An average doctor has spent about 25 years studying to get to that point. Kindergarten through 12th grade, four years for a bachelor’s degree, four years for medical school, three years for residency, and you can add on a few more if they do a fellowship. I would guess that at least 95 percent of the doctors would point to their residency and fellowship as the most valuable and irreplaceable experience. They might remember their first dissection in grade school, but they probably gained the most insight into what their daily lives would be like as a doctor when they were in their residency. No matter how good they were at memorizing, studying, and testing, there was nothing that could have prepared them more than actually being in the field with patients, completely immersed in the field.
The same is true for transracial families.
There is no substitute for being a part of the culture and community that our children are. Transracial adoption removes them from their heritage. It will look different. So as many discussion groups you can join, books you can read, blogs you may follow, and videos you may watch—none of them will compare to the actual experience of you and your child being submerged in his or her culture. This is an important part of understanding the value of the resources discussed below.
Do you think doctors find the other 17 or so years of education worthless? I highly doubt it. The education they received prepared them to be able to make the most of the hands-on experience. Despite transracial adoptees being removed from their culture of origin, the first step we can take as parents is educating ourselves of the culture our children are coming from and what they will experience from the community. This is not a time to get into who is right or wrong, but simply to be well-informed. We owe it to the children to go before them.
I also want to note that my personal experience is with adopting two African-American children. My husband and I are both white. I want to help provide as many general resources for transracial adoptive parents, but there will be more details and examples regarding white parents adopting black children.
Look around your community. A friend once told me, “Your son should not be your first black friend.” I would also like to add, “Your son should not be your last black friend.”
If you have or are considering transracial adoption, explore the community and find others that share the same race as your child. We intentionally looked for a pediatrician that was a person of color so my son could see someone that looked like him regularly in a white-collar profession. My OB-GYN is a woman of color and recently had her first child. I do not need to have racial conversations with them, but it is about exposure and accessibility for my children. My son was following black people as soon as he was walking. We haven’t taught him anything, but he knows he is different from us.
Another note, it is not a person of another race’s job to educate you. Race runs deeps. The wounds are many and we cannot ever know what it was like to walk through their shoes. You may develop some deeper relationships that allow you to have more heartfelt conversations, but you do not need to address every person of a different race by asking about their racial issues or expecting them to help you figure yours out. This may also be true to things like everyday issues that you did not know before—hair and body care, wardrobe choices, language, etc. If you can imagine your deepest wound and then having someone, a stranger, want to ask you all about it, you probably would not be so kind as to want to open up about it. There are exceptions, and some people will generously offer up their information to you. Take it, but don’t abuse it.
We have personally been blessed with amazing relationships from people we have met through the gym, church, school, etc. We have had a relationship with most of those people before our kids came into our lives so it was natural for us to turn to them. Pay attention to where you spend your time and if it is a place your child(ren) may fit in: neighborhoods, barbershops, grocery stores, doctors, dentists, places of worship, parks, schools, etc.
There’s quite a bit to choose from. Although there may be some television shows and such that have some helpful information included, there are many more options to consider too: documentaries, music, podcasts, interviews, newspapers, etc. Be sure to look at different points of view, and try to be as open-minded as possible.
These do not always need to deal with adoption but the culture. Change things up. Watch news broadcasts or listen to the music of men or women from different cultures. When you watch programs through the eyes of your child or people of different races, you will see things differently and catch things you never noticed before. Some of these shows may joke about situations and make light of them. This should not be the way to follow, but we have learned a lot about some things we took for granted and possibly hurt others along the way. The pain you cause to others does not have to be intentional, but it does not mean that scars have not been left.
The show Blackish has been a good example of that. They do a great job of breaking the ice and bringing racial issues to the surface. It would be easy to laugh and move on. But for my husband and I, we have tried to use this as an educational tool to start conversations and how to expose our black children to some of these events and concepts.
The Blind Side might be one of the most popular movies that deal with transracial adoption. This is a nice friendly tale, but it is much more of the exception and not the rule. Yes, it is based on a true story, but many details are left out and the reality of racism is left untold. This would not be a popular choice for black communities or adoptive families as most cannot relate to how this story unfolds. So, be careful in watching shows and movies with just the storylines of transracial adoptions.
We also watch documentaries about some of the hot topics and try our best to see these from the point of view of someone of a different race. Pay attention to what is happening in the world, and let your eyes be opened. The stories in the media should at least cause you to come to a screeching halt and pause for a moment before moving on. I think many of these stories will do much more than that, but you need to give them the respect they deserve. Try not to multitask, but sit in it. A few things to get you started:
- Fresh Off the Boat
- This is Us
- When They See Us (Netflix)
- TIME: The Kalief Browder Story (Netflix)
- Eyes on The Prize (YouTube)
- 13th (Netflix)
- Sesame Street – the original contains a LOT of people of different races and is very diverse in casting/writing
- Making a Murderer (Netflix) – The show itself does not interact with race. However, I think the content is helpful in starting a conversation and giving a glimpse inside our criminal justice system.
Similar to the media, social media can also get carried away. People can hide behind masks or get very heated in arguments with or without cause. Use these channels wisely and with caution. Social media is full of groups and stories. There are thousands upon thousands of people that are willing to share their story. Find them. Listen to them.
I have found a few groups on Facebook that I joined. These are wonderful groups, but I have consciously chosen to use these as informative and not posted in them. I am not a professional in this department, so I feel like I have a lot to learn. I use this as a place to observe and learn. I read the content and very little do I interact. I listen. I listen some more. And listen even more.
Ask an Adoptee and Be the Bridge are two Facebook groups that I have enjoyed listening to the conversations. I also purchased a wash and go hair system for my son through CurlMix, and they have a private Facebook Group to join. This has been a sweet community to learn about hair for my kids. This is not specific to adoption or the black community, but curly hair. I have found the majority of users and the founder of the company are black, but anyone is welcome if you purchase their products. The CEO demonstrates her weekly hair washing routine, and it has been beneficial in learning about the best way to care for my son’s hair. (My daughter’s hair is just now growing in, but I can imagine I will be clinging to this group much more.)
I also follow a few people on Instagram that have adopted black children. They may not share a lot about their adoption experience or racial issues, but they do openly share about their lives. Some days there are bigger fish to fry or hotter topics to discuss. Other days they are a hot mess from what or how something was handled at school or by a neighbor.
Once your family changes the racial dynamics, you will become more aware of how narrow your point of view has been. Be sure to also keep an eye out for resources for your children and include books, shows, etc. that have characters that look like them.
- “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” (Martin Luther King Jr.)
- Between the World and Me (Ta-Nehisi Coates)
- White Fragility (Robin Diangelo)
- My Brown Baby (Denene Miller)
- Being White (Paula Harris & Doug Schaupp)
- Brown Babies Pink Parents (Amy Ford)
- Racecraft (Karen E. Fields and Barbara J. Fields)
- Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? (Beverly Daniel Tatum)
- Dream Big, Little One (Vashti Harrison)
- The Snowy Day (Ezra Jack Keats)
- Young, Gifted and Black (Jamia Wilson & Andrea Pippins)
- Elmer (David McKee)
- One-Hundred-and-One African-American Read-Aloud Stories (Susan Kantor)
I do not have biographies to list, but pick some famous, or not-so-famous, people of color and read their biographies. There are far too many to list, but there is a great wealth of knowledge out there. Listen to their stories. You do not have to agree with their belief system but listen.
Do not underestimate this powerful tool. When you want to find something to read or listen to or discuss, jump over to our most popular friend: Google. Search your question or topics or people to read more about. We would quickly jump over to Google and search, “How to get a grass stain out of a white shirt,” but we hesitate to search, “How do I braid my daughter’s hair,” and expect someone else to show up and do the work for us. Be proactive and start learning now, not when a problem arises.
Although these do come from a Christian or spiritual perspective, I do find that many of the aspects can be beneficial to others, no matter their religious beliefs. The interview/panel below was very helpful for me in understanding what people of color would refer to as white privilege. The discussion did not have anything to do with politics but was a very honest answer and something I had not considered before hearing this discussion.
Understanding Race and Reconciliation in the USA (Panel Discussion)
Pass the Mic (podcast)
Truth’s Table (podcast)
The Witness (collective)
The History of the Negro Church (Carter Godwin Woodson)
Right Color, Wrong Culture (Bryan Loritts)
Divided by Faith (Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith)
Bloodlines (John Piper)
Woke Church (Eric Mason)
Disunity in Christ (Chistena Cleveland)
Heal Us, Emmanuel (Doug Serven)
God’s Very Good Idea (Trillia Newbell)
When I first started preparing for this article, I reached out to numerous other transracial families—specifically adoptive families. I was amazed at how few of these families had a favorite or any resources they thought I should mention. I wanted to provide a much broader scope of resources from a variety of people and families. I quickly realized that many are ill-equipped. They have yet to find a handbook or resources that have helped guide them. My hope is that the resources above will help get you started. This is not an exhaustive list. It should always be growing as we should never stop learning. Please let me know any other resources you have found helpful in the comments below.