Father and Son Face Racism Through Adoption

Jerod Bloemendaal is the star employee of the local ice rink in Jamestown, North Dakota. Praised by his employer, Junior Kautz, Jerod is described as the hardest worker at Wilson Arena. He proves to himself and others every day that he is not defined by his adoption, the personal obstacles he has faced because of his disabilities, or the racism in his community.

For Jerod’s parents, Jerry Bloemendaal, and his then-wife, their struggle with infertility is what opened the door to adoption. Like many hopeful couples, Jerry recalls praying to God for a child to love and care for. In time, Jerod and, eventually, Kelsey—both who are part Native American—were adopted into their forever family. The Bloemendaals raised their children aware of the obvious challenges that they could anticipate as a transracial family. But they never expected that their children would be victims of racism within their own community.

Jeanette Green, an adoptive mother and writer for Adoption.com, describes much of what the Bloemendaal children experienced in her article about racism and transracial adoption. In describing the importance of preparing children for racism she says, “For a time, when they are young and cute, and around us, people will think differently. But when they are on their own, as teenagers and young adults, our own whiteness cannot protect them. The only thing that can help them deal with racism they will face is preparation.” Sadly, for Jerod and many other adoptees who suffer from similar disabilities, his problems did start at a young age and, like Jeanette said, his parents’ whiteness alone could not protect him from that.

The Struggles of Childhood As a Transracial Adoptee

Jerod was born with fetal alcohol syndrome, a condition that, from day one, caused physical, mental, and emotional trials. From learning disabilities to behavioral issues, Jerod faced a long list of roadblocks—and it didn’t stop there. A later diagnosis of ADHD explained Jerod’s problems focusing in class and his trouble sleeping. Based on his health issues alone, Jerod knew that he wasn’t like the kids he was surrounded by. As a result, he unfortunately experienced bullying early on.

In her article, “Why We Must Prepare Our Children for Racism,” Jeanette explains the concept of “subtle racism.” Recalling an experience when she was approached about her daughter’s skin tone and hair type, Jeanette says, “it was my first real experience with something so strange. I didn’t recognize it as racism at first, but I recognized it as something hurtful.” These small, hurtful gestures also began to be an issue for Jerod as he grew older.

Entering his teenage years, racism and discrimination transformed from a fear to a fact of life. Jerod remembers being stopped by police officers who would question his tattoos and whether he was getting into trouble. Something as simple as spending an afternoon playing basketball with friends turned into his being asked to go home by authorities. All Jerod wanted to do was spend time with his friends and get some fresh air, but even that was deemed as questionable behavior by the police.

Eventually, Jerod did have some trouble with the law. Not so coincidentally, it was around the same time that Jerod’s friends learned about Jerod’s disabilities that he began to run into these problems. Jerry said in an interview with Inforum.com, “They started taking advantage of him, which is why he winds up in more trouble than he should be.”

The Hope of Acceptance 

Like any parent, Jerry was devastated to see his children exposed to bullying, drug use, racism, and discrimination throughout their young lives. But, Jerry would not and did not give up hope. He just wanted his children to be treated fairly and understood for who they were, not what they looked like.

For Jerod, though, all it took to start that process of acceptance was someone giving him a chance to succeed—that someone was Junior Kautz, the manager at Wilson arena. Although Jerod doesn’t look like the other employees at the ice rink, he is no less of a hard worker and asset to Junior’s team, and no one can question that. But he isn’t stopping there.

Jerod continues to work at the ice rink while he takes classes in preparation to become a certified nursing assistant. One day, Inforum.com says, Jerod hopes to have a career operating trains.

By the grace of just one of his peers, Jerod was able to continue working toward success without his race or appearance interfering with his goals. But Jerod isn’t the only adoptee who has faced or ever will face these kinds of challenges.

The Importance of Awareness 

As transracial adoptive families continue to grow in number, so must the awareness of the  issue. Natalie Brenner, Adoption.com storyteller and adoptive mother, said it best, “We must make our children’s problems, aches, joys, fears, our own, no matter what.” In her article, “8 Lessons EVERY Parent Could Learn From Parents in Transracial Adoptions,” she reminds adoptive parents that a family’s identity is influenced by the children’s identity. Consequently, the ever-changing dynamics of parenting must cater to this evolved identity and what it will mean for the family. Adoptive parents must start preparing their children for the racism their children will face in the world, even if the adoptive parents have never experienced racism themselves.

Derek Williams, an adoption social worker and storyteller at Adoption.com, also sheds light on the subject in his article, “The Realities of Racism and How to Help Your Child.” He reasserts the importance of being proactive instead of reactive to racism as a parent in order to set an example for one’s children. Although it may be uncomfortable and new territory, he suggests, “If there is genuine racism rather than innocent ignorance, keep calm and develop a plan of action.”

Knowledge of hair and skin care, cultural sensitivities, and the importance of self-awareness and discovery are just the first steps toward developing a positive and healthy upbringing within a transracial family. Embracing these topics are essential to building a strong foundation. Often, it requires that adoptive parents communicate with individuals from their child’s community to educate themselves about those things. But at the end of the day, adoptees must be taught how to combat the inevitable trials they’ll face regarding racism and discrimination.

The Necessity of Action

Like Jerod, children all over the country begin hearing racist comments and experiencing forms of discrimination from a young age. No child should feel as Jerod describes, “walking on eggshells all the time” for fear of the mistreatment or unnecessary questioning.

In Jeanette’s article, she compares the courage and wisdom of Ruby Bridges’ parents to the example that transracial adoptive parents should strive to follow today.

Ruby Bridges, the first African American child to attend a white school, bravely faced racism as a complete minority among her classmates. There is no question that Ruby’s parents were filled with fear for their daughter as they defenselessly watched her face, what Jeannette describes as, “scary, uncomfortable, and potentially life-threatening” forms of bullying and racism. Although this was nearly half a century ago, the roles that Mr. and Mrs. Bridges played in Ruby’s childhood are still needed in the lives of young people today.

A blind eye cannot be turned to the very real forms of racism in the world. Jeannette explains that these forms of racism are still evident in her own children’s lives. Remarks to transracial families about their obvious differences in skin color, casual comments that are actually backhanded insults, and the most blatant forms of discrimination still exist today.

For Jerod, his experiences with discrimination started in his adolescence when he was regularly asked to leave public places and singled out in places of business. For others, Jeanette describes, it’s as brutal as a white child telling a black child that they could not play together at recess because his parents told him he couldn’t play with black kids.

The Role of Love

Jeannette doesn’t settle for the textbook answers to these issues. She knows that the intense love that she has for her children alone would never be able to protect them from the harsh world they live in. Instead, she encourages parents to translate that love into a desire to “study, learn, observe, and educate [themselves] about racism and then [gain the] power to do something with that knowledge.” Accepting this unique type of responsibility to raise these children is essential in preparing them for the racism they will face early on.

Megan Rivard, adoption advocate and adoptive mother, defines what education may look like in the home of a transracial family. It is not always a history lesson on the civil rights movement or Martin Luther King Jr. that will help children understand the unfair treatment they may face. Rather, Megan encourages parents to teach their children that they may look different than those around them, but that everyone is different in some way, and that is okay. In her article about dealing with adoption bullies, she also discusses the importance of transparently discussing what bullying is and how to respond to it. More importantly, Megan’s tips for addressing bullying and racism revolve around empowering children through education and preparation, not just enduring it.

Just as Jerry continued to encourage his children to rise above the racism they experienced, it also took just one understanding individual to see Jerod’s potential and give him the chance to start down his path to success. In their adulthood, Jerod and Kelsey have gone on to achieve success and independence in their careers regardless of the challenges they have faced. It certainly wasn’t an easy road to get there, but they continue to prove themselves every day.

The Harshness of Reality

Racism is, unfortunately, a reality that still exists today; adoptive parents must understand this when they are adopting a child of a race different than their own. No one can understand that joy adoptive parents have to learn that they are finally going to welcome a child into their forever family. Likewise, no one can understand the pain adoptive parents have to go through when their children are not similarly embraced by the rest of their world—simply because of their differences.

Children are good and innocent. But they are also smart. They will know they are different without anyone pointing it out to them. The struggle to embrace one’s identity as a transracial adoptee is a long road of self-acceptance and self-love. Jenna Nance, a transracial adoptee and Adoption.com storyteller, says it like it is: “I could have conversations with people for hours about experiences and other perspectives and why there are so many issues. However, I know that if someone is not a transracial adoptee, they will never fully understand some of the obstacles and struggles we have gone through, especially being raised in an environment that is predominately of one race.”

The Responsibility to Act 

Within the home, transracial adoptive parents have a duty to their children to foster positivity, acceptance, and continued support of their children’s struggles regarding their differences. Megan Rivard advises, “You can’t protect your child from insensitive comments from adults or other children, but hopefully, you can help your child to know how to deal with those comments and experiences without damaging his or her self-esteem.” Influences both internal and external will continue to threaten the abundance of happiness a child can experience, but that does not mean those bad influences will win.

There will always be ignorant comments, insensitive treatment, and subtle forms of racism that will threaten the innocence of children everywhere. But nothing can threaten the love that a parent has for his or her child. Nothing can diminish the fierce need to protect a child from the evils he will encounter in the world. And there is no excuse why parents shouldn’t start preparing their children for those things today.

To find social media groups and organizations regarding this issue, check out Shelly Skuster’s ”3 Best Resources for Transracial Parents.” If you are or are connected with an adoptive parent of a transracial family, respectively share your experiences in the comments below.