There are two recent articles on transracial adoption. One is from NPR-Growing Up ‘White,’ Transracial Adoptee Learned To Be Black and the other is in the New York Times– In Adoption, Does Race Matter?- Room for Debate.
The NPR piece is based on an interview with Chad Goller-Sojourner. He “is African-American. In 1972, when he was 13 months old, he was adopted by white parents in Tacoma, Wash. He and his siblings are all different races than their parents.”
Chad discussed what it was like growing up black in a home with white parents. He has two siblings, both of whom are also people of color. He grew up in a white community in Washington state and describes what it was like to feel different.
Chad’s parents did as much as they could to expose Chad (and his siblings) to more racially diverse people. They enrolled him in a school where the kids were from different backgrounds. They also read every book from the library that was written by black authors in order to try and understand what Chad and his siblings were experiencing. But that wasn’t enough.
Chad explains that before he even had words for racism, he knew it existed. He noticed being watched when he went into stores with his mother. He would make sure that everyone knew that he was with “the white lady,” and therefore not a threat. He would yell to her from across the store, asking if she would buy something for him and having her respond loudly enough for people to notice that they were together.
“I would hold up some outfit and say, ‘Hey, Mom, could I get this?’ And she’d be like, ‘No!’ Which let everybody within earshot know that I was with a white lady, and then suddenly, that privilege came back over me.”
What can white parents do to help their adopted children of color feel as though they belong? Chad says, “parents today can do even better. I don’t have a checklist, but if I did, it would sound something like this: If you don’t have any close friends or people who look like your kid before you adopt a kid, then why are you adopting that kid? Your child should not be your first black friend.”
I would go a step further and suggest that before adopting a child from a different race, it’s helpful to have role models that look like your child. Find teachers, baby sitters and pediatricians who are from the same background as your child. Take a look at the people in your own life. Do you have friends from different races? Does race ever come up in conversation? How does it make you feel? Probably uncomfortable at first but with practice, the more comfortable you will feel and that will allow your child to know that s/he can discuss race with you too. I would also suggest becoming a part of a transracial adoption community. There are so many that are out there, here are three resources: Families With Children from China, Guatemala Adoptive Families Network, African- American Heritage.
If you have any questions about transracial adoption, feel free to contact me.