A racial mirror, as it might relate to someone who has been adopted, would be someone who is the same race as that child. This would be someone who would be able to act as a mirror for that race and how that race interacts with the world. This would also hopefully be someone whom the child can look up to and look to as a help and a mentor as they grow. In the world of transracial adoption, it’s very important that children have access to racial mirrors. When a family adopts a child who is outside their race, there has to be an acceptance of the reality that the family who has adopted them cannot teach them how the world will interact with them based on their race. They cannot teach them the things that they might go through or the experiences that they might have based on their race. Because of this, it is so important that racial mirrors be present within the lives of these children from the very beginning.
I read a book recently entitled, No One Ever Asked. The book was inspired by the story of two school districts merging together due to one school district losing accreditation. The school district that lost accreditation was a lower-income school district and also primarily a black community. The school district that they had to merge with was upper class in a primarily white community. As these two communities merged together, the differences in race were made apparent even though multiple characters within the story kept reiterating that their issues were not about race. They soon had multiple experiences that led to a greater understanding that race was still very much an issue for many.
A few instances in the book stuck out and really stuck with me as I am a white adoptive parent of two biracial children. One story that really stuck out for me was the story of a little girl on her birthday. She was told by her father that they could go into the store and she could pick out whatever she wanted for her birthday. At 6 years old, she was incredibly excited. When they got to the store she ran inside and suddenly heard her father’s booming voice telling her to stop. She looked back and saw his face filled with terror. She did not understand, at 6 years old, why he would be scared at that moment. He got down on her level and pulled her close. With fear in his eyes, he said to her something to the effect of, “Honey, there are some things you need to understand now. You are a young black child. While you are a child, you need to understand that we are a black family. You never run into a store. Ever. I know you’re just excited but someone will think that you stole something simply because you are black. Never run in a store.”
A second instance that stuck with me in the book was one of a young man named Darius. He was in high school and one of the transfers to the new school. He became the new high school quarterback and began to hang out with the head cheerleader. One day, on her return home, she and her mom pulled up on a terrifying sight in front of their house. There was a police car with lights gleaming. There was a police officer with his gun pulled on Darius, the young man whom she had begun to date. She rushed out of the car and began to scream. She yelled at the police officer for pulling the gun on Darius. The police officer made a lot of excuses about how someone had called and thought he was an intruder. However, at that moment, the cheerleader understood that this would have never happened with any of her previous boyfriends. Her ex-boyfriend had come to her house multiple times prior, and no one had ever called the police on him. No one ever would have thought to. She understood that the police were there simply because Darius was a large young black boy. It was really the first time that many of these characters understood that race really mattered. It was when these characters fully understood that their whiteness afforded them privileges and safety that many of their new friends were not privileged to.
While I do try to educate myself on the needs of my children and have since we have adopted them, reading this book made me realize that I have a long way to go. There are so many things that my children will experience that I can’t prepare them for. I don’t know what it’s like to be black in our world. I don’t know what it’s like to be biracial. I don’t know those experiences that they will have. I can’t begin to fathom what they will feel. This is a reason that racial mirrors are so important. They need people who can prepare them. They need people they can ask questions. They need people who can tell them and prepare them for the world that they will be entering as they grow.
Providing racial mirrors for your children really needs to start before they even enter your home. If you are lucky enough to have an open adoption, some of the best racial mirrors for your children will be people within their birth family. We are incredibly lucky to have a large community, through our kinship adoption, of people who could be racial mirrors for our children. Our children have older siblings who are biological that will be mirrors for them as they grow. We hope that they will also have racial mirrors through aunts and uncles and other extended family members. If you have an open adoption and have people in your child’s birth family who would be great mentors and racial mirrors for your children, begin to cultivate that relationship with them. Know how important these relationships are and find a way to help them to thrive.
Another way to find racial mirrors for their children is to seek them out through your community. Of course, you don’t want to make friends with people just for your children to have racial mirrors. However, if you have people already within your community through organizations such as your church or through various community venues, these are great places to connect. Our church offers a lot of groups that deal with adoption and foster care. These are great places to find other families who are going through similar things and even find advice on how to introduce your children to people who would be racial mirrors for them.
I recall one really great example from the show This Is Us, where Randall, who was adopted, and his father adoptive Jack go to Randall’s first karate class. The karate instructor is a black man, which was very important to the storyline. It was through this that Randall found someone to look up to and have as a mentor and racial mirror. This was at the suggestion of a friend that they had who suggested Randall find men of his own race to look up to and to aspire to be like as he grew. In Randall’s young life he had only seen people such as a mail carrier and a few other roles held by black men. He even believed one of these men had the potential to be his birth father. As Randall grew, he even chose the predominantly black college, Howard, to attend as he knew how important it was that he be around people who were experiencing life as he was.
This Is Us has shown us countless other instances of racial mirrors throughout its three seasons. Jack and Rebecca, the adoptive parents, learn along the way, even back in the 1980s, what it meant for Randall to have people in his life who were the same race as him. It was so incredibly important. One of the first instances of this comes at a public pool when Jack and Rebecca find Randall hanging with people on the “black side” of the pool. A situation that starts out rather tense ends up with Jack and Rebecca finding a lifelong friend in a black woman, Yvette, who is there with her children. She advises them that Randall does, in fact, need sunscreen and gives them the number for a black barber. Yvette becomes someone that they go to throughout their life as they have questions on how to best raise Randall and provide him with the best opportunities. For them, they set their pride aside and understood that they did not have all of the knowledge they needed. Setting this pride aside was the best thing that they could do for Randall as they took advice that was very much needed to help him feel comfortable as he grew.
No One Ever Asked, the book that I spoke about previously, does a great job providing an example of adoptive parents seeking out racial mirrors for their child. One young couple had recently adopted a 6-year-old girl from Liberia. Finding racial mirrors for her was incredibly important to them. They had received this education through their adoption agency. They moved into the community during the time of transition between the two school districts. They were fully intent on sending their child to the lower-funded school district, simply because their black child would have more children to relate to at the lower-funded school. It was so important to them that she has racial mirrors that, though they were in the district of the better-funded school, they felt that racial mirrors were more important than the educational opportunity she would receive at the better-funded school. In the end, she went to the better-funded school as the lower-funded school shut down temporarily due to their lack of accreditation.
However, it was still exciting that more children who look like her would be in that school. Her mother also went out of her way to make sure that she was in class with a teacher who was black. It was not because she felt that the white teachers were not qualified, but it was important to her to provide her daughter with examples of women in leadership and who could lead her whenever possible. She knew that her learning experience would benefit from having a racial mirror in her teacher. For this adoptive family, they knew how important it was for their child to have racial mirrors and be with people with whom she could relate.
Racial mirrors are important simply because it is important that our children have people who they can relate to and go through life looking up to as they grow. For my biological children, they will not have to seek out those racial mirrors because they have those in my husband and I. However, for my two youngest, I cannot begin to fathom the things that they might go through to which I will not be able to relate. It is vital that adoptive parents in a transracial situation understand that we cannot possibly be enough for our children. That is something that is really hard to swallow sometimes, but it is something that we need to recognize and understand that it is okay. However, it makes it even more important that we seek out opportunities for our children to have racial mirrors. That might mean moving into a community where there are more diverse experiences for your children. That might mean going to a church that is more diverse. It also might mean enrolling your child in a school that is more diverse.
Hopefully, you are already in a situation where there are a lot of diverse experiences. If not, seek out help in your community and through the community that you have already established to provide racial mirrors for your children. It will be vital as they grow to have other people to live life with and turn to in situations that we cannot understand fully.