Response to a Transracially Adopting Mother

by Anti-Racist Parent columnist Natasha Sky

I recently met someone friends have been trying to hook me up with for weeks; her family is planning to adopt. She had heard about me, and I must admit I was excited to talk to her–another multiracial family in our community! (I should know better by now.) I asked all the standard questions and, with a sinking heart, received all the standard answers. They chose international adoption because they were told they couldn’t choose gender with a domestic adoption, and they don’t want ongoing contact with birthfamily (although she likes the idea of meeting their child’s birthfamily once). They chose Ethiopia because the children are young and healthy, there are girls available, and the wait for China is getting long (up to 2+ years). They also find “African culture fascinating” although neither parent has travelled to the continent. They do not plan to adopt a second child of color.

She left and I felt something inside of me I was not expecting. I was about to cry. What is surprising about this situation is how it gets me every single time–because this could be the description of more than half the internationally adopting families I know. (Actually, this family has more adult adoptee connections than most adopting families.) Part of what pushes me to tears is total frustration. How can I possibly reach this woman? How much White Privilege is at work in the world, in our society, in an individual White family’s life that a couple’s choice to adopt includes considerations of (a) gender, (b) health, (c) amount of time the adoptive family will have to wait, but NOT (d) what it will be like for their child to grow up as the only child of color in their family and one of the few people of color in the community, or (e) what it means to become an inclusive, educated, multiracial family.

As my husband pointed out, no one has to complete a class or fill out a race-awareness form before they become a multiracial family through birth—of course they shouldn’t. What is different about creating a multiracial family biologically is that usually an adult of color (and often their extended family) is present in the child’s life–and the White parent first has an intimate relationship with this adult of color. In the case of transracial adoption, White parents do not have to know (or have ever known) anyone who shares their child’s heritage, and suddenly they are head of a multiracial family. If White parents are not fully invested in learning about their child’s heritage and incorporating their child’s culture into the family’s traditions and culture, this responsibility falls to the child. The fact that race does not seem to matter to many transracially adopting parents is the epitome of White Privilege.

White adults can say things like, “Race doesn’t matter to me,” or “I don’t see race.” But I have yet to meet an adult of color in this country whose experience would allow them to say such a thing. It is scientifically true that all people are part of a single human race; however, the societal construct of different races affects us all.

I received an email shortly after posting a sanitized version of the pre-adoptive parent story; this is an excerpt from the emailed comment:

I am outing myself as that woman on the playground. Please do not judge me upon meeting me during one situation with a million kids around. I gave you my quick surface answers. It is not a simple choice for our family to adopt transracially and from another country. This is a long thought out decision. Just because I do not want to get up on a soapbox when talking about our choices to add to our family please do not get offended or think that I am a lost cause. I support your causes and think what you are doing is good, but do not be offended if we are making different choices.

This was my reply:

You became an example of one of many families I know. Your family is simply the most recent story, and for that I apologize. I have no doubt you love your children, and you will love your new child as well. I do not think you or your husband have not thought this idea out. What scares and frustrates me is the thought of any child growing up in a family and a community where virtually no one looks like them or shares their heritage–and where no one shares their experience of the world as a person of color. This happens to many transracially adopted children, including some of my friends. I’m sure you have noticed there are almost no adults of color in this community.

I understand not everybody is as comfortable talking about their choices and their family as I have had to become. The fact of the matter is that any transracially adopted child has no option to “pass”, even as a member of their own family. They are stared at and asked questions about their family relationships throughout their life. When this is a child of color and they grow up in an all-White community, they can never blend in. Every single experience in their life puts them front and center stage, whether they like it or not. I know transracially adopted people (now adults) whose personality would have had them center stage no matter what their life situation, and they generally fared well. And I know transracial adoptees who were born shy, and the constant attention has made their life almost unbearably difficult.

In exploring our elementary school and talking to the few parents here with children of color, I’ve heard too many disturbing stories to simply dismiss. It is clear to me that this town will not be a friendly place to raise Black children, especially when they are becoming teens. My friend has a biological son with Black heritage who is in late elementary school. He is a skinny little guy (I think of my son at ten). This boy was riding his bike home–alone–from the playground on a Saturday evening (not yet dark) about a month ago. He was just past the grocery store when a car starts following him, and finally pulls right up next to him. It is full of White teenage boys. Two of them lean out the window and scream “Go, n—-r, go!” and speed off laughing. (My friend’s son was so scared.) Now I know this still, unfortunately, happens almost everywhere. But as the only Black boy his age in this community, this precious little guy has lived his entire life as a target for racist behavior like this.

This is one of the main reasons why we are moving our family. Like I’ve said before, I just want my kids to have the opportunity to be friends with (and eventually date) people of all different races and ethnicities, and that won’t happen here. Just as importantly, I want my visually-non-White children to have the opportunity to blend in, to not always be center stage, to not always be known because there are no other Black kids their age in town. I also want all my kids to have adults of color in the community as role models, mentors, and friends.

I understand you are making different choices. I don’t know anyone who has made all the choices I have. I just have my own experiences and those of my friends who were adopted transracially. I just think of where I’d want to grow up if I were a transracially adopted child with Black ancestry.

As parents, we all want to stack the deck in our children’s favor, give them every advantage we can so they will hopefully grow up to be happy, healthy, independent adults. Being adopted already adds one more layer of complexity to some of my children’s lives, transracially adopted a second layer. I am not comfortable adding ‘growing up in a White community’ as a third layer. That’s our family’s perspective, and I know there are many others.

Natasha Sky is a multiracial woman, a writer, an artist, and an activist—as well as the fulltime mother of four multiracial children all under the age of six. Two of Natasha’s children joined her family through open domestic adoption and two of her children joined her family through homebirth. Natasha created MultiracialSky.com, a website of resources for multiracial families. During naptime, Natasha writes about multiracial family life.

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