Transracial Adoption– the act of placing a child of one racial or ethnic group with adoptive parents of another racial or ethnic group.
With any child comes responsibility. With any adoption comes a heightened level of responsibility in helping your child embrace their story of adoption. And yet an additional layer of gravity comes when your child is of a different race, ethnicity or culture than you were brought up in. This is a responsibility and also an honor. It is an honor to have a different race grafted into your family’s DNA. Humanity is woven together with different cultures, walks of life, and different vantage points. To have an additional layer of heritage, culture, and race imprinted in your family’s makeup creates a life that is richer, deeper, and fuller. To embrace a community, a way of life, and a culture that may differ than the one you were born into opens your eyes to a beauty which may not have been exposed without having a family member born from that community. That honor comes with a distinct obligation a parent must face square on to ensure a successful transracial adoption experience. Unfortunately this responsibility can be unintentionally neglected and has led to damaging effects on a child’s identity, understanding, and coping mechanisms which continue throughout their life.
The question is: How do White adoptive parents help their children of color thrive in a racialized society? The first step is that the parents have to have a cognitive understanding that we do in fact live in a racialized society. How a parent reacts to this understanding holds a significant impact on the identity of their transracial adoptee. It is also important to acknowledge your own pocket of racialized society you have fallen into.
I am a White upper middle class woman and that alone places me into a racialized pocket our society has formed. There are attributes of my personality and likes and dislikes that fall dead into this mold. I love Starbucks, Target, and yoga pants. I eat a lot of sushi and watch more HGTV than I care to profess. I go to church, and as embarrassed I am to admit, you can sometimes catch me saying the word “y’all.” I could easily fit the stereotype someone pegged me for based on my color. But there are many other interests and complexities that fall far outside of that subconscious mold I am placed in. I am also an adoption and foster care advocate. I am passionate for Black rights. I am fervent for Women pursuing higher education and I get easily bored in social settings where only White people are attending. These are things that don’t fit the mold which is placed on me daily based on racial appearances alone. We all play a role in this. We must understand that before we combat the issues our children will face. This level of self-awareness is crucial.
As parents, we must equip our kids and families. Research shows that preschoolers of color have already experienced racism and stereotypes. Preschoolers! Two weeks ago a White girl who was about 4 years old asked my daughter where her mommy was. I was standing about 3 feet away and my daughter pointed at me and said “right here.” The girl said, “No that is not her, where is your mommy?” My daughter then pointed at me again and said “Here she is!” and the girl once again said “No, that isn’t her.” Then the girl repeated the question a third time. My mouth dropped and my heart sunk. It was clear this little White girl was looking at our skin colors and making assumptions. This was not done out of malice, but as the scenario slowly unfolded a somber feeling overtook me. My heart sunk because these issues of race are coming up too soon and because I could see the confusion and frustration in the face of my 2 year old daughter. Events like this are inevitable. This puts an intense responsibility on transracial families to have uncomfortable conversations with their children far earlier in that child’s life than seems fair, yet these teaching moments and transparent dialogs will pay dividends if addressed accurately. The parents’ role needs to go far beyond this open dialog with their kids, but it is the foundation of where it begins.
We want to equip our children for what lies ahead, which means we will need to get in front of issues before our children come home with an experience that they don’t understand. No parent intends to set their children up for failure, but the reality is that many parents have. Adult transracial adoptees are speaking out and writing books about what went wrong as a result of their parents neglecting to address the issues of race.
Transracial adoptions can look many different ways; however the majority is White parents with a child of a different race. There can be an Indian couple raising two blond hair blue eyed girls; A Black man adopting a very light skinned Latina baby or many other combinations. In our family’s case, I am a white mom of a beautiful biracial girl (half white, half black to be precise). Below I want to leave you with some truths to consider. This is written from the angle of a White woman who is still in her journey of understanding her whiteness which is a part of the self-discovery racial process. This is also written from the angle of a White woman with a Black child, so please think past the specifics and look at the bigger picture. These truths can translate to any form of transracial adoption.
Fair warning, these truths are heavy and cannot be watered down. These truths are to equip transracial families so we can do better for our children. Use these facts to empower your parenting and to combat struggles that will occur.
- No one is color blind.
Research has found that an infant as young as six months can categorize race, yet so often adults feel uncomfortable when pointing out race to their children. Raceconsious.org states that “By using explicit language such as brown/peach or Black/White, we can become race-conscious. Color-blindness ignores the reality of racism. In contrast, race-consciousness acknowledges racism. This is an essential first step if our children are to challenge and change this reality.”
In the 80’s the term “color blind” became in vogue to express a love and respect among races. Using the term “color blind” ignores the history and experiences a person of color has in a system where white people have structural and institutional power. Ignoring color is ignoring the beauty and struggles that comes with being a person of color in this country.
Sure, let’s take a second to appreciate the haphazard, superficial sentiment behind this coined term. It was perceivably coined with good intention. Now, let’s throw it in the garbage where it belongs. The lasting effects of this term are counteractive.
To say that you do not notice that a person is Black, Latino, Asian, or White is as asinine as someone meeting a person who is 7 feet tall and not noticing they are tall. Yes a person is not fully defined by their skin color but it is an identifying feature. It is a good feature. To state a person’s race is not recognized perpetuates race inequality. My friend Benny Vasquez, the Co-Executive Director at Border Crossers stated it best: “Color-blindness is never a destination on the journey towards racial justice.”
- Know your History
I needed a brush up myself , and was reminded of specifics of our American history while attending a workshop called “Colors” taught by Carissa Woodwyk, who is a Korean born adult adoptee and licenced counselor.
Here is a Quick U.S. History Lesson
1619- First Enslaved People were brought to America
1787- Legalized Slavery/Discrimination (slaves given 3/5 person status)
1865- End of legal slavery (Emancipation Proclamation/13th Amendment)
1882- Chinese were Denied Citizenship
1896- “Separate but Equal” was made law (Plessy vs. Ferguson)
1954- “Separate but Equal” law was overturned (Brown vs. Board of Education)
1965- Civil Rights Act.
American History has 346 years of Legalized Slavery/Oppression, and only 52 Years of “Legalized Equality”!
And let’s not be fooled, the past 52 years of our country has not been equal. How could it be? The ripple effect of almost 350 years and 6 generations of blatant chains and oppression still has a strong grasp on this nation today. We have generations of deep rooted discrimination. How could that stop in just one generation or a couple of decades? This is heavy, but it is real. It will be real for your child too whether you acknowledge it or not. For your child’s sake and your family’s sake, acknowledge this.
- Your Love is Not Enough
You hold your child and you adore every piece of them. Your heart bursts over their hair, eyes, skin, and a nose, sweet little lips, and tiny hands. They are perfect. This child is just simply your child. You are their mom (or dad) and they are grafted into your heart just as much as a child from your womb would be. I get it. Trust me…… But that is not enough.
Your love is not enough for them to overcome racial issues and questions that come with the skin color they were born with. Your love will not be enough to overcome the stereotypes they will face every day at school, when they walk into a store or restaurant, and even what they will face from your friends and family members. If you are not taking intentional steps to acknowledge and equip your child and your family, your child will be coming home to white parents who don’t speak about these challenges, and certainly cannot relate. This can be isolating and cancerous to your family. Daily steps and a lifestyle of embracing their race (and all races) are now your job, duty, obligation and honor. And this goes beyond lip service. You MUST embrace this.
- Learn and Celebrate your Child’s culture, ethnicity and race in your daily life
Go to a Martin Luther King Parade. Celebrate Black History Month. Read stories of courageous and resilient men and women of color. Educate yourself and continue growing. Get yourself out of the bubble you may unknowingly be living in. And do this with joy and honor.
Be a part of a community that honors racial diversity. Buy your home in a diverse neighborhood. Go to a church where there is racial diversity. Have friends of all different races. These are things a person should be doing anyway, right?
Doing this goes beyond benefiting your child. I want my daughter to be in community with people of color on a daily basis, and I want that in my own life as well. I need that. I desire that. The importance of being involved in a diverse community has been intensely revealed since bringing home my daughter, but I now realize the life I want to live includes this richness of experiencing daily diversity.
- Be Sure Your Child Sees Positive Role Models within Their Race on a Regular Basis.
The key words here are “regular basis.” If your child sees only White people throughout the week, there is a problem. If you have chosen to bring your child home, and that child is a different race, it is your duty to get out of your culturally secluded bubble. If the child is a Black girl, she needs to see strong, smart and impactful Black women. She needs to see this displayed in a race that she can visualize herself in … her race.
This is often the number one issue adult children of transracial adoption note that their parents failed at. And these failures lead to identity confusion, hurt, and isolation as mentioned previously.
- Learn your Child’s hair, and By All Means, Take Them to a Proper Barber or Stylist
I look at pictures of my daughter’s hair a year ago and I cringe. I need to give myself a bit of grace because I was in the process of learning and I didn’t know what I didn’t know…but it showed.
If your child is not the same race as you, it is your job to learn their hair. You can Google, watch YouTube videos on styles and techniques, join Facebook forums, and find tutorials and hairstyles on Pinterest. It will be a learning process but there are so many resources easily available to you. I now have had multiple Black women stop me and tell me how great my daughter’s hair looks. Anytime this happens I typically have to fight back tears of joy and gratitude. It took a lot of work, learning, time, and intentional effort on my part to get to those compliments so it is rewarding hearing those compliments now.
And come on White Momma, typically you get your hair done by a hair stylist who has hair texture similar to yours right? Find a barber or stylist who understands your child’s hair porosity, texture and needs, who understands how often your child’s hair should be washed, and what type of conditioner and creams need to be used based on their specific hair type. This typically goes hand and hand with the stylist being a person of the same color as your child. This is also about getting into your child’s culture and not merging them into yours.
7. Attend Conferences, Read books, Join Groups on Transracial Adoptions
There are many resources to assist families: meetings, websites, groups etc. Become engaged and active in these groups. Below are a few ideas….
Conferences: https://cafo.org . The CAFO Summit inspires and equips Christians to care for orphans and children with wisdom-guided love. This includes workshops on race.
http://www.raceconscious.org – a resource to support adults who are trying to talk about race with young children. The goals of these conversations are to dismantle the color-blind framework and prepare young people to work toward racial justice.
http://multiracialmedia.com – Voice of the Multiracial Community. Education includes transracial adoption and raising a child of a different race.
http://www.bordercrossers.org/what-we-do/training-offerings/ – Border Crossers utilizes creative and interactive pedagogy to engage educators in explorations of race and racism with K-12 students.
- Take Your Guard Down and Listen to Advice from People of Your Child’s Race
The sweetest encouragement came from an African American woman who stopped me in the airport and said “good job mama” and pointed to my daughter’s hair. We then had a 5 minute conversation on other hair techniques I should try. This has happened multiple times and I savor these moments.
I grant you full permission to zone out when a White woman stops you in the supermarket because they want to bless you with advice because their sister’s, neighbor’s cousin has a biracial girl. Nod your head, be polite and think about what you are cooking for dinner that night. But when a person from your child’s race gives you advice, don’t dismiss them or let your pride get in the way.
The lesson is to listen, engage and learn from people of your child’s race and form a relationship which may even turn into a beautiful friendship.
- Read Books addressing Race to Your Child
Books are the perfect conversation starters and can open your child’s eyes to all races. Here are a few favorites.
- Race is a serious subject, but it doesn’t have to be accompanied with tension. There can be laughter in learning and laughter in experiences.
The issue of race can bleed into the discussion of inequality and that should be taken with gravity, but there are also times to laugh and celebrate even in the midst of tension. Obviously celebrate your child’s beautiful attributes that are different than yours. Differences are a good thing!
When someone says something to your child that is out of line, there are times to address it passionately and perhaps with a composed anger, yet there are other times to laugh at a person’s ignorance with your child and you can later discuss it with your child and then laugh again.
Below are some examples of real things which have been said to transracial adoptees.
Example #1: A girl looks at a Latina child and asks the mom, “What is she?” The Mother replies, “She is an amazing, kind, beautiful girl. Oh, and she is a human. Is that what you mean?”
Example #2: My child, who is African American, is playing with other kids who are white and a parent says to me “well it figures she can run fast”. My response: “yep, she takes after her daddy” (who happens to be a redhead with an Irish complexion)
Example #3: A Chinese girl gets straight A’s and another parent says “Well obviously she would get good grades. All Asians get good grades.” The mother’s response is “Or it could be the 3 hours a day she studies after her 3 hours of tennis tournaments. She works hard for those grades.”
The breakdown is that the Latina girl is simply a beautiful girl and as a parent you can use this persons question as a teaching moment and help break the cycle of someone trying to categorize another human. The Black toddler is a fast runner which has nothing to do with her being black, and the Chinese high schooler made straight A’s because she worked hard. These real life scenarios are not intentionally malicious, but they are ignorant and cause damage nonetheless. The term is called macroaggression. It is a real thing. Google it and I promise you will cringe because you will see example after example of things that are said every day. And you will cringe because some of the examples of macroaggression you read are things you actually think or say. I am guilty and am actively changing my thinking. There is also “harmless” banter like calling a beautiful Chinese child a “china doll,” a black child “brown sugar,” or a Latino child your “Latin lover”. Banter like these are actually very harmful, not “harmless” like most people think. These phrases place children in an oppressive box.
If the parents blow up any time someone says something ignorant, your child will feel like they will also need to be at this level of distress, and the teaching moment for the person saying these things would be lost due to the emotion. So there are times to have witty come backs. There are times to have controlled anger and tension, and there are times to laugh at someone’s ignorance. Let’s instill confidence and social intelligence in our kids all while addressing these issues head on.
The entire goal is to equip your child to embrace their beautiful features, and prepare them for obstacles they will face due to their race. The goal is for them to know that you are there for them, you are a safe zone they can share with, and that you are their advocate.
I want to leave you with one excerpt from Rochelle Lott’s writing for MultiRacialMedia.com.
“By not acknowledging the other side of my race, by not teaching me about black love, black art, black education, and black minds, I was swallowed up by society’s negative portrayal of black people. I saw less in being black. I tried to stay out of the sun in the summer, so as to not darken my already brown skin. I dated white boys. I listened to classic rock. I laughed and agreed when white guys who loved hip hop told me they were “blacker” than I was. I even allowed people to misidentify me as Puerto Rican or some other race…anything but black! And I made the most self-deprecating jokes about myself, from joking about not being allowed in a person’s house because I was black…to not being allowed to sit in the front of the car, or not being seen outside at night. I joked that I wasn’t THAT black because I didn’t “talk” black or “act” black. I fed into the preconceived notions that the only way to be black was to fit into stereotypical clichés. I had even experienced racism many times as a teenager, but because of the fear that came along with “pulling the race card,” convinced myself that I was just overreacting. All these actions I now see very clearly as self-hate, self-hate that was so incredibly sad and detrimental to my healthy growth from a child into an adult. I had been taught, or really, I had been influenced by no effort but society’s pressures, to hate a part of myself that I should have been taught to LOVE and to incorporate into my identity as a biracial person……..My mother has early onset Alzheimer’s disease and has been suffering from the effects since around 2014, she can no longer speak, and was not really able to discuss the racial journey I went on to get to this place where I feel a bit more at peace. But, if I could go back and give her some advice…I’d tell her that she should have surrounded me with positive influences from both sides of my culture. I should have had regular interactions with black and white children, adults, etc. I should have visited black history museums, black art shows, black cultural appreciation festivals, read books with black heroes and heroines. I should have seen what amazing things black people were capable of. I should have been kept as far away from a chemical straightener as possible, I should have been told my curls were unique and beautiful, and been taught how to maintain them! If I’d had the chance, I would’ve told my mother that it was her responsibility, having brought a biracial child into the world, to have learned about all the things I was going to need to navigate the world…she should have learned that I was going to be a target for both subtle and direct racism, and been able to teach me to combat it. I don’t know if that would’ve changed the struggles I went through, I don’t know if I’d have dealt with the same issues regardless, but maybe I wouldn’t have had to work so hard in learning who I was when I finally reached adulthood. Still, she loved me. I never questioned whether or not I was loved, but it wasn’t enough to protect me from the societal pressures that, to this day, support white supremacy as the default in literally every facet of life.”
We are limited. Everyone is! Most of us only grew up in the race we were born into and this gives us blind spots. I was blindsided by the subtle stereotypes and comments that came our way once we had a multiracial daughter. I felt more prepared to face blatant racism than I was the common macroaggression which I now see and hear so often. I am in my thirties and these subtle forms of racism have been taking place under my nose my whole life. I may have even partaken in them without realizing. We have to realize that the race we grew up in gives us eyes from that particular world view. As parents of a child from a different race/ethnicity/skin tone we must do what we can to bridge that gap of our limitation. It is our job. Take the first step.
“We can start talking about race even if we don’t have all the answers. We can start talking about race even if we are afraid we will say the wrong thing. It is inevitable that we will make mistakes—that’s a part of the process. But if we commit to collectively trying to talk about race with young children, we can lean on one another for support as we, together, envision a world where we actively challenge racism each and every day. It starts one conversation at a time.” www.raceconscious.org