What is transracial adoption? Transracial adoption is beautiful! Transracial adoption is when a prospective adoptive parent of one race seeks to adopt a child from another race. Many international, as well as domestic, adoptive parents seek to facilitate transracial adoptions. According to Rainbow Kids Adoptions,
- 84% of all international adoptions are transracial.
- 73% of all transracial adoptions are finalized by white parents.
- 60% of all international adoptions involve Asian children.
According to CASA, concerning foster care in Arizona,
- African American children represent 5% of Arizona’s child population, but 16% of the foster care population.
Transracial adoptions in America started in the 1950s after the end of the Korean War and then exploded in the 1970s after the Cambodian genocide and Vietnam War. White-Black adoptions picked up after 1994 upon the passage of the Multiethnic Placement Act, which prohibits agencies from refusing or delaying foster or adoption placements because of the child’s or foster/adoptive parents’ race, color, or national origin. That being said, there are many things that prospective adoptive parents need to be aware of before entering into transracial adoptions. This reFramed podcast does just that: it explores the joys and the pitfalls of transracial adoptions.
The reFramed Podcast is a service of the Gladney Center for Adoption, located in Fort Worth, Texas. Emily Morehead, LPC, Research and Curriculum Supervisor, is the host for this podcast. Emily Morehead and Lindsay Garrett, LCSW, interview author Rhonda Roora, MA. The topic is: Embracing the Heart, Mind, and Spirit of Transracial Adoption. Their discussion focuses on honoring culture, embracing history, and working as a nation to seek the best possible outcomes for children of color who are adopted by white families. Ms. Roora gives her personal experience as a black child being raised in a white home with Dutch heritage.
3 TAKEAWAYS FROM THE PODCAST
Ms. Roora gives a personal and poignant perspective on her experience as a transracial adoptee. She weaves personal stories into wise advice for those who are considering adopting a child from another race. Here are three takeaways from the podcast on reframing Transracial Adoptions.
1. IDENTITY. As Ms. Roora states in the podcast, she struggled with identity. Many children in transracial adoptions often do. Who am I? Am I Black? Am I white? Who should I be loyal to? How many moms do I have? What is my real last name? This identity crisis comes up often: at adoption finalization, during adolescence when teens are already struggling with who they are, and when filling out any type of application. The question of race always comes up. It may also be the case that the adoption agency does not have the full background on the child’s heritage; that adds to the confusion. So, it is the adoptive parent’s job to give the child a firm foundation of love and consistency by always being there and being a rock regardless of the turbulence the adoptee may be going through.
2. LOOKING DIFFERENT. One of the biggest struggles an adoptee goes through, regardless of race, is the question of, “Why don’t you look like the rest of your family?” But in transracial adoption, the questions are particularly painful, “Why is your mom White?” It doesn’t matter whether you have an answer; once the question is asked, it’s too late. The implication is that there is something wrong with you. The feeling an adoptee experiences goes way beyond race and into “unwantedness”. The feeling is, “Why didn’t my birth family want me?” “Why wasn’t I good enough to keep?” And finally, “Is there something wrong with me?” The adoptive parent needs to be there. If not to answer those questions, then just to be there to listen. The adoptee is going through something we can hardly imagine.
3. IGNORANT COMMENTS. In my opinion, no one is born racist. It is learned. Therefore, many ignorant comments are passed down from generation to generation. Ms. Roora speaks of ignorant comments in the podcast. But if racism can be learned, it can be unlearned as well. The adoptive parent ought to be a safe person with whom the child can rest. Here would be my advice for responding to your adoptee who encountered ignorant comments: People say stupid things and do stupid things, but we should never return evil for evil. I know it hurts, but we should learn to forgive. We are all different, and sometimes kids like to focus on those differences to hurt one another. But it is precisely those differences that make the whole human race beautiful! You are beautiful, and don’t you forget it!
Common Misperceptions about Transracial Adoption
Many prospective adoptive parents head into the adoption process with rose-colored glasses. They are young, idealistic, and want to change the world. To a certain extent, that is a good thing. I was once that way also. But the fact of the matter is, when proceeding with transracial adoption, those parents need to be fully informed before making a decision. Here are some common attitudes that need to be corrected before proceeding with transracial adoption.
- Love is enough. Many times, as Ms. Roora suggested in the podcast, parents assume their love can make up the difference in racial struggles an adoptee may experience. When an adoptee is struggling, unconditional love is essential. But it must also be supplemented with an understanding of that child’s ethnic background, history, and culture.
- My child will never experience racism. If you are White and have never experienced racism, consider yourself blessed. When you adopt a child of another race, not only will you experience bigoted attitudes from bigoted people, but so will your child. Don’t underestimate the power of racism. It is real. You must prepare yourself to respond to those attitudes for your child’s sake.
- Connection to heritage is not necessary. For adoptees, the primary people they should be connected with are their parents, regardless of what color or culture they may come from. But as they grow older, their peers will ask questions and they must be prepared to answer those questions. Through their teen years, people of the same race will be attracted to them because they have something in common. They need to be connected to that heritage they have in common. This requires more than just watching movies like Harriet or Green Book; for example, African American children also need to read books on the Underground Railroad and Frederick Douglas and Jackie Robinson. If they are Native American, you will need to find books about The Trail of Tears, and even Billy Mills who was a talented Native American Olympic gold medalist.
In the podcast, Ms. Roora suggests taking your children to museums too. Museums offer a great perspective on the history, culture, language, and traditions of not only African Americans, but also Hispanic, Asian, and Jewish cultures.
Keeping a child connected to his culture is important because his or her race, culture, and ethnicity comprise who he or she is. Ms. Roora tells the story of her adoptive dad taking them on a trip to the Netherlands because that was his family’s heritage. Wouldn’t it also be a great idea to take a trip to your adoptee’s nation of origin? That would speak volumes to your young one on how important his or her heritage is to you.
- Colorblindness. In the podcast, Ms. Roora mentions the word many people use when adopting transracially: Colorblindness. While I think many Caucasians are well-intentioned when using this term, some African Americans feel this means Caucasians are ignoring or disregarding their child’s heritage. Transracial families should consider themselves a blended family. As stated in the podcast, they should “build a family plan that embraces every member.”
Some Practical Suggestions When Navigating a Transracial Adoption
So, how do you navigate a transracial adoption? The same way we navigate any other adoption: make the adoption child-focused and child-centered. Realizing that to ignore all the differences between the child’s culture and ours may cause further trauma to a child who has already been removed from his or her family, transported to another part of the country or new nation entirely, and introduced to different foods, different sleeping patterns, different values, and possibly a different religion. Rather than being fearful, embrace the differences! Teach these differences to yourself, your adoptee, and your biological family as well. Surround yourself with people of the same culture as your adoptee. Learn. Be humble. Be teachable. Here are some suggestions.
Hair care. Native American and African American culture hold hairstyles in high esteem. If you do not know how to care for an African American child’s hair, get educated. Why? Because their hair is a different texture and may grow at a different rate than what you are used to. Learn about dreadlocks and cornrows and Afros. African American hair does not need to be washed on a daily basis and especially not if they have dreadlocks! When they do wash it, it may not need to be dried with a hair dryer. You may actually be doing more harm than good if you do! As your daughter grows, she may need extensions. Look for a hair care store called “Sally Hair,” or find someone who has knowledge of African American hair. Caring for your child’s hair is caring for them as a person.
Food. Once a week, eat a family meal from his or her culture. If they are East Indian, try making Naan bread, curry chicken, or tandoori chicken. If they are Native American, try making fry bread or a Navajo Taco! Soul Food during Thanksgiving would be a great change of pace if you have an African American child! If you have a Jamaican child, learn where to buy Jamaican beef patties or learn how to make Jerk Chicken. Going to Taco Bell to celebrate your child’s Hispanic heritage doesn’t count! Instead, try making Huevos Rancheros or Arroz con Pollo.
Language. Do you regularly shop at Walmart? Target? If your child comes from Hispanic or Native American heritage, it would help to learn that language and be prepared for total strangers to come up to your child and start speaking to them in the language of his or her heritage. Learn common words and phrases. Be respectful. And don’t be surprised when the stranger gets offended that your child doesn’t fully know the language.
Family trees. This can be awkward in any adoptive family, but especially in a transracial family. It can also be confusing. Stay connected with your child’s family, if appropriate. Learn family history. It may be appropriate to learn both trees. Teach them it’s ok to have two families. But the key is that they were “grafted” into the adoptive family tree and are just as much a part of that family as the biological one. Native Americans are especially sensitive to their genealogies. Therefore, it is important that your Native American child knows not only his or her tribe but also the clan in which he or she comes from.
In conclusion, Ryan Bomberger, a biracial adoptee, adoptive dad, and founder of the Radiance Foundation, is a great example of someone who is grateful for his past heritage. Even though it was hard at times, Ryan is very grateful for his family. He says, “Transracial adoption is one of the most powerful acts of racial reconciliation because it results in loving a child of a different race or ethnicity simply because he or she deserves to be loved.” How true! Transracial adoption is a beautiful thing! It is within the boundaries of the transracial adoptive family that healing and reconciliation can begin.
There are other awesome podcasts from other agencies regarding foster care, adoption, and the family. The reFramed show by Gladney is unique because individuals can listen to the audio by podcast as well as view the podcast discussion via video, directly from the website. The reFramed Podcast is a service of Gladney Center for Adoption located in Fort Worth, Texas. Gladney serves those interested in domestic infant adoption, international adoption, and foster care adoption. The reFramed Podcast can be located on iTunes or Google Play.
You can learn more about the guests by going to the show notes.
Adoption.com is a subsidiary of Gladney Center for Adoption.