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Transracial Families

racist family members

Hi There,

I am seriously considering the adoption of a child of a different race.  I am concerned that my extended family can make racist or insensitive comments.  I do not live near any of them, but I think a future child would come into contact with them once or twice a year.  I do not think they are hateful, just ignorant and insulated in their worlds from people of different backgrounds.  I sometimes wonder if I should not move forward because of this.  I was hoping to get insight from other people on this topic. 

Thank you!


I worried about this with my 5 yr old son. He is african american and I got him as a foster placement at 6 weeks old. My family has been amazing. Yes, before I got him I had heard varied comments from family over the many years of my life. They have all excepted him and have done amazing with him. My sister did say it just took a little getting used to his skin color. I think this has been actually very helpful for my family to see that honestly all races should be accepted. My family loves my son. I will admit to getting more negative looks from african americans most places I go.

Posted by amynmik on May 19, 2011 at 10:24pm

There are always going to be folks that will be racist / prejudiced, family or not.  It’s something you will have to face if you choose to pursue transracial adoption.  You can do your best to teach your children differently, and you can use appropriate adoption language / terms when you are around these other family members, but you are going to run into these things at one point or another. It’s just how life is, sad as that may be.

Posted by tkc on May 19, 2011 at 10:32pm

Hello! This is also a worry of mine. I dread the day where I may have to decide (perhaps on the spot) how to respond to remarks that may hurt my child. In fact, it’s probably better to reflect on comments you’ve heard already and think about appropriate ways to respond so that you have at least thought it through. Also, I think it’s important that you DO respond (not just let racist remarks fly) so that your child learns from your example that racism is not okay. I think it’s also important that you debrief with your child afterwards (or even in preparation). Personally, I don’t think this alone should stop you. In the real world your child will learn about racism on his/her own. It’s sad that he/she may have to also learn about it through family, but at least you will be there to help him process and learn how to respond to it. Ultimately, however, if things get tense with certain family members, you may have to make difficult decisions regarding your ongoing relationships with them. I’m interested to hear what others have to say as well. I know there are articles and books out there that deal with this topic as well. Hope this helps at least a little.

Posted by JenA on May 19, 2011 at 10:32pm

Thank you so much for the replies so far!  I am really happy to hear so much positive and productive feedback.

Posted by AnnB on May 19, 2011 at 10:43pm

I agree with most of the comments posted here so far - perhaps the only thing I would add - as a single transracial adopting parent - is that yes you and your child will experience insensitive and racially charged comments from family, friends and strangers - sometimes at predictable times and others when you least expect it.

But - and I say this from a personal not a political place - isn’t this the only way that we as individuals - as parents, friends and family - will ever truly transform our own racism? Or said another way - if we did not go forward with this transracial adoption - who would we be as parents? Who would our children grow up to be without us? Perhaps abdicating is allowing racism to define all of our lives.

It may be hard to feel responsible for the thoughtless comments our family may make (trust me, mine has a gold mine of them, largely from a much older generation) - but never imagining a different future for them and for ourselves is also our responsibility.

Every family finds its challenges - from learning disabilities, from divorce, from illness - if playing a small part by transforming racial ideas in my family is my greatest challenge - I will be the luckiest parent in the world.

Posted by ElizaNG on May 19, 2011 at 10:51pm

You have gotten some great advice and I totally agree with all of it. My only other advice would be to ask yourself this: if these family members get worse, not better- Am I prepared to never see them again to protect my child. Am I prepared to say to them, if you dont change your behavior around my child we will cut you out of our lives. As a mom you have that right. When the mamabear spell comes over you (and I can’t even begin to tell you how strong it is!!!) you will do anything to protect your child. hate is a part of life, and your will experience it occasionally, and your child will too. You can face it head on to give your child the tools to face it too. But you also won’t allow someone to treat your child badly. So can you cut them out of your life? It may be what happens so its worth at least letting the idea percolate in your mind.
usually though “these people” take one look at your child, and see them for the wonderful little person they are, and the whole edifice of their ignorance comes crashing down!!

Posted by Farmerjoan on May 19, 2011 at 11:56pm

tonight through there is a free tele seminar about bi-racial adoption. Once you register on the site you can request to join. Maybe they can give some insites?

Posted by comotoi on May 20, 2011 at 2:14am

This same issue almost stopped my husband and I from considering adopting AA or biracial children. I was esp. concerned about my dad and his side of the family and all the jokes/comments I heard them make. i know it all stemmed from the views of older family members from a time when there was even more us vs. them than there is today. I’m so glad we changed our minds b/c we wouldn’t have our wonderful children. Everyone loves them. no one treats them any differently. In fact the opposite is true. Everyone remarks on how beautiful they are and what wonderful kids they are.

The turning point for me was when my dad asked why we didn’t adopt a child from Haiti (soon after the disaster there). I was so shocked. We had a good talk and it was then that we decided to change our profile to accept any child of any race. Soon afterwards (literally about 2 weeks) we heard about the children. We met them last March and are only a couple months from finalization now (they were placed with us Feb 1).

I really struggled with the same thoughts. In my view, they were going to get enough racist comments from the rest of the world - they shouldn’t have to hear it from their own family members. I actually asked all of my family (little informal survery on FB via a msg to everyone) if they would have a problem with a niece/nephew/cousin ofa differnet race. I was surprised by how supportive they were, esp. the responses that came from folks I thoguht were most racist. Talk to your family. You might be surprised by what you find out. They probably don’t even realize how much their comments impact you.

Posted by mom_at_last on May 20, 2011 at 9:40pm

I had a lot of fears about this and honestly, the members I had the most concerns about were older and some of them have passed on since we adopted. For those who tend to be insensitive and speak without thinking, I only see them once a year or so, and I never leave my child unattended when they are near. No family members that I am really close to are likely to make ignorant statements, so for the most part we are okay.

My parents both grew up with very narrow-minded views of the world and race, and it has been a pleasant surprise to learn that they have spoken out in conversations with their extended families when race comes up. They never would have done that before we adopted our son.

I encounter more tricky situations in the day-to-day when we are just out, minding our own business. I get comments when I least expect them, and this is hardest right now on my 8 year old (non-adopted) child that it is for me or our son because he is too young (who is adopted and of a different race). I have developed a thicker skin over time and I know as he gets older I will have to process these encounters with him and help him prepare a response so that hopefully he will feel less intimidated when they come. I imagine sometimes I will just have to interrupt and re-direct people in order to protect my son, and that will just get easier in time, but never fun.

Posted by north jersey mom on May 21, 2011 at 1:16am

Unfortunately, few adoptive parents recognize just HOW damaging it is for their children to hear racist comments from extended family members and falsely assume that they are doing a “good enough job” by protesting after the fact when a damaging comment is made.  Adopted children are not less damaged by racialized comments made by extended family members.  They are MORE damaged. Its the people who are closest to you—who are in your family circle—who can hurt you the most cruelly and leave the most lasting damaging!
  That is why it is our responsibility to explore this PRIOR to adopting, rather than take a wait-and-see attitude, and HOPE that we will figure out what to do if this occurs. That’s not acting in the “best interests of the child” when there ARE families out there who can and will do what they should to make sure that a child is psychologically as well as physically safe from harm. 
  As an adoption therapist and adoptive parent to adult transracially adopted sons and daughters, I believe that no one should seek to adopt children of color without making a firm commitment to a zero tolerance policy, even if that means ending participation in family gatherings because family members do not abide by that.  Its hypocritical to not allow others to make such comments, while making exceptions for extended family members.  Our focus needs to be on the impact on the CHILD, not the intention of the adults involved.  If you would not be willing to break contact with extended family members who make racist comments, then you should not be adopting children of color. A vulnerable child should NEVER be placed at risk for ANYONE.
  Developing skills for resisting racism should happen BEFORE considering transracial adoption and not afterward.  That leaves the door open to way too much psychological damage to the child.  Its WHY I see so many children who have sustained such deeply wounding experiences that they have low sense of self worth that may never be restored. 
    Since developing healthy racial-ethnic identity is more complicated, confusing, and challenging for children of color who live with white parents, it is very important that they see the adults in their up-close-and-personal world (parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc…) not merely “accept” people of color (including THEM), but enjoying relationships with ADULTS of color (other adopted kids of color do not count, folks—its NOT the same).  They need to experience having adults of color around them as NORMAL, and not an experience that is unusual and very occasional. 
  The good news is that when prospective and adoptive parents challenge themselves TO learn how to stand up and resist racism, they ARE successful!  They can and DO develop the skills necessary for raising healthy children who feel comfortable wearing the skin they are in, and who know how to stand up for themselves.

Posted by Jane Brown on May 21, 2011 at 10:08pm

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