I spent the first five years of my life in a foster home run by a white couple in affluent Chino Hills, California. I lived in a large, luxurious house and attended a prestigious, predominately white elementary school. I recall learning about shapes and colours, and enjoying playtime with my friends. I was oblivious to the fact that I was a different race than my foster family and classmates.
At 5, I was adopted by a Black single mother in Carson, a city in the South Bay region of Los Angeles. She was an older woman who had dedicated her life to raising foster children of colour, after being raised by her grandmother, a former slave. After the move, I was enrolled in a now-defunct elementary school in Compton. The lessons I learned in class were starkly different from those I learned in Chino Hills.
During and in the aftermath of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, my new classmates and I passed a number of burned storefronts on our way to school each morning. My teacher tried to explain the chaos we witnessed. She told us that a Black man, Rodney King, had been brutally beaten by police officers and that none of the officers went to prison.
When we did not understand why the Rodney King case led to some of our favourite stores being burned down, my teacher paused for a moment. After a thoughtful silence, she said that Black people have always been treated unfairly in this country due to the colour of our skin. Our community was angry, tired and hopeless. Some people in the community expressed their frustrations by rioting because it seemed that Black people would always be treated as second-class citizens who did not belong and did not deserve justice.
The lesson that day was a tough pill to swallow. Prior to my adoption, no one told me I was Black or that I could be subject to disparate treatment. It was jarring to learn that because of the colour of my skin ― something I could not control ― the world would perceive me as a threat, inferior and...