September 19, 2007 by multiracialsky
At the official beginning of our first adoption process back in 2000, we met a young woman, an adult transracial adoptee. She was our age, mid-20s, and she was working as an adoption social worker at the time–which meant not only did she share her ‘adoption story’ with us, but we were also encouraged to ask her any questions we had. She had been adopted as a newborn into a family with other adopted children. She is biracial, Black/White, and identifies as Black. She has a very loving, open adoptive family who she was (and is) still close to. And she had been raised in an all-White town–all-White except for her family.
Her parents loved all of their children, cared for their hair and skin as best they could (there weren’t all the books about Black hair care that there are now), talked openly with them about lots of ideas. This woman attended an historically Black college where she felt like she was a child again (not in a good way) in her knowledge of (her) Black culture. She had preconceptions about who and what was authentically Black, and she wasn’t sure she qualified. Her racial self-identity dominated much of her teenage and early adult years. She had good parents, parents who loved her and had done everything they thought was best for her–including adopting her–but she still struggled significantly with self-esteem, which was connected to her racial heritage.
I don’t want to tell my friend’s story for her. I am simply paraphrasing stories she has told us over the years, and some of her writing about transracial adoption. Several things she has said to us (or with us when we spoke together to pre-adoptive parents) have stayed with me, and here are two of them:
Pre-adoptive parents should not request only a biracial child. (We were in an ‘African American’ program at the time, so we were talking about children with one White biological parent and one Black biological parent, as opposed to a child with two biological parents who identified as Black.) A child with Black heritage is Black. They will not ‘feel’ closer to you because they are also ‘half’ White. (And I would add, how can a biracial child feel that their Black heritage is fully accepted by their adoptive family if the family would not have adopted a ‘full’ Black child. How will the family feel if their biracial child chooses to identify as Black?)
When pre-adoptive parents are filling out forms, they are presented with a list of physical, emotional, psychiatric, and learning disabilities; medical conditions; prenatal risk factors; and birthfamily medical and social history. Next to each specific item (some agencies have six pages of this information) the pre-adoptive parents must mark one of the following: (1) would accept, (2) may consider, or (3) would not accept. (Basically, yes, no, or maybe.) Our friend said, Pre-adoptive parents should consider transracial adoption, and the specific race of the child they may adopt, as carefully as they consider the most severe medical conditions of their potential child. This is how big an issue transracial adoption can be for a family, and how seriously adoptive parents should access their own abilities and situation.
Our friend’s experiences while growing up, and the speaking and writings of John Raible (another adult transracial adoptee adopted into a very loving, open, progressive, White family) have kept me thinking throughout the years (as have the responses from adoptive and pre-adoptive parents to my friend and John). I clearly support the idea that it is essential, if at all possible, for transracial adoptees to grow up in a community where there are other adults and children who look like them, who share their racial and ethnic heritage.
A lot of my writing about transracially adoptive families comes off sounding hard-core and angry. I am afraid my current perspective has been jaded by the community I live in, the vast majority of parents I am surrounded by, these parents’ attitudes about the importance (I should say non-importance) of race. The idea that today, in the United States of America, race does not matter, is a false concept fueled almost entirely by White privilege. (When I say race here, I am talking about the societal-construct of race, and the continuing fallout from generations of institutionalized racism.)
I am deeply troubled by all parents who have a great opportunity handed to them (in the form of simply being someone’s parent) to change the course of racism–and who choose to do nothing. I am personally saddened by all of these non-acting parents who are also White transracially adopting parents. That could have been my child; those children were my friends.
I believe that parents who choose to adopt–for whatever reasons–have additional parenting responsibilities that families formed through biology alone do not usually share. Parents who choose to adopt transracially have even more critical tasks in this already awesome job of helping another human being to grow–hopefully grow into a strong, proud, compassionate, healthy, happy, independent adult. In the case of transracial adoption, this is a path parents choose, and I agree with my friend that the choice to adopt transracially should not be made or taken lightly.
I’ve taken the stories from all the adult transracial adoptees I know well, the ones I’ve only met once, the ones who write articles and blogs online, the ones who’ve written essays. I put these lived stories together with my own experiences and my (albeit semi-accurate) attempts to see our community through the eyes of my children–all of my children. And I know we have to move. (This is not as hard a decision for us to come to as it is for other transracially adoptive families who have lived in their community for generations, or have landed the job of a lifetime. I am looking forward to moving for me-related reasons too.)
So, we forge ahead. This is why we pour over racial statistics of schools and neighborhoods and towns and counties on Fact Finder, research the percentages of individual elementary school students who qualify for reduced-price or free lunch, search for organic food co-ops, farmers’ markets, community centers, home-schooling groups, alternative currencies, alternative schools, science centers, art galleries, and antiracism organizations.
We want the perfect town (I know there’s no such place), a small college town with mixed-race neighborhoods, affordable housing, Black, White, Asian, Latino, and Native American populations, a funky, hippie, open-minded town where our son with his mohawk and our daughter with her cornrows (and the fact these two are siblings) will be accepted with a smile, instead of dismissed with a glare. We’re still looking, but we think we’ve found the place. I’ll keep you posted.