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Transracial Families

Where the Rubber Meets the Road


For over 30 years, I have been involved in the adoption community and have read/listened to too many of us complain about racialized remarks and questions that we receive when out in public with our child, while I also hear from transracially adopted children growing up in multi-racial environments tell me that they rarely, if ever experience this.  Racism is certainly the culprit, but few of us seem to recognize that we participate in it when we chose to bring a child of color into our predominantly white communities without realizing that that is not an appropriate, healthy choice for the child, or that the adoption agencies we worked with know so little about the necessary ingredients for nurturing healthy racial-ethnic identity that they allowed this without even warning us that this is problematic. 

  If we don’t want to get bombarded with tennis balls, we don’t stand on a tennis court.  If we don’t want to be bombarded by racially-motivated, insensitive remarks and intrusive questions, then we should not be placing ourselves and our children in the line of fire in predominantly white communities where racism permeates the environment.  Besides setting our children up for conversations and interactions that are going to diminish their sense of self worth, nearly guarantee that they will not be comfortable in their own skin, and make them more vulnerable to internalized racism, these environments lack the essential resources and qualities necessary to promote accurate and healthy racial-ethnic identity.  They emphasize the racial differences between us and our children in negative ways that cause our children to feel different and inferior.  In these settings, we and our children are far more likely to regularly be assaulted by questions and comments that negate the authenticity of our familial relationships (i.e. comments such as: “do you have any REAL children?” and “they can’t be your REAL parents because you don’t even look alike”). 

    The worst for the children is going to school in predominantly white communities, for it is there that the children are continually singled out as “different” and targeted with questions and comments that undermine their sense of self worth, their sense of belonging, their social status, and the authenticity of their families—all, without adults intervening.  Most of the incidents occur when adults are not within hearing range (on the playground, on the buses, in the lunchrooms, in the corners of the classroom, etc….).  Some, though, ARE witnessed by the adults or are, at least, reported to the adults, but when the adults are teaching in a nearly all-white environment, they are far more likely to not know how to intervene appropriately or they are less inclined to do so because they, too, may harbor racist attitudes and beliefs or underestimate the corrosive power of these type of incidents. 

      ALL children acquire racial-ethnic identity IN CONTEXT, which means that they catch, rather than learn through adults teaching them about this foundational facet of who they are and how they fit in to the society around them.  All need same-race adults whom they observe and interact with in a multi-racial context, on an everyday basis, so that they become familiar,comfortable, and enamored of those same-race adults, and have those essential I-wanna-be-like-you-when-I-grow-up moments with them that nurture healthy thoughts, feelings and assumptions:  (1) “I am like you, you are like me and we each like that.”  (2) “We are normal, regular people just like everyone else we know.” (3) “People who look like me can and do have nice lives and interesting jobs.”  (4)“Racial differences are common to all of us.” (5) “I will look like you and other adults of the same race when I grow up, and I am happy about that.”  (6) “There are LOTS of others—children, adults, and families—who look like me.”  (7)” Many of the adults I see and feel comfortable with look like me AND are just like me and my family members in how we interact, what we do, how we feel, how we work and play, how we love.” (8) “I belong.  I fit in.  Me and my family are normal.”

  Not only do our children need immersion in multi-racial environments and adult role models of color, it is essential that they see their parents participate in social circles that are multi-racial and multi-cultural.  That means that adults of color cross the threshold of their homes, break bread with their families, laugh and share confidences with their parents, and have real friendships with their parents.  It does NOT mean that their parents have occasional, superficial acquaintances with adults of color.  When we have only other white people in our social circles (those close to us whom we consider close friends), our children tend to see us as hypocritical—that we only TALK about appreciating people of color and wishing we had friendships with adults of color, but don’t, actually do anything to make that happen.  Out of loyalty to us, they would never say such things to us, but in the group sessions I facilitate with pre-teens and teens who were transracially adopted, this DOES emerge as an issue. 

    We are all—as parents involved in transracial adoptions—capable of doing more than we currently are doing to make the social connections we should have.  We can and should place our children in multi-racial schools because we understand that that is a basic, fundamental requirement for nurturing this foundational aspect of our children’s identity development.  We are capable of reaching out to make and sustain friendships with adults of color—recognizing that raising children of color IS something we have in common—just as we seek to make friendships with others who are single parents if we are single, or with parents who have kids the same age as ours, or with people who share a special interest that we have.  If we cannot, then we ought to be evaluating our community as inadequate for meeting our child’s needs, just as we would come to that conclusion if our child was deaf and our community lacked a school that could offer appropriate services for him/her to learn to communicate. 

      Unfortunately, race is still so taboo and uncomfortable to talk about because racism permeates our society, even many decades after the Civil Rights Movement, and despite the fact that we are becoming more multi-racial and multi-cultural each year.  As adoptive parents, it is important that we educate ourselves as to why that is the case.  It is also critical that we educate ourselves about what racism is beyond what we THINK it is (that our children are targeted with racial bullying or they/we encounter racialized questions and comments).  The racialized incidents and conversations are the symptoms of racism.  We need to fully understand that racism is systematic—how it continues to keep people of color from having equal opportunity, representation in our governments and judicial system, and results in lesser status and wealth, and how the majority of white individuals perpetuate that system without intending to or consciously even wanting to do so.

      We MUST—to a person—educate ourselves about racism and commit to becoming actively anti-racist in order to truly do an effective and superb job of raising our transracially adopted children.  Making statements such as: “I/we don’t see color—we are colorblind,”  or “race doesn’t matter—its just a social construct,” or “my child will be fine because all of the people I/we associate with accept his/her racial heritage,” do NOT make one anti-racist, free from participating in racism, or competent for raising a child of color. 

  I have come to believe that we have never openly and honestly had these kind of conversations about what our children need in order to have a healthy sense of self worth—to develop healthy, accurate racial-ethnic identity because we are SUCH a feel-good society that we are unwilling to make statements that might make some of us feel bad about the lifestyle choices we have made.  We’ve been willing to sacrifice the children, rather than inform one another of the problems in raising children in some of the communities we live in. 

  We also DO need to face the racism embedded in the racially-motivated comments and questions we encounter when we are out in public with our children without ducking the issues, and speaking assertively to address what is beneath the surface of what others say to us about our children.  Most of us could benefit from some assertiveness training so that we can know that being direct, or firmly stating that we do not answer personal questions about members of our family, or that a racially-motivated question is not appropriate to ask just because we are fellow white adults in the company of a child of color—and that that is not wrong or bad or even impolite.  That could help us grasp that its what our CHILD hears and sees us model that is important, and that its the IMPACT of the words that we should focus on and not the intent of the speaker.  It would help us to understand that our primary job is to stand up beside our child, even when and if that makes another uncomfortable because it points out to him or her that what has been said or asked is intrusive and/or insensitive and would not have BEEN verbalized if we and our child were not racially different.  However, we have to also be honest with ourselves and recognize that we are less likely to have these encounters in communities where racial difference is the norm and not the exception. 

    For all of you who are reading this and feeling angry and threatened and defensive, I want you to know that as a new parent in the transracial adoption arena, I would have reacted in exactly the same way and had LOTS to learn and confront within myself before I recognized the things I am writing about, much less found the courage and resolve to write them to you.  My husband and I prided ourselves on being eager and enthusiastic about adopting across the lines of race and wholeheartedly believed that our ability to love a child of a different race and surround ourselves, as a family, with people who would accept us was enough.  We naively had no doubts about our capacity to raise a psychologically healthy and happy child who would have high sense of self worth.  We thought that we understood race because we DID have friends of color, and only gradually realized that we did not, and felt humbled by the task we had signed on for without really understanding what it would take TO do an effective job—raising our children of color.  It was the run-ins with the racially-motivated questions and comments, and later, our children’s encounters with racialized bullying that inspired us to learn what we should have PRIOR to adopting and led me to research how children develop racial-ethnic identity, and more to the point, how transracially adopted children build healthy racial-ethnic identity or don’t (and why).  The evolution to transform ourselves was extremely challenging, and at times, painful and meant we had to work through grief, shame, and fear.  It has been, though, a remarkable journey and one that I am glad to have made.  I have devoted my career to working in the adoption arena because I hope that my own journey can inspire others to journey alongside me and more easily and readily find their way, and so that our children—for after all, this is about THEM even more than it is about US—can have the satisfying lives we all intend for them to have.
Jane Brown, MSW

Replies

I am not sure why some of my posts appear twice, but apologize for that! I will try to figure out how to fix this problem, as I am sure it is annoying to others.
—Jane

Posted by Jane Brown on Jun 02, 2011 at 10:35pm

Jane,

Thank you for this thought-provoking article.  As a relatively new transracial family, we are looking to start off on the right foot and give our children the best chance to grow up as confident people who embrace their ethnicity and culture.  My husband and I are white and our sons are biracial: AA/Puerto Rican/White.

My question to you is where can we find these “multi-racial environments”?  I have read many articles that say the more diverse an area is, the more segregated the populous becomes.  We are worried that in a segregated environment, our biracial children will not be accepted in any group.

We live in a predominantly white suburb of Chicago and are very willing to “move off the tennis court” if it is in the best interest of our children.  But we have no idea where to move!  Although extremely diverse, Chicago is extremely segregated.  When looking into places to move, do we go to a predominately AA area even though we don’t know if our sons will A-identify with AA or Puerto Rican and B-be accepted by this group?  Do we move to a predominately PR area, again not knowing?

We have many good friends with diverse backgrounds, but their children do not attend our schools and we only see them every few months. 

We are very confused as to what to do.  Thoughts/recommendations?
Thanks!!

Posted by vitallo on Jun 02, 2011 at 11:14pm

Thank you in return for your thoughtful reply.  No wonder you are perplexed.  Welcome to the world of adoptive parenting!  These are not at all easy decisions to make and there are no simple, one-size-fits-all answers.  You are spot on that segregation is a major problem that we all confront in those locations that tend to offer the most racial and ethnic diversity.  Unfortunately, people tend to want to live and school their children in communities where there are people who are like themselves, as much as they sometimes segregate because they don’t want to live close to others who are UNlike themselves—and BOTH of these motivating factors result in segregation. 
    Your children have multi-racial and multi-cultural backgrounds, and we ALL—as adoptive families—are multi-racial and multi-cultural FAMILES, which is why we need to aim to raise our children in multi-racial and multi-ethnic communities rather than communities that are predominantly white, or are populated by people who are of the same race and ethnicity to our children (or match a PART of their heritage).  Yet this is a very challenging task to set for ourselves, for these are atypical communities and schools!  Even so, if we recognize this as they most idyllic situation, we can strive to do the best that we can and look for any environments—neighborhoods, schools, church/synagogue/other religious insitutions, camps, etc… that are racially diverse and offer constructive opportunities for our children to be amongst kids and adults of a multitude of racial-ethnic backgrounds.  Sometimes we must piece this together—it may not come in a single package.  However, the schools we choose are probably THE most important and influential.
    Children who are biracial or mult-racial may eventually identify in a variety of ways and we cannot predict what that will be, early on in their lives.  With that in mind, offering a smorgasborg of experiences and people (individuals and groups) is a good idea. When you, as their parents, actively demonstrate interest in, and regular contact with people who have shared racial-ethnic heritage from all of the components of their rich and varied heritage, you convey to them that they can and should claim ALL of their belongingness to and with these varied groups.  Along the way, you will also want to look for opportunities for them to get to know and develop relationships with adults who have biracial and/or multiracial because those are the people who can help them learn about how to navigate their way and make the choices they can make in terms of claiming identity. What they will discover from discussing this with them, is that they, too, have had a more complicated path to building racial-ethnic identity, but that there are terrific compensations! That they can be 400% people—100% from each one of their ethic heritages, and an extra 100% from learning how to claim and honor all of them at once!
    Will your children experience loaded-questions and comments from the AA and Puerto-Rican communities?  Yes.  Undoubtedly some of the children and adults they encounter will suggest that they are not AA or Puerto Rican ENOUGH—both because they are of mixed racial-ethnic heritage, but also because they live with you.  Preparing yourselves and them to resist the messaging that they are inferior or do not have the right to claim the heritage that is theirs will be a confusing and complicated part of your job.  The more assertive and direct you are when others suggest that they don’t fully belong to any one of their ethnic communities, the better you model for them how to stand up to rejection of the intent to diminish who they are.
  Good luck!  I hope we’ll continue this worthwhile conversation.  Thanks, in return, for the opportunity TO do that!

Posted by Jane Brown on Jun 03, 2011 at 1:14am

Thank you, thank you!  It may be a tough pill to swallow for some adoptive parents but we cannot ignore our children’s heritage or think that we’ll just “get by” by exposing them to basketball games and Snoop Dog. (OK, bad examples but anyway…)

Posted by adoption_mama on Jun 03, 2011 at 3:02am

This topic is so important and so complicated.  Can you define “racial-ethnic"identity for me?  My son was born in the US and his heritage is Mexican.  His birthfamily chose us, white people, to be his adoptive parents.  Can you tell me what his race is and what his ethnicity is?  It seems so simple, yet it is not.  Thank you so much for initiating this topic.

Posted by DanMom on Jun 03, 2011 at 7:48am

Thank you so much for this article. Very helpful!

Posted by zuzu on Jun 03, 2011 at 9:11am

When I bring my child to groups that are predominantly her ethnicity, and I am the minority, I invariably get the message that I have no business parenting her because I can’t possibly understand what it means to be the ethnic group she is, and I get So Disgusted by that.  So I’m sure she must get equally but differently frustrated when she’s a minority person in a group of people who are mostly my ethnicity, and she doesn’t even have the words to express it or deal with it yet, she’s only 4.  I think that eventually as a family we’ll have to learn to cope with and educate against segregationalist rudeness in all the ethnicities where we have family members.  I think that as the adult in the family it’s my job to consciously take on some of the burden of developing multi ethnic connections by putting our family in places where the kids are the majority and the parents are in the minority ethnically speaking, frequently enough that we parents become known there, not just occasionally   a) so a little kid doesn’t have to bear the brunt of all the segregationist meanness that comes at our family and     b) to model how inter-ethnic poise is advocated for.  But I won’t pretend it’s a smooth ride at this point.  I’m new parent awkward and idealistic and defensive and naive, and I don’t know what else I could have done ahead of time to be more ready, I think I have to learn on the fly, like a lot of the rest of life.  It’ll be quite a story at the end of it!

Posted by Mama Rachel on Jun 03, 2011 at 9:55am

Jane,

Thanks for your thoughts!

Your piece reminded me of “Brown Babies, Pink Parents” by Amy Ford.  Great book, by the way.

My husband and I are parenting two AA girls (one is 6 mo, one is 2.5).  I cannot tell you how many times people have told me, basically, that race doesn’t matter when my girls are this young.  That I shouldn’t worry about the racial diversity at preschools I’m considering for my 2.5 yr old. 

PUHLEEZE.  Race isn’t necessarily a big deal when you are a white person in a mostly white community with white privlidge.  Life is pretty easy when you aren’t targeted by police, when you are always among other white people, and when you have it way easier in life simply b/c you are white.

I found a diverse preschool.  We are determined to move into a better school district (our current district is diverse but not good educationally) and specifically, one particular grade school that we know is quite diverse.    I found a preschool that is fairly diverse.  I’m started an adoptive moms group which helps support many moms who have adopted transracially.  We get our families together often so our kids can not only see kids of other races, but kids who are transracially adopted.

I struggle the most with finding friends, TRUE friends, as you mention, of color. 

The point, I think, ultimately, is to TRY.  To take off blinders and TRY for our children.  To do whatever it takes to make sure they feel fully at home in their own home and in their own skin.

Great article.  You go, girl!

Posted by mamaof2browngirls on Jun 03, 2011 at 11:44am

I read on the Spence Chapin website that basically if you never socialize with people of different races, you basically shouldn’t adopt outside of your race. 

I’m planning on adopting outside of my race as a single caucasian female. I plan on joining churches or groups so that my future child can interact with people of many different colors and backgrounds.  If one does not adopt a child of european or african backgrounds though, it has occurred to me that it may be difficult to find a community with people who look like the adopted child if you don’t live in a major city.  I hope to relocate to a more metro area because of this.

Posted by AnnB on Jun 04, 2011 at 6:14am

Jane,

Thanks for your thoughtful post. I’m currently reading ‘Inside Transracial Adoption’ by Steinberg and Hall which is very similar in both subject and perspective to your post.

My husband and I are Caucasian and our 2 year old son is African American. And it is a tough pill to swallow, realizing that as much as you love your baby you will not be able to serve as his role-model and mentor for some aspects of his life. That you can not obviously model your child’s racial heritage/identity and will need to allow your child the permission to claim other individuals as revered teachers. Of course all parents have to grant their children the freedom to develop; all parents have to let go and allow their children to claim their own role-models and form their own identity. But I think adoptive parents are especially sensitive to the idea. We often worked hard to become parents and we want to be the best parents possible….every bit ‘as good as’ biological parents. In a way, parents in transracial adoptive families have to concede that they are not ‘as good as’ in the racial education department…and admitting that fosters feelings of insecurity and inadequacy (which most adoptive parents are also pretty sensitive to).

I tend to agree with Mama Rachel that most parents ultimately learn on the fly and there is no way to completely prepare yourself pre-child for the complexities of transracial adoption. Partially, because Caucasian individuals may not have experienced extreme prejudice firsthand and may tend to underestimate it’s prevalence. And partially because all parenting, transracial, adoptive or otherwise, is a live it to learn it sort of thing. I agree with many of the people here, we should strive….try. Perhaps we won’t always be successful in our endeavors to foster meaningful connections for our children, but we can keep trying.

Posted by Felicia on Jun 05, 2011 at 4:10am

Hi All.  I’ve been so glad that so many people are adding comments. I have some thoughts about some things that have been shared.  First, while not one of us can give our children a perfect childhood, we can and should do more than just try to give them the necessary ingredients.  Our motto needs to be: MAKE IT HAPPEN! When we DO adopt that motto, we DO, gradually acquire the resources and connections we need.  My concern is that you/we, like too many parents who’ve adopted transracially before us, will make excuses instead of doing what we have to in order to insure our children get their needs met, and will suffer the same kind of damage that I have observed in the adopted youngsters (many of whom are now adults and are quite angry about having been placed with families they love, but failed them).
    Felicia, I have seen many adoptive parents who are not, themselves, persons of color do an excellent job of nurturing healthy racial-ethnic development in their children.  Our kids do not have to settle for second-best!  It takes comprehensive instead of superficial knowledge of what racism is and why it exists and how we MUST become actively-anti-racist,
+ multiracial immersion for our children and for us, but we CAN do a good job.
  For those whose marriage is interracial, your child will have a built-in adult role model of color, plus extended family members of color, so what I am sharing is not applicable in the same way.  Its the white parents with children of color whom my post is addressing.  I would, though, do some research on how to find a multiracial and multicultural community.  I would highly doubt that Colorado would be the place to look for that. 
      For those of you who wrote that parenting is learned through experience, you are both correct and incorrect.  There is much that one can and should learn prior to parenting, including what it takes to do an effective job of raising children of color. Just as we would not put a patient into the hands of a surgeon who is untrained, we should not be placing children with complicated psychological-social needs into untrained families who have great intentions, but little to no knowledge and no already-in-place resources for doing a job that is too important to merely hope that they will somehow figure out how to do adequately.
i was fortunate to have worked for 2 adoption agencies that DID do an excellent job, and the children they placed have been well-served.  The newly-trained surgeon will learn more, once he or she begins to actually perform surgical procedures, BUT we would not send him/her in to do such procedures without adequate training and supervision. Its not acting in the children’s best interests to not have trained and assesed their parents adequately for the difficult, complex, and life-shaping job that they have been given to do.  The children suffer that way, and we now know enough that that should not be.
      i realize that I am being confrontive and that that is difficult to have someone do.  However, the reality is that your own satisfaction with parenting and your children’s emotional and psychological health could very well depend upon someone doing just that.  Otherwise, adoptive parents in transracial adoptive families do NOT make the changes they should make so as to meet the complex needs of their children.
I care deeply about each of you who participates in this forum—enough to not just go along with the feel-good stuff that most of you have gotten from your agencies, and to instead, try to really make a difference that will give you and your children better quality of life in the long run.

Posted by Jane Brown on Jun 07, 2011 at 12:13pm

Thanks, Jane, for your thought-provoking posts.  This is an important topic, and it seems to me that a good place to start on a successful journey as a “transracial” family is to have a clear definition of “racial-ethnic identity.”  Can you help me with that?  Does the definition change according to race?  What is the race of a Hispanic person?  Is it related to the country of origin?  Thank you for your input!

Posted by DanMom on Jun 08, 2011 at 11:08pm

My post was meant to comment that parents who share a racial heritage with their children (often but not always via a biological relationship) have an advantage when it comes to educating their children about said heritage. I in no way think that adoptive parents are ‘second best’ or that transracially adopted children are forced to ‘settle for second best’ by the nature of their having been adopted.

While I respect the wealth of knowledge that you bring to conversations about transracial adoption, conversations are more amicable when they are actual conversations, not directives. It is not really what you are saying that is confrontational, it is the manner in which you say it.

Posted by Felicia on Jun 09, 2011 at 10:14am

Ok, I have been lurking on this post for long enough.

I have some thoughts for the original poster:
Jane, I detest the tone of this post and most of all the tone of your replies. Being a MSW in no way gives you the right to address people you don’t know in this way. Please keep these forums a place of BOTH good information and encouragement.

For everyone parenting across racial lines, or thinking about it: I agree completely with the content of the post and replies. We must, must, MUST actively take steps, sometimes dramatic steps for the welfare of our children. Then again, we’re parents- thats what we do.

Posted by Farmerjoan on Jun 10, 2011 at 12:09am

Jane, I don’t think you said anything wrong.  Maybe they just haven’t heard the complaints of adult TRAs.  Maybe they don’t understand how fundamental the problem really is.  It is undoubtedly a very deep and complex problem that is largely swept under the rug—especially by those who profit from adoption. 

Jane said, “I have come to believe that we have never openly and honestly had these kind of conversations about what our children need in order to have a healthy sense of self worthto develop healthy, accurate racial-ethnic identity because we are SUCH a feel-good society that we are unwilling to make statements that might make some of us feel bad about the lifestyle choices we have made.  Weve been willing to sacrifice the children, rather than inform one another of the problems in raising children in some of the communities we live in.” 

That statement is absolutely true, and while the problem reaches a pinnacle in trans-racial adoption, it isn’t limited to that, and should be applied to adoption in general.  Everyone should be given the opportunity, if at all possible, to grow and develop with a solid sense of who they are.  Unfortunately, in the case of many adoptions, that would ‘threaten’ the adoptive parents.  Their goal was not to raise a child to the best of their ability, but to become a parent.  Anything that threatens the accomplishment of that very narrow, self-interested goal is unilaterally rejected.


Adoptees are NOT an extension of our adoptive parents.  We are separate from them, unique from them.  They impart their values to us, but we don’t inherit their temperament.  We don’t inherit their skills, their features, their disease risks.  As a white person adopted into a white family, the mirror isn’t contradicting my sense of racial identity.  Of course, for many years, all I had was the mirror to tell me what my racial/ethnic identity is.  That information certainly wasn’t provided in any other way.  It was a guess.  Nothing more, nothing less.  I had no hard facts.  At the same time, the mirror does contradict my legal status as the daughter of my ap’s.  Someone else is looking back at me in the mirror.  It’s not my ap’s.  No amount of paperwork can change that.

Racial identity and genetic mirroring are things people take for granted when they have them.  A number of adoptees have been trying to tell the industry for decades that the absence of these things are NOT healthy.  It falls upon deaf ears.  It’s just not part of the “feel good” agenda.

Posted by Jeanne on Jun 10, 2011 at 10:06pm

Well said! Too many times I have heard other transracial adoptive parents announce that they are raising their children with absolutely no regard to their children’s heritage. Raise them white, keep them with white folk, and let the kid figure it all out later- that is the attitude by some adoptive parents who just don’t want to go into something that is not comfortable- racism is not a fun topic nor is it easy to talk to children about it…BUT if we as parents don’t help our children then who is going to???? Still, the one thing that is not addressed in this article is the fact that our children also have issues with some people in the African American community not accepting them because their parents are white. Thus, our kids and our family get racism from some white people and prejudice from some African Americans. That’s a lot for a kid to deal with and again, it means that as parents we must be prepared to help them on their journeys…. I agree that ensuring our children and ourselves are exposed to a diverse group of people- especially those with the same racial background as our children is a must but we must also be prepared for issues in that area, too….

Posted by mel123 on Jun 11, 2011 at 5:03am

Can anyone help me by providing a clear definition of racial-ethnic identity? What is race?  What is ethnicity?  Is race based on skin color only?  Is it simply based on what you look like?  What if you are Hispanic?

Posted by DanMom on Jun 11, 2011 at 8:40am

mel123, it goes deeper than just being accepted by one’s own racial/ethnic group.  It can involve refusing to accept your own racial/ethnic identity.  There are adult TRAs who consciously avoid people of their own race because they do not identify with them.  They do not want to be exposed to others who remind them that they do not share their adoptive parents’ race.  Some consider plastic surgery to make them appear more Caucasian.  This is a very, very fundamental problem with trans-racial adoption that is too frequently ignored.  This isn’t just a problem of being accepted by society.  This is a struggle to accept one’s self.

Posted by Jeanne on Jun 11, 2011 at 10:25am

Jeanne, that was really my point and I agree with you completely that it IS deeper- as a transracial adoptive parent there is the worry about my daughter accepting herself, AND I am simply acknowledging that being accepted by her peers is a concern for her to also accept herself- if you are not accepted by society it is in turn, hard to accept yourself.  It is two fold- I was simply noting that this is also part of the journey. I was not suggesting that self-acceptance isn’t important- as mentioned I thought the entire article was well said and very insightful. I was simply expanding on the topic because from my readings of transracial adoptees there has been a struggle to find acceptance in the African American community which leads to self-doubt and lack of accepting oneself. It is a balancing act to nuture a child who is going to face conflict within themselves and society…I was advised by a transracial adoptee to make sure to make an active effort to be part of the AA community so that my daughter feels acceptance from her peers and can in turn have better acceptance of herself- that’s what I am truly hoping to achieve for my sweet baby…which is why I am trying to educate myself and truly want to learn what I can do as a trans racial adoptive mom to make life better for my child… smile
PS A wonderful place I have found as a resource where there is lots of diversity is the Y where we can see people of every ethnicity/race and join in play groups so baby sees people/children who look like her. It is also a great supportive place where I can go to and ask questions and where our family is accepted and welcomed by everyone. LOVE our Y!

Posted by mel123 on Jun 15, 2011 at 10:49pm

danmom asked:Can anyone help me by providing a clear definition of racial-ethnic identity? What is race?  What is ethnicity?  Is race based on skin color only?  Is it simply based on what you look like?  What if you are Hispanic?

  I’m aware that no one picked up on these questions and responded with their thoughts, so I thought I would offer some input. 
  Identity, is, of course, the quest to answer the question: Who Am I? and an individual’s racial-ethnic identity is a part of that. “How do I see myself?  How do others see me and to what racial group do they assign me based on my appearance?  Since others are the mirror in which I see myself, how do I think others see me, and either value or devalue me?  Is there dissonance between my actual racial identity and my “felt” racial identity so that I am surprised every time I look in the mirror because I don’t see a person of my adoptive parents’ racial heritage)? If I am of mixed racial heritage, do I see myself as part something or part OF something??—these are all questions transracial adoptees struggle with from cradle to grave to build and evolve their sense of racial identity.
    Ethnic identity is different in that one’s ethnic group membership is tied to one’s ancestral birth land—where your ancestors originated and with which group(s) they were affiliated.  Someone might be of European-Caucasian race, and Italian ethnicity,, for example. A person of Asian heritage whose ancestors emigrated from China, or a child adopted from China who is growing up in the USA, might define him or herself as being of Chinese-American ethnicity.  He or she affiliates with people who have integrated, to one degree or another, into US culture and now speak English (may also speak Mandarin or Cantonese). 
  Race is—as the scientists say—really only a social construct, which means that we are truly more alike than different when we examine our DNA.  Two people—one who is AA and one who is Latino—might have more in common in their genetic make-up than two individuals who each identify as Native American.  HOWEVER, society categorizes individuals and groups into different race groups, or tries to do so, and how those individuals/groups are regarded and treated, whether they are advantaged or not, has a great deal to do with how Society sees them.  My friend, Julie, defines herself as AA, yet would not be identified by most others that way because she very light complected and does not have the physical characteristics most others would expect to see in an AA woman.  So no, race is not necessarily entirely about how we look to others. 
      People who claim Hispanic or Latino heritage, or are categorized by others that way do not, necessarily share racial group membership.  Those who are themselves or born of ancestors from Mexico might be of European Spanish heritage, or might be descended from the indigenous people of that country, or be of mixed-racial heritage, including any number of racial and ethnic backgrounds.  (There are, for example, people who define themselves as Mexican-Japanese, having had parents born in Japan who emigrated to Mexico, so that they were born there.)
    In the USA, we may categorize a person as Asian (and he or she might define themselves in the same way), but additionally, that person might define him/herself as Chinese (or Chinese American), Vietnamese (or Vietnamese American), Hmong, Taiwanese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, etc…
    Another interesting topic to discuss would be HOW children begin to form racial identity, and what age/developmental stage they understand certain aspects of this.  Additionally, it is important for us, as parents, to define internalized racism and the newly-coined term: transracialized. 
    Also interesting is the controversy over how we define racism—something that is certainly being debated politically, these days. 
    These are conversations I think are essential for us, as parents in transracial adoptive families focus in on what our specialized tasks are for raising psychologicaly healthy children.

(personal disclaimer:  having an MSW just means that I represent another facet of the adoption family so that it is a neutral, rather than a loaded term, just as are the terms: adoptee and adoptive parent.  My intention here, just as it is in my work, is to advocate for the needs of our children.  Judging, criticizing, attacking me or anyone else over the style of writing or attributing a supposed “tone” is not what any of us are here for, and is a distraction from what we can gain here, in my opinion.  Feel free to disagree with me or anyone else—its a great way to tease apart important issues pertinent to raising children of color in transracial adoptive families.  Please though, let’s refrain, folks, from the sneak attacks because we don’t agree with someone or like the way that they write.  Why not just skip their posts or ignore them, or express your own opinion and beliefs? Its beneath us to read into one another’s posts something that most probably is not there, and write something uncomplimentary, unflattering, or mean so as to try to silence that person and what they may have to offer others. We have more important things TO discuss here—no?)

Posted by Jane Brown on Jun 24, 2011 at 5:22am

Thank you for your thoughtful reply, Jane.

Posted by DanMom on Jun 24, 2011 at 7:19am

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