Kids of color in white families; white children in black families, and more

The Stranger, recently published a provocative article on transracial adoption. (Hat tip to Jae Ran at Harlow’s Monkey.)

After all this time, there are still things we don’t talk about. It’s a century and a half after Emancipation and a year before the election of America’s first black president. This is October 2007.

The door is closed. There is a black woman at the front of the room, near the blackboard. She is facing a black man who is sitting down and talking fast. He keeps talking for a long time, as if he has been waiting a while to say this to someone. The police, but not only the police, treated him like he was a criminal. His parents, who are white, didn’t believe him when he told them this, or if they wanted to believe him, they still just didn’t know what to say. Why would they? They were adopting a black child, they thought—not a black teenager, not a black man.

When he finishes, there is quiet in the room, as if everyone is giving him his due. A young Korean woman goes next. She says she has tried to find her birth mother, but the Korean authorities have stopped her. She says she is working to end all adoption from Korea.

There is a young Korean man. He is gay. He is also transgender. He grew up in a white Christian family in a white Christian town. He had to escape. For a long time, he didn’t talk about it. He knows he should be grateful, but here, among like-minded peers, he feels like he can really talk about it for the first time.

This workshop is called “Race and Transracial Adoption Workshop with Lisa Marie Rollins.” Rollins is the black woman at the front of the room. She says that a social worker labeled her Mexican, Filipino, and Caucasian because people didn’t want black kids. But she looked more and more black as she grew older. Her parents still said she wasn’t black. She was. Finally, they admitted it too. Then once, as an adult, visiting home, she found a mammy doll in her mother’s kitchen, in among the other knickknacks. That’s the end of the anecdote. She’s still basically speechless about it.

She says it is time to watch a video called “Struggle for Identity.” In the video, people tell their stories, stories like the ones in the room. A black woman who was adopted by white parents boils it down: “Don’t think you can make black friends after you adopt a black child. If you don’t already have black friends, you shouldn’t be adopting a black child.” Then the lights go up. There are several white people in the room who have said they have already adopted black or Asian or Guatemalan children, or that they are right now waiting to leave for Ethiopia to pick up their adopted children. All of those people—the white people—are crying.

They are crying because they have heard things they did not want to hear. But there is more to it than that. They are also crying because they do not know how else to respond to the great, big cultural silence that has been broken here. Read more…

The article references an NPR interview with Mark Riding, an African-American man whose family is adopting a white child. For those who haven’t heard the Riding interview, which I think is important because we rarely hear about black families who adopt transracially and the cultural issues that arise, here it is.

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About Tami

Tami Winfrey Harris writes about race, feminism, politics and pop culture at the blog What Tami Said. Her work has also appeared online at The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Ms. Magazine blog, Newsweek, Change.org, Huffington Post and Racialicious. She is a graduate of the Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism. She is mom to two awesome stepkids and spends her spare time researching her family history and cultivating a righteous 'fro.
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