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Adoption Blog: Familia Means Family

Confronting Common Misconceptions About Transracial Families



When you have a multicultural, multilingual, and multiracial family you get used to some strange comments, bizarre questions, and amazing assumptions.

Some you are prepared to deal with, some you learn to handle as you encounter them, some are forgettable, and some stay with you and don't let go. There is one such interaction in particular I remember and it happened at daycare.

Back when I was still working full time, Isabel and Noah spent some time at a small daycare by our house. As I mentioned, my children are bilingual. We have been blessed with the opportunity to teach them both Spanish, my native language, and English, my husband's mother tongue. They speak each language equally fluently.

One afternoon I picked up Isabel from the toddler room and took her with me to pick up Noah from the infant room. As we were saying goodbye to the daycare teachers, I said to my children: "Vamos que Daddy nos espera." (Let’s go, Daddy is waiting for us).

Clearly understanding the request, Isabel got ready to leave.

Upon witnessing this, one of the afternoon helpers said to me in amazement, "I didn’t know they spoke three languages!"

Three languages? I quickly did the math in my head and it did not add up. Confused, I asked her, "Three languages? What do you mean?"

She replied without skipping a beat, “Well, they speak English, Mexican…” (Insert wide-eye, appalled look on my face here.) “…Er…I mean Spanish, and African!”

African? Really?

This question brought to light two assumptions people make about transracially adopted children. One is frustrating for its implications and the other one is actually funny in its absurdity.

The first assumption this lady was making is that a non-black couple adopting black children had to have adopted them from Africa. Often the first question we are asked by strangers about our children is: What country are they from? Our response, “The U.S.,” is usually followed by an indirect inquiry as to why we chose to adopt black children domestically. Nobody would dare ask this directly, but we have come to discern that the underlying question is: If we are not out to save the poor children of third-world countries, why would we purposefully choose to adopt African-American children rather than children who look more like one or both of us?

Many times, when we reveal our children were both born in our state, the look we get back is more of concerned confusion than surprise. As a society, we still seem to believe that the idea of adopting a child from a foreign country is to be praised as heroic and selfless, while adopting an African-American child domestically is foolish for all the potential issues of race, culture, and prejudice families can encounter.

This is disheartening because, in the state where I live, the majority of children in foster care and in need of forever families are children of color. When we were going through the process of adoption, we were told there were about 40 couples waiting for each healthy, white infant born. We simply chose to adopt the first child available, knowing full well that statistically our family would probably look like it does now.

While assuming our children are African is not hurtful in itself—we respect, and make no judgment about, families who have adopted internationally from Africa or other parts of the world—it does feed into the stereotype that all transracially adopted black children have been brought home from abroad and it minimizes the very real need for families for children of color in this country. 

The second, and more comical, assumption the woman was making was that my children would speak a particular language based on their ethnicity. This is more common than you would think. I have friends who have been asked how they would communicate with the Hispanic infant they had just adopted since he or she probably only spoke Spanish! While communication barriers are a real concern for families who adopt older children from abroad, that is not the case for newborn or infant adoptions.

I was so dumbfounded by the daycare helper’s comment that I didn’t know what to say. I was speechless and at a loss for an appropriate answer. I couldn’t believe that in this day and age, with a world of information instantly available to us, there is still such depth of cultural ignorance. Not only were my children not born in Africa, they were clearly not raised in Africa since they were still babies, and “African” is not even a language!

I think I mumbled something about them not speaking African and left. Later, of course, I thought of a million different answers I could have given her, ranging from a polite dismissive one, an educational one, or a rude one.

In the end, I never said anything else. What would I have gained from pointing out to her the ridiculous nature of her comment and embarrassing her? Instead I chose to extend her a little grace and hope that she wouldn’t forget this encounter. I have no poker face and I could tell from the woman’s face and from the way she looked and talked to me from then on that she knew her comment had not sat well with me that afternoon.

I have to remember that not everyone has had the opportunity to expand their horizons and enrich their worldview by experiencing or learning about other countries and cultures. I also have to remember that most often questions and comments like this truly come from a lack of knowledge, not malice or rudeness. The woman was a sweet daycare helper and she truly cared for and about my children and I could see that in the gentle way in which she treated them every day. Maybe in the circle in which she moves she hears these types of comments often with no one to dispel their ignorance. Maybe after interacting with our family she may become an agent of education in her world.

How would you have answered this comment? Have you encountered a situation where a question or comment about adoption left you speechless?


Related Posts on AdoptiveFamiliesCircle

30 Comments

I would have had the same esprit d’escalier that you had (when you think of the perfect reply as you’re on the stairs to leave…) and then gnawed on it in my head for months. smile  It’s one reason I love the list they publish in AF from time to time with humorous, deflecting, and educational responses to common questions, so you can have one in your back pocket.  That comment, however, was so off the wall I don’t know how on earth you could’ve prepared for it, and I doubt you’ll ever hear its equal!  I find that most of the weird comments we get are rooted in ignorance, too, and sometimes it is stunning.  We have a black child, too, and are caucasian.  So we are often asked “where is she from” with the expected answer being somewhere in Africa.  Our standard answer is “downtown Dallas” and that usually stuns the speaker enough that we can put in an educational or humorous comment before they gather their wits enough to ask anything else.  smile

By Thalas'shaya on Monday, October 10, 2011 at 12:34 am.

Thank you for sharing, Thalas’shaya. We have been blessed that so far all the comments we have encountered have been made out of ignorance but none out of malice or hate. I hope we never encounter that, especially as the kids get older and begin to understand strangers’ remarks.

By Gaby on Monday, October 10, 2011 at 12:48 am.

I am always left speechless when intelligent adults ask me if my Hispanic kids speak Spanish, even after I tell them that we adopted them as newborns.  I don’t want to embarrass them - and like you I hope that they look back on our conversation and realize that they were making ignorant assumptions based on my kid’s ethnicity. 

Along those lines, I have heard the “do your kids speak Mexican” many times too.  Anyone who says that in addition to the speaking “African” is obviously not well educated on other cultures.  It’s easy to be offended, but keeping the source in mind, can help take the sting away. 

I think it’s wonderful how your family is educating those you interact with.

By Danielle Pennel on Tuesday, October 11, 2011 at 5:43 pm.

I’m glad I am not the only one who has had these encounters. We just brought our son home from Russia this summer. He just turned a year and we have one friend who thinks it will be so cute when he learns to talk because she believes that he will have a Russian accent. And then another time with an ER visit the receptionist was so sweet but genuinely concerned that we might need an Russian interpreter for our visit. I just politely told her that English will be just fine.

I can appreciate the sensitivity, but the ignorance it’s just not something I expected.

By Rasbebe on Tuesday, October 11, 2011 at 6:40 pm.

Thanks for sharing Gaby.  We had a similar experience with a different twist.  When we returned to Ethiopia with our daughter as I recently blogged about, folks often asked us if she spoke Amharic.  I would say, “No, she came home to us when she was a baby.”  The response more often than not was the person would then begin speaking in Amharic to her—to which she responded by staring back at them with her big eyes.  I am not sure why they did not believe me . .but it happened enough times to give me pause.  I honestly wish the answer could have been, “Yes.”

http://www.adoptivefamiliescircle.com/blogs/post/ethiopia-adoption-journey/

By Ellenore Angelidis on Tuesday, October 11, 2011 at 7:58 pm.

In response to whether your children speak “Mexican” and “African” I would anser, “No, they speak ‘American’.”

By serfmom on Tuesday, October 11, 2011 at 9:04 pm.

It’s good to know we are not, alone, isn’t it? I laughed out loud, Rasbebe, about your encounters.

Ellenore, do you think people wonder if it would ellicit some type of response if your daughter heard the familiar sound even if she can’t understand the words? It must be frustrating, though, to have people do that right after you said she does not speak the language!

By Gaby on Tuesday, October 11, 2011 at 9:28 pm.

Gaby,

I think the people who did it really just wanted to connect with her and connect her to her culture. 

It made me more sad than frustrated .. I wish they were right and I was wrong . . and she could understand them. 

It also made me think of the power of irrational optimism . . can’t hurt to believe—you just never know smile

E

By Ellenore Angelidis on Tuesday, October 11, 2011 at 9:34 pm.

We also adopted domestically and went to the front of the line, so to speak, because we, too, choose to adopt the next available child and not wait for a white newborn. Our son is multi-racial and was 9 months old when he came home.

I chuckled, too, Gaby. Our son is half-Vietnamese and he looks Asian. People often seem disappointed when we reply to their question about what country he is from with “California”. And I shake my head when I think of my grandparents saying that of course our son loves rice and spicy food is because he’s Asian (his birth father is Italian/Irish but our son doesn’t like corned beef and cabbage LOL).

In our society, it’s sexy to adopt from another country. I don’t understand why it seems to be so much more important to save children from other countries and not pay attention to the needs in our own back yards.

By drhillsmrs on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 4:17 am.

I love hearing everyone else’s stories. I think every child deserves a loving family no matter where they are. I believe people are called to different types of adoptions for a variety of reasons. We adopted our two from here, and now are in the process of adopting a third one from Haiti. Thank goodness there are people willing to look in their own back yards like you say, and also people who are willing to look beyond!

It would definitely not politically correct to say about my children what people have said about yours liking rice and spicy food. I get those kinds of stereotypes myself being Hispanic. In Ecuador we don’t eat the same kind of food they eat in Mexico but I always get the assumption that I like food that is spicy and that I eat tacos every day. Sigh. I guess we educate one person at the time, right? smile

By Gaby on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 at 5:17 am.
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Gaby

Gaby

South Carolina

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