I am not new to racism or naive to the grip it holds on so many hearts. Last week, a Black man suffocated under the weight of a man’s hatred. Looking at the man, I see my chocolate-colored foster brother under that knee. Breath steals from my chest and tears pour from my soul. The following days have become a horrifying reminder that living in a transracial family is not always simple. If you want to adopt and have a transracial or multiracial family, today probably prompts a lot of fear, outrage, and questions.
In pursuit of eliminating biased language from the average person’s vocabulary, please read a brief explanation of what transracial adoption is.
According to Merriam-Webster, transracial means extending across two or more races. A transracial adoption means parents of one race adopt a child of a different race, and perhaps the parents don’t even share the same race.
Transracial families are often mislabeled as multiracial families. A multiracial person, also known as a mixed-race person, is two or more races. Interracial relationships produce multiracial families, as do mixed-race parents marrying each other.
Multiethnic is a family of the same race, but not the same ethnicity. For example, I am Mexican and my brothers are Colombian. We are the same race but not the same ethnicity. Multicultural, on the other hand, is where my boyfriend’s sweet southern personality and culture meet my fiery Miami roots.
In short, I come from a transracial, multiethnic, multicultural family. The labels get confusing, and yet, giving our peculiar demographic as much explanation as possible honors every piece of our heritage.
Do People Really Say That?
In high school, a boy brought me home to meet his family. I remember mentioning my family’s background and eliciting a short gasp from his mother. Before that, a friend’s mother met my Black foster sister and exclaimed in shock, “Oh, she’s cuter than I thought.” Over time, I started to repeat in my mind before dates or new events: “Oh please don’t be racist.”
But it ran deeper than racism in the traditional sense. My first boyfriend explained his belief that people should “stick to their own.” Not because he had a problem with other races, but because interracial dating, marriage, and adoption made him uncomfortable.
I come from a family of not one, not two, not three, but four different colors. Even my biological sister and I look about as different as can be. She is blonde and green-eyed, taking after our mother, I am olive-skinned and dark-featured, taking after my father.
My Haitian siblings are affectionately dubbed as our mocha babies. My Colombian brothers have beautiful milk chocolate-colored skin. My father is Hispanic, my mother is White. My former foster siblings abroad were from South Asian. In other words, if there is a corner of the world, it is represented in my family’s genetic makeup.
I see no problem with our varying degrees of melanin. For the most part, people are gracious enough about seeing people of various races through the individual courses of their days. However, when people see a Hispanic man walking with a blonde child or a White woman while holding an islander baby, eyebrows raise.
You see, over the course of the last ten years, I started to notice the little inconsistencies on both sides of the aisle. A judge appointing guardianship to a less proper guardian, just so skin tones matched. A neighbor called the police when they saw my brown brother was standing on my driveway. People trying to rescue my sister away from my father because their tones did not match. A woman in the grocery store sneering towards my first attempt at twists, albeit they were not great and hair care often “indicates the degree of wokeness and care.”
People being concerned is part of what creates a good, solid foundation. If it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a village to protect one. In most cases, I am sure people were trying to be the village. But it definitely felt like my family was being segregated according to melanin tones rather than accepted by the village as the ragtag bunch we are.
I have learned a few things over the years through many debates, tears, and nights where I feel like I had every right to anger.
Your family is not any less of a family depending on people’s opinions.
Love and choices make a family, not someone else’s opinions. Thick skin does not keep sharp words from aching, I know beyond doubt expressions of ignorance and racism can be infuriating and hurtful. Outside opinions and questions do not make you any less of a parent, any less of a child, or any less of a sibling to the people you love.
Miseducated people are not necessarily malicious people.
Oftentimes, people use the wrong language because they were not taught the correct language. As a parent in a transracial family, the urge to defend your child against miseducation is oftentimes even stronger than the urge to protect them from boldly racist people. Correcting language is a great way to honor your child without setting anyone on the defense.
When someone says, “Oh the adopted Black child,” you can say, “You mean my son?”
“How much did you pay for them?”
“Well, buying children is illegal. I think you meant to ask how expensive the adoption process was, and that’s not information I share.”
Now, hear me out: explanations are really exhausting, and nobody is entitled to information. When someone asks which ones of your kids are “actually siblings,” sometimes a response doesn’t come easily. Or, the words come like an ocean—crashing in to wash away any trace of ignorance. That’s okay.
Challenging is the new confronting.
Some comments are not worth the effort to challenge. You are not mandated to educate those around your child at the expense of his or her safety or your sanity. In the situations where you can spare a few words, challenge their comment.
For me, it should have looked like, “Why wouldn’t she be this cute?”
“Oh, I don’t know, just…you know.”
“No, can you explain? Her head shape? Her skin?”
“Well, I just don’t think Black kids are as cute.”
“Well, that’s racist.”
But I did not say that. Sometimes you will miss the ball, either from exhaustion or pure shock at the way humans treat others. Today, challenging looks like talking my brown siblings through their bias from living in a rural mountain village. Giving people the tools to cut away at their own biases is not necessarily as satisfying as combating their opinions with a fiery attitude, but it is significantly more productive most days.
Why? Because if I respond to people’s comments with fire, my children might learn to do the same thing. They also might learn their skin color is something they need to defend, which might lead them to feel weak. Challenging leads to change; opposition cannot say the same.
They might actually be helpful if we get past the abrasive.
This Is Us is one of my favorite shows. It talks about being a transracial family in the 1980s, as Jack and Rebecca Pearson raise three children—one of whom is Black. In the second season, their son Randall makes friends with other children of the same race. Their mother is super abrasive to Rebecca, who is not necessarily welcoming in turn. Yvonne, the friends’ mother, picks at Randall’s lack of Black social connections and bad haircut.
Rebecca pulls her emotions together and extends friendship to Yvonne, who in turn becomes a support system and a wealth of knowledge on Black culture. Randall benefitted from both sides, as he ended up with a proper haircut, new friends, and a new source of trust in his mother. The person misspeaking might genuinely be racist or think the worst of your family, but the benefit of the doubt could lead to learning.
How to Deal with Outside Conflict
It is a scary world; how can you protect your child from hatred and criticism?
Have conversations about racism early. No 8-year-old should have the talk, but he or she needs the talk: the talk where you explain how to deal with conflict and criticism as a transracial family member. The question is not whether your child will experience conflict as a result of his or her demographic; rather, it’s a question of when. Prepare your child beforehand by providing a safe space for discussion within your family.
Actively educate those who are willing to educate themselves. In no way is it intended as perfectionism, but I spend a lot of time correcting people’s grammar and language around me. “So how many real siblings do you have?” “Are they adopted or did someone have an affair?” “Are they Spanish?” “Why is your baby African-American?” “Do you have the same parents?” “You look so exotic.”
I do better some days than others, responding with grace and education rather than anger towards ignorance. I try to respond in a manner worthy of commending. Depending on the person, grace looks different. On occasion, an explanation to a well-meaning friend about their unneeded criticism is important. Then, sometimes, a complete education is worthless because people have to learn for themselves—ergo a few quick words to halt racism work efficiently. Nevertheless, respond as if your children are incredibly valuable and worthy of respect in spite of others’ misconceptions.
How to Prevent Outside Conflict
I find it a lot easier to respond to criticism and conflict (whether with the person causing the issue or within myself) when coming from a place of peace. Oftentimes, the words sting most when they hit our hidden insecurities.
Before tackling prevention, build a solid framework. You are secure in your family, even if it is different from most. Intrinsic value is not given by the people around you and extrinsic value does not impact that. You can be educated and prepared for racism, teaching your family members how to deal with outside conflict and criticism as a transracial family, and still not have all the answers.
Prevent conflict by teaching your children proper responses to inappropriate questions pertaining to their skin tone. Teach them the power of walking away. Boldness does not always come from the right words, but rather an attitude of grace without permissive behavior. Graciously forgive, but do not let people walk on you or your babies.
Teach your children how to deal with the questions, but also place them in situations where they do not need to give all the answers. Connect with other transracial families, cultural festivals corresponding to your child’s ethnic makeup, and develop a connection to your child’s heritage.
How Can I Not Be the Conflict?
Even if you are a parent in a transracial family, you can unwittingly contribute to the hardship of growing up in a transracial family. Learning how to deal with outside conflict and criticism as a transracial family is scary. So, I encourage you to embrace the uncertainty and diversity within your family.
One of the detrimental things people say to children in transracial families is, “I am color-blind; everyone is human.” As a transracial family, you cannot ignore color. Color-blind ignores the beautiful ways my sister’s porcelain skin contrasts with my Haitian brother. Color-blind denies a place for the thick, crazy hair that will bring you to tears. Don’t be color-blind. It’s as simple as that.
Know the weight we have not yet solved for minorities and talk to your family about it. Create a safe place via honesty, conversation, and a willing-to-learn heart.
Why Do Any of It?
Why not go off on every person who dares disrespect the beautiful pallet running across your family’s bones? Why not politely ignore racism when it slips in and quietly takes the back row in grocery shopping or family gatherings? Learning how to deal with outside conflict and criticism as a transracial family is complicated, and the two prior options look pretty good when you’re strung out on stress and bad Facebook news, or when tears trail your cheek as you try to explain indifference and hatred to your beautiful teenagers.
Do it because your family is worth the strain, the uncomfortable moments, the changing relationships. Your little ones learn from the way you defend and define your family; they will learn their need for respect and peace through the battles you choose to fight.
And why is that important? Because racism pushes a divide and digs a trench full of injustice. Until transracial families no longer meet conflict and heartache in their daily lives, the fight belongs to every member of mankind. One day, peace and hope will close the divide. But let us fill the gap with love until they do.