In my last article, I wrote about how transcultural adoptive parents embrace their adoptee’s culture as part of their family’s everyday life. I also touched upon how important it is for international adoptees to be around others who look like them. This article will further explore how white parents can educate themselves about the subtle (or not-so-subtle) racism that is very likely a part of their child’s everyday life, and provide support to their children as they face this ubiquitous issue.
Many white parents have difficulty understanding that racism is very active in our society. They often don’t see it for what it is. Adoptees have shared with Holt staff that sometimes, when they are in a group of their white friends, they are subject to hearing racist remarks about others of their own ethnicity. When confronted with that fact, however, their white friends will say, “Oh we don’t mean you” or “You’re not like that” or “You’re one of us.” Kids tell us this hurts and, deep down, they don’t accept what their friends are saying.
Humans cannot live their life fully if they are compelled to pretend about who they are just to stay connected to others. If these kids lived in a family of their own race, they would not be put in the position of straddling two racial groups. They would be submersed in their community of color and have inherent support in learning to interface with the majority. Intercountry adoptees growing up in transracial families don’t naturally have this experience, but they desperately crave it and need it to become a whole person.
While there are a lot of ways that adoptive parents can support their children, there are a lot of things adoptive parents cannot do. They cannot change the fact that their birth parents could not raise them. They cannot wipe away the grief and loss. They cannot (and would not want to) change the color of their skin, the texture of their hair, the shape of their eyes, nose or mouth. However, there are a lot of things adoptive parents can do for their children to make their lives better. Many of these things are done well, but when it comes to teaching our children how to cope with everyday racism, there are many things loving white parents can still learn.
When parents adopt a child of a race different than their own, they become a bi-racial family in addition to bi-cultural. How to approach inclusivity in race is similar to how you would include your child’s culture in your family life. However, racial inclusivity comes with additional steps — such as making sure your child is exposed to positive racial role models, encounters peers that look like them, and learns how to interact with others when they are not in the protective cocoon of their white family. There are numerous ways parents can actively and intentionally create an environment that is racially inclusive for their child. Ordinary activities like what swimming pool you take your family to may need to change to the one that has more kids and families of color. This may not be the closest pool to your home, but it will be a way for you to provide your adoptee with an experience of seeing herself reflected back to her. The church your family attends is another opportunity to provide your adoptee with a community that is multi-racial.
Often, parents worry about their birth children or even themselves feeling uncomfortable in a community where they are the minority. It is hard to enter a building or event where you and your family are the only white folks there. It can feel like everyone is staring at you, or whispering about you. Your uneasiness may make you feel like soon someone will come up to you and ask you what you are doing here. When you do venture out into a community of color, watch your adoptee closely. Does their body seem more relaxed, has their breathing changed, and are their muscles a bit slacker? Ask them what they are thinking and how they feel. A good measure is to ask them if they want to go back. In my previous article, I mentioned enrolling your adoptee in a school that is the most racially diverse for your area, even if you need to drive a ways to get your adoptee to school. Although not always realistic, some families may even consider moving to a new city to provide the diversity their adoptee needs. Some take family vacations to areas where their adoptee’s race is prevalent to give their adoptee the experience of being in the majority. Fitting in is a very powerful and primal feeling that people of the racial majority take for granted. Until your adoptee experiences it, he may not be aware of what has been missing for him. Most adoptees feel unsettled at best or a full-blown anxiety as their emotional baseline. Many don’t even know what it is to feel calm because they have never felt that before.
There are many ways that a child can feel very different from their community. Some of them don’t even have to do with being adopted. But no matter why they feel different, parents can do a lot to help their child, and the actions mentioned in this article will send a strong message to your child of color that you are open to helping them with their racial struggles. Seek out more than just ethnic restaurants. Seek out your child’s community of color and take her there as often as possible. Not just when it is convenient or when there is an event that the whole family would enjoy, but so often and regularly that it becomes a part of your family’s fabric. So often that you and your white kids become somewhat comfortable being in the minority. So often that you begin to make friends of color. So often that the friends of color are invited to your home and you to theirs. So often that everyone in your family feels truly bi-racial.