Monday, March 07, 2011

The Challenges of Race in Transracial Adoption

Photo by grapesmc
Adoptive parents in trans-racial families have additional challenges to parenting biological children. In addition to the usual childhood struggles, we must find ways to support and guide our children through issues involving not only adoption, but race, as well. Helping my children to identify themselves as Chinese was something that I believed I was doing pretty well.

We discuss our children's heritage and culture regularly. It is a deeply ingrained part of our lives. We are active members of Families With Children From China. We attend Jane Brown lectures and playshops. We have watched and discussed "Adopted the Movie" together numerous times. And, over the years, we have engaged in any number of activities and conversations in an effort to promote racial awareness within our girls.

Imagine my surprise when my precocious 8 year old asked me how our neighbors knew that she was Chinese after they dropped off some Chinese New Year decorations that they had purchased in Singapore. Confused, I pursued this question with her a little more, and come to find out, she visually identifies herself with her Caucasian brunette friend. My personal lesson here is that no matter how well-adjusted you think your kids are, think again.

Living in Los Angeles, our friends came from extremely diverse backgrounds and the girls' school could be called 'a little United Nations.' Since moving to the Midwest, and more specifically the suburban Midwest, that diversity is harder to come by. While our youngest daughter is Chinese, and her best friend is African American, she is evidently still self-identifying as white.

No matter how much we love our kids, and no matter how hard we try to introduce them to their culture, the reality is that my husband and I are white, and that cultural color rubs off on our girls. In fact, it is undeniably their primary make-up. We often laugh together about nature vs. nurture moments with our girls. However, those nurture traits are what point up the difference between being raised white and being raised Chinese. There is nothing that I can do to give my transracially adopted children the direct experience of being raised Chinese. It is an ability unique to Chinese parents.

Jana Wolff wrote a thoughtful piece on this subject for Adoptive Families magazine entitled 'Raising a Child of Another Race." In the article, she highlights a number of responsibilities that adoptive parents of different-race children must take in raising their children including:

o interacting with people of your child's race
o living in multicultural neighborhoods
o finding same race mentors and role models for your child
o advocating for unbiased learning materials
o confronting racism openly
o cooking and eating ethnic dishes
o providing special maintenance to hair and skin
o celebrating all cultures
o taking part in homeland tours and culture camps
o creating a positive cultural environment at home

I've been eyeing Outsiders Within and the Pieces of Me workbook for the girls, and now they take special priority.

I'm also starting to search for blogs by adult adoptees that will help me to better understand this struggle. So far, two stand-outs include:
  • My Mind on Paper - This blog is written by Kevin Hofmann, an African American man adopted by white parents in the 1960s. He now lectures on the subject of transracial adoption. His posts are thoughtful and insightful. As evidenced by his most recent post where he recalls a childhood relationship, his learning on the subject is on-going.
  • Ethnically Incorrect Daughter - Blogger Sumeia Williams offers sometimes heartbreaking stories on her struggles to self-identify, a theme which is not uncommon in transracial adoption circles.

Do you believe that race or cultural identification is important? If so, what are you doing to help your children learn about their cultural heritage and ultimately embrace who they are?