’t.
Damianne: [16:19] The issue is about the whole system; it’s not individuals, right?
Kevin: [16:22] Yeah, it is. If you’ve seen that video of the older gentleman that is, that approaches the group of police officers walking through one of these protests and the guy pushes the older gentlemen down, he hits his head and starts bleeding from his back of his head and his ear. And the guy that pushed him down loses himself for a second and goes to help the old man, and then two or three of his fellow police officers grab him and make sure that he doesn’t help the guy.
That’s what you’re dealing with.
Damianne: [16:57] And so the whole challenge is how to find a bridge between that. And I think that’s why people are saying defund the police because we need to radically change the systems.
Kevin: [17:08] And then unfortunately what happens is when everyone hears defund the police, a lot of people think so you’re going to do away with the police departments. It’ll be like the Wild West out here.
That’s not what defund the police means. And actually if you do it correctly, it would it would benefit the police because what happened is we dumped all this money in police departments in the late eighties and nineties.
Their budgets blew up and so they took on all these responsibilities that were never theirs And so what everyone’s saying is how about we use social workers to handle some of this stuff. You all do less and we just funnel some of the money that we’ve been giving you to the social workers who are trained to do this kind of work.
When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail, right?
Exactly. That’s the other thing too. Someone was saying we’ve got to switch the training of police because the way they train it’s worst case scenario every time.
So it’s police stop today, but understand this guy may have a gun and he can kill you. If you keep training someone like that, you put it in their head, that everyone is out to kill them.
Damianne: [18:20] Yeah, it’s an adrenaline hit every time. And so what do you do when your adrenaline is high?
Kevin: [18:25] Instead of protect and serve, how about we become linked to these communities and we all work to make the communities better?
Damianne: [18:36] Yeah, that really connects me right to your quote. You say that diversity helps eliminate our blind spots.
I think that some people have a bit of a limited view of what diversity means. Because if we think about the example, if there are black cops on the force shouldn’t the problems be solved. If there are black programmers doesn’t that mean there’s no bias in our algorithms and in our computer system?
What does diversity look like and why we need more of it [18:59]
Could you describe for us the kind of diversity and what that looks like in terms of what you’re thinking.
Kevin: [19:07] Diversity isn’t in only different skin colors but it’s also diversity of thought. Companies get into trouble, I think Gucci was one of them that had that sweater that you pulled it up over your mouth and it was this big red, I mean it was just such a minstrel-like character.
It was a big red smile and people took exception to that and I thought that is a great example that they don’t have enough diversity in their ranks because someone should have caught that before that went to production. And I’m telling you if there was a person of color in that room, they would have seen that and caught it.
So what I usually say is if we see the world from different angles, whose view is correct. And that’s how diversity helps us see our blind spots you see things that this person may not see because of the experiences that you’ve had.
And so that only makes us stronger; it doesn’t make us weaker . And so in those boardrooms, if you have diversity, they’re catching things, putting their ideas in the room where right now you can tell that’s obviously not happening in a number of companies.
Damianne:[20:17] And as you talk, the way that I’m thinking about this, the extension that I’d like to make is that one, you need bodies in the room that are different with different thoughts, but then you also need that power be shared so that people are free to share those opinions.
So, maybe I will think how terrible that you would make a sweater that looks like that. I’m offended, but if I feel like I’m going to lose my job, if I feel like I’m not going to be invited back into the room, I’m a lot less likely to speak than if I’m respected, for my opinion.
Kevin: [20:52] You get along to go along and that’s a great point. You’re right. We do need to have more people in higher positions so you can speak freely. Definitely.
Damianne:[21:02] As a person who is biracial and transracial and the word transracial makes sense but I hadn’t ever thought about it before. How do you think about race?
Kevin: [21:10] So I identify as Black and so again I think so much is missed out because we don’t embrace this whole diversity thing. A good example is, so I grew up in Detroit listening to Black music stations but the interesting thing was there was always, you were always hit with white music.
So I can go down the list and I can tell you who Boy George is, Bowie, The Rolling Stones because that’s kind of the norm. So I have this rich music history of not only Black artists but White artists. and I always wonder so, what does the White community do with that?
I know they can name the most popular Black artists but there are artists that were amazing that we know in the Black community that just never crossed over. And I’m just like, man, you missed out on so much of Black culture and just what we had to offer because we’re not considered part of the norm.
I think that’s what diversity does is it opens you up to see so much. And I think that’s just a beautiful thing. I think the richness that comes with being Black and Black culture, I just wish everyone could share in that because I think it has so much to add.
Having conversations about race in a multiracial family [22:27]
Damianne:[22:27] I’m curious and maybe this is just to whet my own curiosity, but in terms of your family, so you have parents who are White and you have siblings that are White. What does the conversation look like? Have you ever talked about race? Does that come up? Does Black Lives Matter come up?
Kevin: [22:44] Yeah, so we didn’t talk about it growing up which was interesting. And it’s really interesting because my mom and dad in the early sixties were protesting inequality, unfair housing laws the whole nine. And they were literally out in the streets so they understood that there was this inequality that existed in society but it was just weird. We just never talk about that stuff at home.
Now we talk about it all the time. I just had to tell my sister the other day, you know, she’s flying these Black Lives Matter flags outside of her home and I’m just like just be careful cause that sends some people to a space that they can get really dangerous.
My sister and my mom they’re forever. I just did a two day training with the group that my mom’s involved in on race and racism. We have great conversations about it. They’re very sympathetic to what’s going on and they know that change has to happen.
Now I don’t talk to my brothers and that has to do with the family dynamics. I think they just feel that they were forced to grow up in a way they didn’t want to. And so our family is kind of splintered in a sense because of that. Now my mom and sister talk to them, but I don’t have much conversations with them. It was the cost, you know, for having such a unique family.
Damianne: [24:09] Yeah and I guess that can really go either way in families, right? It happens with biological children in different ways. We may talk all we want about race being a social construct, but it definitely adds elements of stress in some families.
Kevin: [24:24] Yeah, right.
Kevin’s speaking and teaching work [24:59]
You mentioned the work that you were doing with your mom’s organization, I believe, and you also do training for schools. Tell us about this work that you do.
Kevin: [25:10] It’s always been a passion of mine. I enjoy talking about race, the differences in race and just the whole race and racism. Quite honestly I think it is just this internal desire I have to kind of reconcile the races that I’m made up of.
And so I spent a lot of my time, you know, and I’m very passionate about trying to figure this out. How can we create a space where the kid with the Black Lives Matter t-shirt and the kid with the Make America Great Again hat can coexist. And that is the biggest challenge.
When I go into schools or organizations is we have people that believe two totally different things. How can we get them in the same environment and co-exist?
Damianne: [25:49] And we have those differences in all the spaces whether we think they’re there or not.
Kevin: [25:53] Yeah. So that’s been my big push is we just have to create a space where we can all operate in our own three feet. And so no matter what I believe or how I want to present today, that really has nothing to do with your three feet. And so it’s just an educational process where, you know, just because someone doesn’t believe the way you do, it doesn’t mean you have to get in their face and try to convince them to believe the way you do. Quite honestly, that’s never going to happen, especially when you’re talking extremes.
If you’re talking Black Lives Matter versus Make America Great Again, you’re never gonna convince someone so much that they come to your side. It’s just a waste of time.
And so that’s what I’m trying to get organizations and schools to see is yes, we can respect each other. We can believe what we choose to believe and that really has nothing to do with the person next to you.
And really don’t enter into these conversations about race or difference unless you’re in relationship with somebody. I can have a totally different conversation with my best friend, who’s this tall white guy because we’re in relationship so we can talk about race and it’s okay. But I wouldn’t do that with a coworker that I don’t know that well.
Damianne: [27:10] So what do you do in the interim? You were talking about the three feet and I’m not sure that I quite follow, but how do you help people respect each other, reconcile the fact that they have to be in the same space for whatever number of hours in a day.
Kevin: [27:23] And they do, but that doesn’t mean that I have to give up my three feet. I’m taking up my three feet, you’re three feet’s over there. You can vote how you want. That’s not going to affect my three feet.
The biggest confusion with race is that the majority becomes the norm. And so you assume, because your way is what you think and feel that everyone thinks and feels that way. And they don’t so that when someone like a person color says let me share my experience, often we get dismissed as seeing it wrong. No you got that wrong, no you’re too sensitive, no it couldn’t have happened that way.
No. When people of color have been trained pretty much since they were born how to spot that …
Damianne: [28:11] It’s a survival skill.
Kevin: [28:13] Yeah, it is, it is, it literally is because in your head then you go, and I was talking to my Black friends about this, we can go through school and one by one, we can name the teachers that were the safe harbor, who we could go to and feel comfortable around.
And that’s very important if you’re feeling threatened, where is the safe spot to go to if this thing goes down? So yes it’s important that we are allowed to share our experiences and pretty much that’s it. I don’t want to debate.
I tell schools this all the time that if you know this child is hurt and they feel it’s racially motivated and they go home or their parents feel it’s racially motivated, if they come to you and complain, the worst response you can give is no, you got that wrong, no, no way would my teacher say that.
And so there’s a great book out there called White Fragility which talks about impact and not the intention. So oftentimes you go what you just said really hurt me and their response is but I didn’t intend to, and that doesn’t even matter.
Difficult conversations about racism and race [29:22]
Damianne: [29:22] I have had a lot of conversations about race, but not with as many White people as Black people. And so in this time, in some conversations, some people have expressed concern that they or their family members or somebody they know might be a racist. There are people that are really struggling with that.
I did go and read some aspects of White Fragility. I think it’s a book written for White people by a White person. And I think that’s a great audience. I have a lot of other books that I’m reading. What was really valuable for me was her descriptions and reading some of the language because when somebody who’s white comes and talks to me about race or brings up the issue and often in a very apologetic way, I don’t know what to say.
My default is to want to help people feel better. So learning some of the language around it can still be racist even though it’s not at an individual, even though it’s not intentional, even though it’s not conscious, which are the three main points that Robin DiAngelo brings up in her book.
Even if those three things don’t exist, it could still be a racist act or it could still be a racist structure. And to me that was so subtle but significant in terms of me thinking about, Oh, that’s the block for some people.
I used to be a teacher and so a lot of my friends are also starting to think about how do we having these conversations with our students? What kind of social skills, what kind of emotional skills can we help them develop so that they can go through this time, I don’t know if unscathed is the right word. Maybe we do want some of them to be a bit scathed but stronger perhaps.
Recommendations to learn more about issues of race, equality and justice [31:07]
So in terms of the resources that you’ve accessed or what you know about, are there any books or other resources that you could recommend
Kevin: [31:19] Yeah. Actually the book I like better than White Fragility they make the same points, but I just liked the way she presents it better. It’s called So You Want to Talk About Race? I think that is a good book. White Fragility, just the name alone turns a lot of White people off.
I always say this, but I wish they would have just named that something different. Those are two good books. Probably the book that I refer to the most, especially dealing with schools is uh. She was the president of Spelman University in Atlanta and she wrote a book called Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And it does a great job with talking about how children of color gain their racial identity and the developmental steps that they go through to get there, which just spoke so much to me because I was going through things with my Black friends and we all had no idea what we were doing or why we were responding to things theway we were.
And she points out that what we were doing was how children of color try and figure out who they are. So that’s a great book to kind of get people, to see developmentally where kids are. Those are three off the top of my head.
Raising two sons [32:35]
Damianne: [32:35] So you have two sons. How old are they?
Kevin: [32:37] 23 and 19
Damianne: [32:39] Okay so you’ve done some parenting over the years. What did you try to do the same or differently from the way that you were raised in bringing up your own children?
Kevin: [32:53] The biggest thing we did was we talked about race. From the time they were born, my wife and I, who’s black, we have conversations about that every day.
And so they grew up knowing that this was a safe place to talk about race. They grew up knowing that if something happened, it was a safe place for them to come and share that and they would. And quite honestly, they were called the N word more than I ever was growing up. That’s the other myth that we voted in a Black president, we’re beyond all this. We are not.
Damianne:[33:23] The following president should have taught us all that, but …
Kevin: [33:26] Yeah, the following president was in response to the Black president. I think people got really offended. Someone on, yeah, I think it was Don Lemon on CNN called it a White backlash, which it was. It was their response to, okay, you put this person of color in the White House, now we’re going the other way.
Damianne: [33:45] So you’ve had conversations more about race, um, since the very beginning and that was intentional.
Kevin: [33:53] There’s a study out there that says that families of color are three times more likely to talk about race than White families. And when I do training I ask them why do you think that is? And the answer is you talk about what impacts you.
I don’t have the experience of raising a child with a handicap but if I did, I would see the world totally different. I would have to think about, okay, we’re going to this venue, is it easy to get around with my son’s wheelchair.
So you talk about what impacts you. So people of color were impacted by race on a daily basis so that’s what we talk about. In white households, they’re not as impacted by that so they don’t talk about it. And really change will come when that changes, because we have to get the majority to start talking about this and raising their children to be aware of some of the things that they may do or not do.
Damianne: [34:50] Some people are very proud to tell me that they don’t see race. And so we’re at the next chapter because we’ve transcended the idea of race in their mind. My response is if you don’t see race, then how can you acknowledge the experiences I’m going through because of my race.
Kevin: [35:09] And when you say that it’s s a lie. And so if you’re starting a conversation about race with a lie, I’m not getting too invested in that conversation because you’re not coming to it honestly. I cringe when people say that and we’ve never asked you not to see race.
Damianne:[35:28] In fact, I do want you to see all of me.
Kevin: [35:31] Yeah, exactly. So, yeah, there’s a shirt I made. It says exactly that. It says if you don’t see color, I must be invisible. And then on the back see me. That is such a big part of me and so you’re choosing not to see what I hold dear.
And that’s really hard not to take offense to that. That’s one of my main points when I do training is so don’t say that one, it’s not true; you do see color, you see race. And two, you’re assuming it’s a bad thing and I don’t see it as a bad thing.
Kevin wrote the book Growing Up Black in White, and that’s his memoir. That’s your memoir, so people can check out that book to know more about you and about your experience growing up.
Call to Action from Kevin [36:16]
Damianne: [36:16] Do you have a call to action for listeners.
Kevin: [36:19] Interesting. So, especially with all that’s going on, several White people have come up to me and asked how can we help. There’s a number of ways you can help. And what I put back on them is this. So pretend your best friend’s son was unjustly killed. How do you think you would help them? It’s the same thing.
Understand that as a community of color when we see one of our own being killed, we take that as if they are part of us, they’re part of our family. I need you to see that and understand that. And then the other thing I encourage them to do is if you truly believe that you’ve seen the inequalities in society and you want to help, then we ask that you join us in these protests or doing something to make a change.
If you’re really, really, really committed to change, it means that you’ve got to go back and do the research and vote in a way that’s going to create the change that we need. So you need to go back and research locally the candidates who support things like prison reform and are against the horrible way that we treat immigrants.
An invitation to educate yourself about the issues [37:37]
If you really want to help, that’s how. Vote in change. A lot of white people want to help but I tell them you’ve got to go back and research the history. You’ve got to go back. That’s not our job to educate you on those things.
We too were cheated out of that when we went through school and a lot of us had to go back and find those things either through family or on our own. So you’ve got to put the work in. It’s not my job to educate you. And then also understand that you may reach out to some people of color and ask for help and you may not get the response you want because it’s not our job to bring you through this.
There are days when yeah I have the energy to do that and help you along in this process but quite honestly, the two or three weeks after the George Floyd thing, I wasn’t saying to anybody because I was tired and just heartbroken.
You can help. We want you alongside of us. And I also understand that may mean as a white person you’re not out in the front. We may just ask you to march alongside of us in the protest, but that might not mean you get to get up and speak. That’s hard for some to take because some are used to being in charge.
Damianne: [38:46] Yeah, I think also one thing about this time, despite how stressful it is, how difficult it is, there are a lot of resources that are available, both educators, authors who have resources. This is their work actually. They’ve been doing this for years, not just now. And those resources are available and we have this wonderful invention called the internet where you can access this material.
One thing I’m trying to say to people is a lot of this material is free. But people have been doing this work unacknowledged, unpaid for years. And so if you can support if something has an option to pay but it’s also free, if you can afford it, pay for it. We all love free stuff but it’s especially important when black people are so often called to work and not get paid for it to pay for stuff when you can.
Kevin: [39:41] Exactly.
Damianne: [39:42] As we end our conversation today is there anything else you’d like listeners to know, anything else I haven’t asked you that’s on your heart.
Kevin: [39:50] No, like you said there’s great resources out there, Black and White. Jane Elliott is a force in the whole diversity talk. If you don’t know who she is, people should get to know who she is. She’s been doing this since the day after Martin Luther King was killed. She’s a force.
Tim Wise, White guy. Quite honestly, I was doing this work with my best friend who’s White and there were audiences and things that he could say to people that I couldn’t.
So that’s why I bring up White people because some White people just need to hear that from someone like them. And so Tim Wise and Jane Elliott are great. There’s a guy out there now doing a great series. I wish I had thought of it. He’s doing this video series; he’s an ex athlete.
And he does a series called Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man. And he goes through some of the arguments and questions that his White friends are asking him, what about black on black crime, which honestly has nothing to do with Black Lives Matter, police brutality, any of that but he does a nice job of answering that. Great presentation style. Very good to listen to.
Another woman out there who I compare to Sister Soldier who was big in the nineties. She was a rap artist, but an activist too. This woman, Kimberly Jones, does an amazing job of explaining things. Now her edges are a little rougher. I appreciate her because when she speaks, I hear her in my soul.
And it’s because she’s giving voice to what I feel. So anybody, if you’re going to watch anything Kimberly Jones just watch the six minutes and 40 some seconds where she talks about breaking the social contract. I can’t get through that without balling cause it’s just powerful the way she speaks.
Damianne: [41:38] And I have to say that really got to me and even knowing some of the history, there’s a lot that I can learn, that I will learn. Even knowing the history, it was like, wow, such an elegant and simple way, but such a truth.
Kevin: [41:57] Yes.
How to connect to Kevin [41:59]
Damianne: [41:59] Kevin, where can people connect with you?
Kevin: [42:06] My website, which is under my name, kevinhoffman.com. And You’ll see videos of me speaking, tee shirts that I talked about, the book, how to get in touch with me, the whole nine.
Damianne: All those links and everything else we talked about will be in the show notes so you can find them there.
[42:15] Thank you so much for chatting with me today.
Kevin: [42:22] Thank you.
There’s a study out there that says that families of color are three times more likely to talk about race than White families. You talk about what impacts you. – Kevin HofmannTweet
Watch Jane Elliott talking to Fallon about her famous blue eyes/brown eyes experiment:
Kimberly Jones on Black people and the social contract.
If you’ve ever been in an environment where you’re the only one, you are starved for people that look like you. – Kevin HofmannTweet
- Theme music by Rafael Krux. Inspiration on freepd.com. License: CC0
- Photos in this post provided by Interviewee. All Rights Reserved.