Navigating Race and Transracial Adoption

Last October, I attended Navigating the Intersections of Transracial Adoption, with Torrey E. Carroll, MA, LPC & Nikki M. Carroll, MA, LPC, as the keynote speakers at the AKA Virtual Conference.

While I thoroughly enjoyed this dynamic duo couple who were engaging, educated, and provided great material with first-hand experience, this event was more difficult for me to process.

First off, everyone was using the chat feature to comment. I commented and said, “…my mixed race sons…” Someone quickly chatted back with a critique and said “her friend” hates it when someone asks if her son is “mixed”. She said her friend prefers bi-racial. Someone quickly came to my defense and said that people should be able to self-identify how they wish. I appreciated the support.

First, I wondered if her friend was a biological mother or a transracial adoptive mother. There is a difference.

The female, who obviously was not personally involved in an interracial or a transracial family, was attempting to tell me how I should identify MY family. An online stranger was attempting to tell another online mother who knows nothing about her family or their racial identity how that mother should refer to her kids based on a friend’s preference. That is truly disturbing. It is egotistical!

Sadly, this happens often in the adoption community. Everyone is an expert, even those who have no personal connection to or experience with adoption.

Over the last couple decades, we have had white transracial adoptive parents wanting to lead the racial dialogue because now that they have adopted a black or brown child, they feel entitled to speak and educate. They share their daily encounters of their struggle with race, as the white adoptive parents of a transracial adoptee who is navigating his or her way in white spaces, while at the same time, often denying and starving their black and brown children from their ethnic birthright, culture, and images of people who reflect their identity.

Blog followers and news media platforms love these white transracial adoptive parents and will empathetically broadcast their story nationwide and give them space to talk about race because hearing it from a white man and a white woman who adopted transracially is way more validating than hearing it from black or brown men and women themselves or an interracial couple with kids.

These stories also fluff the White American image. That’s white privilege.

Black families don’t just worry about one child within their family but worry about each member in their family, from parents, to children to extended members like uncles, aunts, cousins and so on. #BlackLivesMatter

When I gave birth to my first born son, I mostly heard the term “mixed” from Black/African American women. They’d walk over to me when my son was an infant or a toddler sitting in the grocery cart and ask, “Is he mixed?” I knew what they meant. I certainly am not going to disrespect the women from my son’s culture. They had been living Black in America much longer than my son. They were not being mean or insulting. They were being friendly and I appreciated their social acceptance and kindness shown to me, rather than a bigoted look or indifference.

I prefer mixed a whole hell of a lot better than mulatto which sounded like another word from slavery. In addition, let us not forget that White people have been labeling Black people for years with their racial words, stripping them of power and rights and even disqualifying them as fully human.  

The truth is I had used the term bi-racial until I did my son’s DNA. I now know that my sons are not just African and European (black/white) American. Biracial “bi” denotes two. My sons also have a small amount of Asian and Native American Indian. They truly are of mixed-race ancestry.

 “Never ASSUME, because when you ASSUME, you make an ASS of U and ME.” Jerry Belson

When I was writing this, I asked my two sons how they self-identify. My 22 year old son that was parented by me identifies as a Black American or a Black man and prefers that over African American. My 21 year old son that was adopted out transracially by a white family identifies as African American. At the same time, they don’t tell me how I need to racially identify them as my sons.

As the speakers continued their conversation, I tried to focus more on them then the conversation side bar. The topics of discussion appeared to be geared towards those fostering, hoping to adopt, transracial adoptive parents, adoptees, and adoption professionals who are key factors in this industry. To be fair, I only attended day two of this keynote event.

This topic is important to me because my biological birth son was placed in a transracial adoptive family. I have been listening to, learning from, and advocating for adoptees for many years. But I am acutely interested in hearing the stories by transracial adoptees and adoptive parents.

Since I have my own years of lived experiences, in a mixed/interracial family, being the biological white mother of two sons with brown skin, one while parenting who was connected to both sides of his family, one while participating in open adoption through letters, emails, pictures, phone calls/txt, social media, overnight visits and shared family vacations over the years, I have unique awareness and insight within this topic. One that is often overlooked.

My son’s, whom was placed as an infant twenty one years ago into a white adoptive family that I chose for him, experience is very important to me. My choice gave him that experience. I not only live with my consequences that have impacted me, but also how my choice has impacted both of my sons; one son, as a transracial adoptee, and the other son, as a sibling living without his brother by his side. 

The Carroll’s shared their experiences as both a Black/African American couple living in America and as transracial adoptive parents. They shed light and brought awareness to those who may not have seen or experienced racial prejudices while navigating in American society. They were helping to expose our own biases and our naivety, to better prepare and guide those who have or who are seeking to foster or adopt transracially, and educate the professionals, who have a great amount of power handling these cases, make better choices.

It was truly refreshing to hear a Black/African American couple speaking on transracial adoption.

They also talked about their path to adoption through foster care. In these scenarios’, birth parents have little or no rights, so their voice has most often been silenced. However, I believe it is truly important when having these conferences and conversations, that we equally give voice to birth parents in some way.

Birthparents who have chosen transracial adoption for their child have every right to participate in these spaces. I attended two other conference events the same weekend, both female presenters, one of which was by an adoptive mother and a social worker, and they both paid tribute to birth parents/families. I felt valued. They showed empathy and importance to every role and voice in this complicated topic.

As a keynote speaker (a person who delivers a speech that sets out the central theme of a conference), this is probably the most important event where all guests attending feel included. When we don’t give a voice to certain roles in this conversation, we make them less human. We devalue them.

We must remember that without a birth parent, adoption does not exist. There is no singular story within adoption nor with one birth mother or father because most often, there was not one single event that triggered or caused a child to be forcibly removed, relinquished or even stolen from his or her family.

We have learned the great biases and systemic racism exist in our foster care system towards minority and/or poor families. Adoption should not be a solution for poverty. We need to find better ways to help care for families who are experiencing poverty rather than removing their children, intentionally forcing trauma, giving them to strangers, and then paying their new care providers a monthly subsidy.

As Americans, we all become financially responsible for foster kids for the rest of their childhood through our tax dollars. And possibly for the rest of their lifetime, depending on how badly the trauma impacted them. We pay child support every time a child goes into foster care. I would much rather my tax dollars help support a poor family of origin care for their children than to give child support to a foster family who could possibly have a higher income than me. I have seen it happen.

Obviously, we don’t want Americans abusing our system. Our economy works best when everyone is participating and contributing. There is a difference between giving a hand-up versus giving a handout. There are programs that help mentor parents become more educated and better equipped to manage their parenting role and financial stability. But we need more programs! When we participate in our own recovery and achievements, this brings pride and confidence. It makes us better equipped to handle those events if they occur again in the future.

On the other hand, we do not want any child to remain in an abusive home. No child should have to endure a childhood of abuse; physical, sexual, verbal, emotional, or neglect. I watched the Gabriel Fernandez story on Netflix. I was in shock and disbelief. It seemed like everyone failed him! However, I also know that foster and adoptive children (Hart Family) have experienced some of the same horrors and fatal fate that Gabriel experienced. The hope that Gabriel could have been protected by foster or adoption care is one that I hold onto with optimism. Without hope, we have nothing. But even hope cannot provide any guarantees and sadly, neither does foster or adoption care.

Adoption itself is complicated. But transracial adoption has greater accountability. As a mother, I don’t want my sons to ever feel tokenized.

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