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.

National Adoption Awareness Month 2019

I have read many blogs and articles by adoptive parents and adoptees. It astounds me to hear some of the comments and questions they are faced with as transracial families. Especially since I myself have a mixed race family and have never been asked directly or heard statements that many transracial families have heard. Partly, I think because White adoptive parents maintain their White social groups whereas mixed race families usually have expanded their racial social makeup.

I experienced this first hand one time while visiting Noah’s family in NE.

Sunday morning, we went to their church. I was introduced to one couple with an explanation of who I was. It seemed they had previously been informed of our open adoption relationship and wanted to learn more.

They, who appeared to be White, were married and raised a family, bio kids, who were now grown. They were now fostering a young boy who looked Latino. I think they were about to move from fostering to adoption. But I think they also wanted to maintain a connection with the boy’s mom.

Noah’s parents wanted to invite them over for dinner later that day. They let me know the couple wanted to spend more time with us. While I felt like an experiment, I knew it could impact this young boy and it was worth doing what I could to help.

They came for dinner with their young son.

After dinner is when things got interesting. The guys were downstairs watching TV in the basement. Upstairs, adoption soon became the topic. I started out learning that the husband of the couple was an adoptee himself. His siblings were also adopted. The wife began to talk about their race/ethnic guessing of her husband. She said that they (her husband’s parents and them) think he “may” have Latino or Hispanic. Then she begins to discuss the adopted brother of her husband and in a different tone says they “suspect” he has Black in him.

The words caught me instantly! I am sure no one else thought anything of it. I thought, wow, the brother who could possibly be Black is already a “suspect” without doing anything but being born. Why did she change her words from “may have Latino” to “suspects he is Black”? It’s not like HE was hiding is race. Was it because the agency purposefully withheld this info or truly didn’t know? Or because if the adoptive parents knew, they would not have adopted him? This was probably in the sixties so a different time no doubt. Did the possibly Black brother need to hide his Blackness in order to maintain his place in the White family?

Noah just happened to come upstairs in the middle of this conversation. I became immediately concerned about the impact on him. I looked at him and tried to interpret his facial expressions and body language. Even though I am not his parenting mother, I am still his mother and worry about him as an adoptee and a mixed race male.

Then the conversation turns to transracial adoption. The wife then drops the bomb.

She said (while referencing to Black/African), “We could never adopt a child of mixed race.” She went on to say that she thought raising a child of another race would be too hard. As she said the final too words, Noah looks directly to her and said, “too hard” in sync with her. My heart sank. I was dumbfounded and speechless. I could not believe she made this statement in front of my son or in front of me.

I began to wonder how often my son Noah had to endure comments like this. What message is this saying to him? Raising him is more challenging than raising White kids?

Then she looks at Noah’s mom and provides praise to her for raising a mixed race adoptee. Noah’s mom just silently stares at her.

And here I am, standing among this group as the microaggressions of racism seep out into this conversation and not one considers the impact on me or my son. Should I feel more ashamed for organically conceiving mixed race kids and birthing them or for relinquishing my rights to one so a White family could raise him in a difficult and bias world. To be honest, it is the latter. But this was the first time I was made to swallow the rife first hand, as if I was subhuman.

Thankfully, Jaren was downstairs. And I wonder if he was present, would the conversation have even veered in that direction.

These conversations are not something I have encountered as a parenting mother of a mixed race son. Nor have I heard someone tell Jaren that they couldn’t raise mixed race children because it would be too difficult. Nor thank me in front of Jaren for raising a mixed race son as if my role was superior to that of any other mother or father parenting their child. What an awful burden to place on a child.

These conversations are for White folks who feel safe in White spaces. I look back at this conversation and get angry with myself. I wish I had stuck up for myself and my sons. I should have explained that I am proud to have mixed race sons. They were conceived out of deep love and passion for their father. And nothing about their race makes it difficult for me to parent. I am fiercely protective of both of them.

Being Black should never be something to hide or feel ashamed of. Nor should a child be made to feel guilty for being born Black, or told their race or “blackness” makes life more difficult for their family.

Facebook: Red Table Talk; Transracial Adoptee

Red Table Talk, Raised by White Parents; A Black Transracial Adoptee

Great job Red Table Talk! Thank you so very much.

As a transracial adoptee, Angela is responding in the way she was raised. Sadly her family did not embrace people of her culture. I call this culture genocide or an ethnic crime.

I am not against transracial adoption. Noah is a transracial adoptee. But when white people raise their black and brown children in white culture or teach them only the adoptive family’s ethnic heritage or culture (German, Italian, etc) but not the ethnicity of their adoptee, that is a huge disservice to their child. It says your culture is not as important as ours in this family. I always wonder how white adoptive parents can love a black child but not the Black community. How do they go 18+ years of embracing new friends, family, and neighbors who all happen to be white but claim they are color blind? How does that happen? That is not natural or unbiased living.

I love that Jada and Willow and Gammy gave a transracial adoptee and a birth parent a seat at the table. Willow shared some deep talk for such a young woman, I love that Gammy was outspoken and passionate in this table talk. She has experience as a black woman and a black mother. She is right. Angela didn’t have a say on being adopted or how she was raised. Her insecurities stem from her lack of Black culture and understanding her place in the Black community. And let us not forget she is an adoptee which comes with inherit emotional consequences. But also, like Gammy said, Angela can change that. It would be similar to a white person who was raised with racism. Once they become an adult, they have the choice to educate themselves and decide which path they want to take. I hope that Angela steps out of her comfort zone and begins to embrace her roots. In today’s America, there really is no excuse that ANY family should live in a bubble no matter your color or culture. But especially transracial adoptive parents.

I am grateful to Ms. Debra and Angela’s parents taking a seat at the table and allowing those tough questions to be asked.

Lastly, I truly appreciate Angela’s honesty, sharing her story and her vulnerability so that others can learn. By taking a seat at this table and inviting us into her journey, her space, she educated so many on the many layers of adoption. We know that not one person speaks for everyone. But Angela has been given a platform. She does her best to give all sides light and exposure. She is bringing those pieces that have been dark and hidden for so long to the surface and it feels wonderful to be seen and heard with compassion. Thank you, Angela.

 

Black Adoptees Talk About Growing Up in Transracial Families.

“If you’re going to adopt kids, it’s the white parents’ obligation to shepherd them in same-race maturation,” he said. “When you have a transracial family, mixed-race family, you’re going outside the normal. Somebody has to be uncomfortable and it shouldn’t be the child. … Your child should not be your first black friend. That’s the bottom line. If you don’t know no black people, why are you trying to bring one to your home?”  Read more in link below…

3 Black Adoptees Speak About Growing Up with White Parents