Zane Fisher-Paulson is a deputy sheriff in San Francisco and is raising his two sons with his husband, Brian. Zane and Brian are both white, and have a multiethic family- with their eldest (Zane Jr., 11) being black and their youngest (Aiden, 9) being of mixed race. Both children are adopted.
“Raising a black child has certainly awoken my awareness to race in America,” Fisher-Paulson says, who grew up in a “pretty insular white, Irish Catholic family.” Throughout the years, this awareness became evident during a variety of occasions. The parents often witness strangers suspiciously eyeing their children as they walk through stores, and have even had family members make derogatory comments. Fisher-Paulson remembers a specific time when a relative said “Oh my gosh, look how big his lips stick out.”
As of late, issues of race and policing have caused lots of tension throughout the US. The shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri especially struck a nerve at home with the Fisher-Paulson’s. It is impossible to shield their sons from the realities of being black in America. According to Zane, “I had to be honest with him in that, sometimes in the world, there are still people who will profile an 11-year-old boy simply based on his race.”
Hopefully, conversations like the ones that take place at this family’s dinner table can ease some fears that non-white children have regarding racism in America. When Fisher-Paulson looks at the situation in Ferguson, he sees a clear lack of understanding between the police force and the community. “A community does not protest if they feel like they’re being heard. … There was no true and meaningful dialogue with the community about [the shooting],” Fisher-Paulson says. “Rather than beginning a community dialogue, they began driving around in Humvees.”
Still, Fisher-Paulson admits that him and his family don’t live without fear. Zane Jr. is getting older and stronger and more aware of the injustices around him. Fisher-Paulson has already experienced moments where Zane has lashed out in anger, yelling in public that his “real father” is black. “When Zane is most fearful, Zane feels that he is the most different … he will always go to his place of fear when he feels he’s different,” Fisher-Paulson says.
However, at the end of the day, families like the Fisher-Paulson’s have to live in the hope that their sons can be leaders in a new generation of open minded individuals, where nobody is profiled for their race or ethnicity. Zane and Brian note that the key questions that worry them are the same ones that keep any parent of any race up at at night: “How can I keep my child protected when I’m not there to protect him?”
For more information about this story please click here
This story first aired as an interview on PRI’s The Takeaway, a public radio program that invites you to join the American conversation. Follow @TheTakeaway and use the hashtag #BeyondFerguson.