Navigating Multiple Identities: Transracial Adoption

Transracial adoption is often misinterpreted or even stigmatized by our society. Society wants to put their culture, their views on the transracial family. What do transracial families experience? What are the experiences of the adoptee in their transracial family? How can we better alleviate those concerns or better educate society about these concerns?

Transracial families often experience “the look” by the public and more attention than other families. In most transracial families, it is evident a family member has been adopted. That often results in comments and questions—some of which aren’t the most appropriate. At times, people might assume that the biological mother didn’t love the child, or the child was abused. They might call the adopted parents “saviors.” However, one thing needs to be made perfectly clear: parents adopt to have a family, not to be a savior.

Angela Tucker, a transracial adoptee, stated in her interview that it is basically inevitable for rude questions or comments to be told or made to transracial families. Therefore, what is important is the response. Angela stated that her parents always did a wonderful job navigating these tough and sometimes awkward situations, especially when she and her siblings were present.  She grew up in basically a white world which she said has impacted her values and personality. In high school, Angela was the person of color who played basketball. She said she fit the white concept of blacks because she was a good athlete. In college, she said she chose a small, basically white school because she felt more comfortable in the white world than the black world. She is now a spokesperson sharing the issues and feelings resulting from transracial adoption.

Adoptees, and especially a transracial adoptee, will experience many emotions that biological children do not have to face. They have a sense of loss—loss of identity, loss of knowing why they are like they are. There is a lost sense of their heritage or culture. Shalisa Thornburg is an adoptee as well as an adoptive mother. She is an Indo-American that was adopted and grew up in a Caucasian family. She stated that her feelings included being perceived as an outsider and being treated as a foreigner. In her blog and movie trailer, Shalisa discussed how she asked her parents if it ever crossed their minds to explain to her that the world would see her differently. They stated that it might have been naive of them, but they only saw her as their daughter.

As an adult, Shalisa now has a son through adoption. Because of her childhood experiences, Shalisa is ensuring that her son has exposure and knowledge of his culture and heritage to fill that void for him as much as possible. As most transracial adoptees, Shalisa stated, “I’m not sure where I am from; I’m still learning that.”