When I was a very young girl, I didn’t think much about being adopted. I didn’t think about the physical differences between my White parents and I. Since my parents and almost everyone around me were White, I thought of myself in the same way – White. This became a problem when I entered kindergarten and realized that my physical appearance was different than the other kids around me. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I grew up in a predominantly White area, Bossier City, Louisiana. Our neighbors were mostly White, middle-class families. There were African American families, too, but I knew that I wasn’t African American. There was prejudice and discrimination all around me. I was too young to understand the implications of such bias. In my family, we never talked about race, my race, my adoptive parents’ race, racism, prejudice, etc. But I perceived very early that Whites were “superior” to other races. It makes me very sad that such racism existed (and still does) where I grew up and, furthermore, within my own family. I often wondered how my adoptive mother felt about me when I heard her make racist remarks toward others of a different race. It made me struggle, and I thought of her as a hypocrite.
I spend time with families now through my internship who adopt children transracially through the child welfare system. These are typically White families who adopt African American, biracial, or Hispanic children. Maybe it’s me, but I am always surprised at how little time is spent discussing with adoptive parents issues of race, culture, and identity. Couples in the process of adopting seem to minimize the importance of these issues often thinking that because the child(ren) who will be placed with them permanently are so young, they have time to plan how to manage such issues. I would dare say that parents of internationally adopted children receive even less education on race, culture, and identity (less overall required training in general) than families who adopt through child welfare. Prospective foster and adoptive parents must complete a 10-week training at many Arizona adoption agencies called PS-MAPP (Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting). Arizona is a little more diverse than Louisiana, but still mostly White at 84.3% of the population (http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/04000.html). I would hope that White adoptive parents would want their adopted African American or Hispanic children to grow up with a strong sense of identity and connection to their cultural heritage. I personally believe that, in the best interest of the child, children should be placed with families of the same ethnic/racial background. Unfortunately, there are few, if any, African American and Hispanic families who adopt children from the child welfare system, at least here in Arizona. I wish that we could recruit families of African American and Hispanic descent who are financially able, willing, and have the emotional/psychological capacity to adopt children through child welfare. I do believe it’s better for a child to be adopted into a family capable of providing the kind of love and care necessary regardless of race rather than languish in the system.
We would like to think that racism does not exist. We would like to believe that love is enough. Some would like to embrace the idea of being colorblind – that we are all human beings and that the color of one’s skin doesn’t matter. But in our society it does matter, and being colorblind does not really work. Racism is alive and well, granted that some areas of the country hold to racist views more than others. There are potential risks inherent in transracial adoption. Adoptive parents must develop cultural competence and the tools necessary to help their adopted child(ren) manage and integrate cultural differences. There are children’s books that discuss race at a level meant for very young children. Family discussions held regularly on issues of race and culture are another way to prepare children for racism and/or discrimination and to help children develop a sense of ethnic pride. Proactive is better than reactive. Studies show that adoptive parents who demonstrate a high regard toward their adopted child’s race foster within their child(ren) a greater sense of ethnic pride.
Transracially adopted persons will explore their ethnicity sooner or later. Familial support, especially during the adolescent years, will help transracially adopted children develop a greater sense of self and ethnic identity. It may seem insignificant, but how race, culture, and identity are negotiated in a transracially adopted child’s developmental years will undoubtedly affect his or her psychological and emotional adjustment across the lifetime.
For more on transracial adoption, visit Adoptive Families adoption magazine online.
See Children’s books celebrating diversity.