On adoption and race

by Anti-Racist Parent Columnist, Karen Walrond, originally published at Chookooloonks

alexBack in August, a commenter asked what I thought of this article. It was written by a Lisa Lerner, a Jewish-American woman who adopted transracially from India, and who, as it turns out, ended up having trouble handling the fact that her daughter was dark: “even Blacks and Indians in Vaishali’s and my social circle are lighter than she,” she says. She concludes, “We need darker friends.”

Ignoring for a moment the ridiculousness of this last statement (what’s she going to do, start making friends on the basis of skin colour? “Hi, I’m Lisa. My daughter’s dark — like you, actually. I was wondering: will you be our friend?”), the general content of her article, as you can imagine, unleashed a flood of comments. Some people praised her for her courage in admitting something that was clearly difficult to admit, others blatantly called her a racist, and still others wondered why the hell she would adopt internationally when “there were plenty of children needing a home in America.” I’ll admit upfront that I read very few of these responses, because frankly, they didn’t jibe with my initial reaction. My first thought was, “this doesn’t surprise me in the least.”

See, I have a theory: as superficial as it sounds, I think all prospective parents have an idea of what they hope their child will look like. “I hope the baby has my wife’s eyes,” a man might think. “God help me if she has my mother-in-law’s nose,” an expectant mother may shudder. It’s human nature to imagine what your family is going to look like — and therefore no different for adoptive parents. For this reason, I think to state that “race shouldn’t matter” when adopting is naive — race does matter. When we were considering adoption, Marcus and I specifically wanted a multiracial child, because we’re an interracial couple (although what races made up the “multiracial” were much less of an issue). Even when a couple chooses to adopt transracially, if they’re smart, they will have considered whether or not they can handle all of the issues that can arise when their kids don’t look like their parents do, and therefore the adoption is obvious on its face. Race matters, make no mistake.

The question, therefore, is not whether the baby looks like you expected her to, but whether you can handle it if she doesn’t. And this, my friends, takes some serious soul-searching — a flippant “of course I can, I’m not racist, I have friends of all colours” is not enough. It requires honestly looking at biases that you may have based on others’ skin colour, or culture, or nationality, and really being frank with yourself as to where any discomfort you feel comes from. It requires, if you choose to adopt transracially or transculturally, exploring, on a deep level, why you feel drawn to one race (or culture or nationality) or another. And frankly, it behooves you to do this WAY AHEAD OF TIME — when your child comes home to you is probably a bit late.

As you can imagine, for some this can be a very uncomfortable exercise, since it may involve uncovering some less-than-attractive traits. The good news, however, is you don’t have to tell anyone. For once, it’s really no one’s business why you choose to adopt internationally, or transculturally or transracially — or hell, why you don’t — and if anyone asks, you can just smile and say something vague like, “it’s just what feels right.” (That said, if you do uncover some biases based on stereotypes, for your own good, you probably want to work on that — but that’s a conversation for another time).

I guess my thoughts on this were cemented some time back: a few years ago, Marcus and I heard of a situation similar to Lerner’s. In this case, a couple returned their infant baby to the placing adoption agency during the six-month period pending finalization of adoption, because their African-American child was “too dark.” What made this story particularly startling was that the couple were themselves African-American. I remember first thinking how preposterous I thought their position was, but you know what? Ultimately, they did the right thing: if they weren’t equipped to raise the baby to be proud of who s/he was, then thank God they gave another couple the chance to do so. As for Lerner, well — I guess I wish her the best. It’s too bad she didn’t confront her preconceptions before little Vaishali came home, but whatever. Here’s hoping she works through them now — for both their sakes.

Anyway, that’s my take on the matter – feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments. Oh and one more thing:

No one said this adoption stuff was easy.


Formerly an attorney, Karen Walrond is now a writer and photographer who has contribued to such parenting publications as Blogging Baby and AlphaMom. She is the author of Chookooloonks, which was named one of the Best Adoption Blogs on the internet by Adoptive Families Magazine, and was featured in the book Blogosphere: Best of Blogs. She currently resides with her husband and daughter in Trinidad & Tobago.

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