It’s NOT your Culture – An open letter to those who want to protect heritage at the expense of the children for whom that heritage exists

protectcultureWOW, that’s a headline! It’s been quite a week, possibly one of the most emotionally challenging to date and I suppose the straw that broke the camels back and inspired my writing this open letter to all those custodians of heritage who seek to protect their culture by enforcing it on would be adoptive families.




Dear ______,

On the surface you have chosen a noble cause. The idea of upholding all that is sacred, all the traditions and beliefs that have steered one’s family or group towards who they are today. Yourself and other custodians of culture and heritage will, I’m sure, be acting with the best of intentions when seeking to enforce that those beliefs continue down the blood line from generation to generation. I even agree with the idea of protecting the essence of who you are and who came before you for the benefit of those who will come after you. Especially in such a diverse country such as South Africa, so well done!

I hope you understand my heart in this and not simply shut yourself off to the idea that perhaps we need a rethink of our approach to culture/heritage when applying it strictly to Adoptive parents and families.

I have 2 son’s, one store-bought, one homegrown, one chocolate and the other vanilla, they are my inspiration! They are equally beautiful and fierce, solid and all over the place, funny and serious. The common bond they share was not formed at a cellular level, it was not forged out of DNA or blood. Their bond goes deeper and extends further than mere genes. They are eternally bonded as brothers, spiritually united in the Body of Christ and both are equally, in all aspects, living as my sons.

The one came into our home and our hearts through birth, the other through adoption. That last word is where my belief in upholding culture/heritage becomes a little challenged. You see, my youngest son may be a little browner than his brother, but because he has been adopted into our hearts and our home, his past, present and future has been re-grafted into my culture and heritage. He is a little black boy, full of wonder and awe, bubbling with energy and purpose, he carries the spiritual lineage of God and me.

Let me be honest, I am in complete disagreement that I should uphold the culture of his bloodline. Do I dislike it, do I disagree with it, honestly, I don’t know enough about his bloodline to hold any firm position. I do believe that in an attempt to pass something from his past onto him, you may water down the completeness and eternal nature of his adoption. You see, adoption is so powerful that it wipes the past away and creates a new past. This new past finds its routes in the culture and heritage of the family into whom he/she has been adopted.

I know in South Africa we want to uphold all that has passed and more than that celebrate the variety and richness of the different cultures but frankly when you take a little black boy, place him into a non-black family and expect that they teach, protect and perhaps instill their new child’s previous culture into him, as well as have him find his place in this new world, all on account of the colour of his skin, that seems a little unfair.

Black children are not born with the culture/heritage of their past tribal generations any more than white children are born with a racist gene. A child is a child, he/she is raised and groomed to take on the customs/beliefs or culture of the family/group within which he/she exists. Does that mean should my son want to explore the rich culture and heritage of the bloodline from which he comes, I will dig my heals in a declare his culture is mine and he should look no further? Absolutely not. In fact, if that day comes, I’ll be right their learning and experiencing with him. But please don’t enforce a belief or a label on him based on the colour of his skin, I’m pretty sure that has been tried before and with little success.

My son is my son, he is mine, he’s not Zulu, Sotho, Xhosa, Ndebele, Shangaan or Venda, he happens to have brown skin, but that’s all, underneath he’s just like his brother, except for the hair (I’ll give you that one, they are slightly different.)

Please, let’s embrace the completeness of adoption. The barriers to families welcoming in a son or daughter whose icing is different from their own are numerous without us lopping on another requirement. let’s embrace them as children, our children. Lets treat them as completely ours without conditions that their homegrown siblings need not worry about.


A loving Father of 2 boys, and God willing, soon, a little girl. Oh, and she’ll be my little girl, my angel. No other labels need apply.

Tell me what you think

4 thoughts on “It’s NOT your Culture – An open letter to those who want to protect heritage at the expense of the children for whom that heritage exists

  1. I found this opinion very refreshing as I constantly wrestle with the same issue regarding my little boy who is almost 5 years old. I feel guilty about my child’s inability to speak or understand Xhosa and constantly find myself assuring complete strangers that I will absolutely ensure that he knows all about his ‘culture & heritage’, whilst not really knowing how I’m going to do that or whether I really feel in my heart that it’s necessary. (My reassurances are purely motivated by some kind of guilt?) It seems a very South African thing that requires that, rather than simply loving a child and assimilating him into his new family, one has to also immerse him in another culture simply because it is that of someone who donated his genes. My mother was Irish but felt no pressure to ensure that I speak the language, know all the customs, history etc – that was up to me to explore or not when I grew up. Surely the same applies in the case of an adopted child? Thank you for this, I’m definitely going to rethink my attitude to this thorny question.


    • Thanks so much for your comment, isn’t it so difficult that people cannot simply allow adopted children and families to grapple with the difficulties inherant to that without looking at languages, culture etc. I think people can lack understanding at times. It is also sad that many times, the reason we want to protect our child’s “culture”, is not completely to benefit them, but rather to protect them from others’ who might feel they have a right to judge. All the best and thank you for making a difference.


  2. i only partly agree. I have three children who I am raising, and even if I wanted to raise them in their biological culture, I wouldn’t know where to start. But there are other simple things I think we as parents of children in a cross-racial adoption just can’t ignore, and that is the fact that when society sees our children, they assign an expected culture to them, based on the prevailing culture around them (for example, my son is of Zulu parentage, but we are in Xhosa country, and i’ve been told he needs to undergo Xhosa coming of age ceremonies! I’d rather help him celebrate his 21st when he grows up!) People greet my kids in their mother tongue, and then are unimpressed that my child doesn’t speak back in their language. Its the growing child who is going to feel the brunt of this, not belonging to the culture that is assumed to be his because of his skin colour, but also perhaps not quite fitting in to the culture of the race of the adoptive family. I’ve given my kids beautiful Zulu names, I’m hoping they will learn to speak Zulu, I have deliberately chosen to be part of a mostly non-white church, and I will send them to schools that are not mostly white. I want them to learn from others what it means and feels like, to be Black, because I can’t teach them that, and for now, society will treat them firstly as black, and probably never simply as my precious kids.


    • Thanks so much for your comment and hats off to you for having a desire to go the extra mile for your children. I suppose I am challenged in that even you say “they assign an expected culture to them” and some of your desire to share the biological roots of your children with them, is based on how society feels it has a right to essentially reverse engineer our children’s heritage ie: They are black and therefore must embrace their African heritage. As oppose to stopping at “they are black”. This is probably more unique to SA, but it doesn’t sit well with me that some groups would want to uphold their heritage on my child, merely because he has the same colour skin as them, but their concern for his well being and future extends no further than their opinions and desires being fulfilled. That being said, if it is your choice to embrace the culture of your child’s birth, awesome! I just don’t want people to impose something on these children when they have no vested interested in their future etc. Often, I think the reasoning behind protecting “heritage” is more about protecting our children from the judgement of others, than it is about opening up new experiences for our kids. Again, thank you for making a difference, all the best.


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