Have you ever tried to drive to a destination you’ve never been to before without a clue as to how to get there; no maps, no directions, and no Siri? You could end up in a lake! What is the best thing to do in those situations? Contact the person who has already reached that destination. Navigating a transracial adoption can take many twists and turns and without someone to guide you, it can be rather hairy.
We have over 25 years of experience in fostering and adopting. We’ve seen it all. From six successful adoptions to a disruption; from a bittersweet reunification to working with children/youth who had disputed international adoptions. But one thing that has been our pride and joy is adopting children with different nationalities, ethnicities, and cultures. I am a person of color (African American and Puerto Rican) and my wife is Caucasian. Our adopted children range from Italian to Native American; from East Indian to West Indian (Jamaica), as well as Mexican. It has been a blessing and a joy to learn and teach them about their cultures.
What is a transracial adoption? A transracial adoption is an adoption where the adoptive parent(s) are of one race, but the adopted child belongs to another race. This may mean that the adopted parents are Caucasian, but the child is African American. Or the parents are Hispanic, but the children are Asian. Or, in my case, I identify as African American and have had the privilege and joy of raising two beautiful Native American children.
FAST FACTS ABOUT TRANSRACIAL ADOPTION
Transracial adoption has become more of a trend in recent years. In international and domestic adoptions alike, caring for a child of another culture is becoming more commonplace. Here are a few facts about transracial adoption in America from RainbowKids:
– 84 percent of all international adoptions are transracial.
– 73 percent of all transracial adoptions are facilitated by Caucasian parents.
– 60 percent of all international adoptions involve an Asian child.
– A 1995 study determined that interracial adoptions had no negative effects on the self-esteem, academic achievement, peer relations, and parental and adult relationships of those children.
PROS AND CONS OF A TRANSRACIAL ADOPTION
We have had the privilege of keeping all our children connected to their culture in one way or another. It has been a joy seeing our kids take pride in learning a new word in their native tongue or tasting a new food from their homeland. But there have been challenges also. Let’s look at a few.
– Pros. Transracial adoptions take the culture, traditions, and heritage of one race and blend it with another. Transracial adoption is a beautiful picture of diversity, inclusion, and unconditional love. Transracial adoption is the perfect example of what can happen when we put aside our prejudices for the greater good of meeting the needs of one child at a time.
– Cons. Transracial adoptions are not all unicorns and rainbows, and they come with their own set of challenges. Adoptive parents who care for a child from another race, culture, or ethnicity must have four qualities: humility, flexibility, teachability, and a thick skin. 1) Humility, realizing that we are not rescuing that child from their race. Adoption is not a rescue mission! Yes, these kiddos may have been rescued from a life of abuse, neglect, or homelessness; but we are certainly not rescuing any child from their race. 2) Assimilation. Not necessarily the child assimilating to our culture, but rather, us assimilating to theirs. We need to learn as much about their culture and incorporate those things into our own family. 3) Teachability. We, as adoptive parents, don’t know everything. We need to be open to learning from other races, cultures, and ethnicities. Lastly, if we want to succeed in a transracial adoption, we need to have a thick skin. Transracial adoptions are not for the faint of heart. Consider these real-life situations below and ask yourself how you would react to these situations:
– The Case of Mistaken Identity. I remember leaving a Walmart one day with my 3-year-old adopted son. I was stopped by a greeter who told me, “I don’t recall you coming in with him!” I am a person of color, but I do not look like my son. I was shocked by this comment and the insinuation. Was it because my wife was holding my son when we entered the store? Or was it because I was a person of color who did not look like my son? Did the greeter think I was abducting a child from the store? I’ll never know.
– The Nanny. I’ve heard of stories where African American women who were with their own Caucasian foster or adopted child in public were mistaken for a nanny. This can be quite degrading, especially if you identify as that child’s mom!
– The Odd Looks. When a black child calls a white mother, “Mom,” in public, sometimes people do a double-take. As if we are playing that game, “Which one of these don’t belong.”
– The Odd Questions. When my kids were younger, we would often take all five kids, of all different colors, out to eat at a restaurant. I remember a gentleman asking, “What are you, a daycare?” Or another time when someone saw my wife corralling all our children in public and someone said, “Wow, you must have had a lot of boyfriends!”
What would do or say in any of these cases? Whatever the case, parents who facilitate transracial adoptions must have thick skin. And if you don’t think this is a battle you can face, then maybe you should seek other options. We don’t know the hearts of those individuals: they may be prejudiced, they may be ignorant, or they may have a genuine curiosity. We need to handle these moments with grace and realize that not everyone has had the same experiences as we have, not only about race but about adoption. What we can certainly do is, through our example, show how beautiful transracial adoption is. A sense of humor is certainly called for in many cases, as well.
EDUCATE YOURSELF ON THE HISTORY OF YOUR CHILD’S CULTURE
Do you know the history of your child’s culture or the important people that played important roles in your child’s heritage? If you plan to raise an African American child, it is important for your child to learn about slavery, one of the ugliest periods in our history and how great people like Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Tubman were instrumental to bring slavery to an end. If you have an older African American child or youth, perhaps you should watch Roots, the TV miniseries from the 1970s or Harriet, the 2019 movie that depicts the life of Harriet Tubman.
If you have a Native American child, at the appropriate time, you should discuss the Long Walk of the Navajo and the Cherokee Trail of Tears, in which hundreds of Indians died in long, forced, cross-country treks in both events. You should also educate yourself on the many treaties that were broken with indigenous peoples and the formation of Indian Reservations.
If you have a child with Jewish heritage, the Holocaust should be an item of discussion, at some point. The Holocaust occurred during the 1930s and 1940s when 6 million Jews were systematically killed by the German Nazis. They used concentration camps like Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Dachau to commit one of the greatest genocides in history. Perhaps adoptive parents should watch Schindler’s List together with their child when they are of age.
History is not to make the child feel bad about his roots but to make sure that it never happens again. There is an old saying, “Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.” Jewish people have a saying, “Never again!” referring to the Holocaust; meaning that they will keep in in the forefront of people’s minds so that such atrocities are unthinkable.
But rather than just focusing on the negative, adoptive parents should focus on the positives of their culture. Show them that there were great people who overcame their past in order to do great things. Teach them about Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat to a white man while riding a bus in the segregated south during the 1950s, and sparked the Montgomery Bus Company boycott, which would be the catalyst to the Civil Rights movement in the ’50s and ’60s. Teach them about the Native American athlete, Billy Mills, who overcame racism to win an Olympic Gold Medal in 1964. Or Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian Civil Rights leader, who led the Indian independence movement against British rule. Every culture has a rich history that needs to be taught to each child. Educate your child and yourself on the good and the bad of each culture.
We can and should teach our children about the ugly realities of racism and how to deal with those situations, but we should also balance that with racial reconciliation. We should teach about the Jewish civil rights activists who gave their lives during the Civil Rights movement for blacks. Or people like Corie ten Boom who faced going to a concentration camp because she hid Jews from the Nazis in her attic in German-occupied Holland in the 1940s. There are glimpses of humanity during atrocity. Transracial adoption does just that: it is the merger of two cultures into one beautiful collage.
WHAT CAN WE DO TO KEEP A CHILD CONNECTED TO HIS CULTURE?
Here’s the bottom line with transracial adoptions: these children need to be connected to their culture. These children have lost their homes, their toys, in some cases, their siblings, their pets, and their parents. Why should they also lose their culture? We can mitigate the grief and loss a child has and, in the process, enhance his knowledge of his culture by celebrating it, not ignoring it. Here are a few ways to celebrate their culture.
Keep connections with one person from his culture. Do you have an open adoption? One positive way to keep a child connected to his culture is through an open adoption. Whether that person is the biological parent or grandma or uncle, that connection, they can relate the rich history and heritage of the family and culture. If you do not have an open adoption, find someone who knows the culture and keep in touch whether through personal visits, phone, Facebook, or good ole’ letters, make that connection and keep it!
Festivals and Parades. Everyone has heard of St. Patrick’s Day Parades, but have you ever heard of the Jamaican Day Parade or Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City? Do you have a Native American child? Check out some local pow wows in your area. These events will help your child to feel proud of his ethnicity.
Food. Once a week or so, let your child explore food from his culture. If she is from India, let her try naan bread. If she is from Jamaica, let her try a Jamaican beef patty. If they are Native American, let them try some frybread.
Hair. Hairstyle is very important in other cultures. Consult with someone of your child’s culture. For example, Native Americans are very proud of long hair for both boys and girls. An African American girl’s hair is very different from a Caucasian girl’s hair. There are two extremes that I have seen Caucasian moms do regarding their little girl’s hair: one is to do nothing and the other is to treat their hair the same as a Caucasian girl’s hair. Both tactics may not be beneficial to your child. Take your child to a person with experience and let them guide you on how to best handle it. Learn about African American hair care and hairstyles such as extensions, dreadlocks, cornrows, and afros. Find out what works best for your child. And remember your child must live with her hair for the rest of her life. You do not.
In an ideal world, we would find a home for each child in their own race, culture, or ethnicity. However, that is not reality. Of course, in a perfect world, there would be no need for foster care or adoption. In the meantime, transracial adoption will be needed to care for these precious little ones. Remember, to be flexible, teachable, and humble. That will go a long way in helping your child live in a transracial home.
Visit Adoption.com’s photolisting page for children who are ready and waiting to find their forever families. For adoptive parents, please visit our Parent Profiles page where you can create an incredible adoption profile and connect directly with potential birth parents.
Derek Williams is an adoption social worker and has been in the field of child welfare and behavioral health since 2006, where he has assisted families in their adoption journey. He and his wife started their adoption journey in 1993 and have eight children, six of whom are adopted. His adopted children are all different ethnicities including East Indian, Jamaican and Native American. He loves traveling with his family, especially to the East Coast and to the West Coast and is an avid NY Mets fan! Foster care and adoption are his passions and callings for Derek, and he is pleased to share his experiences with others who are like-minded.