I’ve read a lot of adoption stories over the last decade, and I don’t see enough stories about transracial adoptions. Every story is different, and I hope by sharing our story, we provide yet another perspective for a family wanting to adopt or currently parenting a child who has been adopted.
Prior to applying to adopt through Gladney, my husband, Courtney, and I researched transracial adoptions as much as we could. We read many books and blogs, trying to understand the birth parent perspective and the adult transracial adoptee perspective, as well as learn more about racism and developing positive racial identities in children. On top of the typical questions about the adoption process, we asked ourselves, “Are we equipped to parent a child of another race? Are we willing to go outside of our comfort zone to become a multi-racial family and all that entails?”
There are many layers to our daughter Olivia’s adoption. Olivia is biracial. Her birth mother is White, and her birth father is Black. My husband and I are White, thus, making this a transracial adoption. Raising children of color in today’s society is not an easy feat, especially if you are White because you do not have the perspective of a person of color. Just as we do not have all the answers for Olivia that her birth family could have provided while raising her, we do not have all the answers on how to shape her racial identity and provide her with a full picture of her heritage. There are people in the Black community who are opposed to transracial adoption for this reason. Historically, White parents have used the colorblindness approach to parent children of another race, and today, many White parents continue to parent their White children in this same manner. Listening to transracial adoptee perspectives, we knew from the beginning this would not be our approach. We didn’t know the term “antiracist” at the time. We just knew our number one goal was for Olivia to be a proud Black woman, and this included loving her skin color and hair.
We started by making small changes before Olivia was born. We had conversations with family members and prompted them to confront unconscious biases. These were often uncomfortable conversations but necessary. I hunted down children’s books featuring Black families and children. This was no easy task in 2009. We stopped buying White baby dolls for Avery, and her collection of baby dolls became much more diverse. Again, it was not easy to find Black baby dolls in our area in 2009. I started a subscription to Ebony magazine. Seeing yourself in print is very important. When Avery was 2 1/2 years old, we went through the pictures and talked about the beautiful skin tones of the models. We researched hair care and hairstyles. We started reading books to Avery about Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks. We read books about the beauty of all people with all skin colors. Those were the first steps, and for the first few years of Olivia’s life, all of these changes helped lay the foundation for the conversations that were to come.
Olivia is 10 years old. She is a proud Black girl, and she will tell you just that. She loves the richness of her skin color and her bouncy curls, and she knows she comes from a line of strong and resilient people. Outside of our house, the message is not always positive. Olivia has been subjected to racist remarks at school from classmates. I am a mama bear, and evidently, I give off that vibe in public when the girls are with me. As a result, I think we have been spared from hearing racist or ignorant comments, but we are subject to excessive staring that most often comes from White people. I can send my older daughter, Avery, into a pharmacy by herself to pick up something, while I wait in the car with a view of the front door. I can’t tell you when I will feel comfortable sending Olivia by herself, and that hurts my heart. Our White privilege will not protect Olivia in all spaces. She has to be taught how to respond when she is confronted by people who think she doesn’t belong in a space she enters. Our conversations can be hard at times and uncomfortable. We have found watching television shows, such as Blackish, and reading books with Black characters, who are confronted with racism and prejudice, provide a platform for our discussions.
It’s not enough for adoptive parents to have a racially diverse group of friends and family. It’s not our Black friends’ responsibility to educate us. There is no handbook for White parents parenting a child of color. We have to first and foremost, listen—listen to Black and Brown peoples’ perspectives. There are so many more resources available now. Podcasts, such as Code Switch and Still Processing, are a great starting point. Watching Tedx Talks, reading books by Austin Channing Brown and Ibram X. Kendi, and viewing webinars covering transracial adoptions, antiracist work, and raising antiracist children are valuable resources. Most importantly, we must engage in uncomfortable conversations with White friends and family. This is the hardest piece and an area we can always improve on.
I listened to a recent podcast with Brene’ Brown and Austin Channing Brown. There are a couple of quotes that really stuck out to me. Brene’ said, “I’m here to get it right, not be right. I have to listen and learn.” She was talking about antiracist work, but this mantra is so applicable for all parents, especially parents of a child of another race or ethnicity. We do not have all the answers, and that’s okay. We are constantly evolving and becoming better parents to our children, no matter how many layers their adoption presents. The other quote is from Austin Channing Brown. She said, “The work of antiracism is to become a better human for all humans.” The antiracist work adoptive parents do directly benefits their children and helps develop a society that will support their children beyond the walls of their home.
We are so fortunate to have a great support system of friends and family and our Gladney community here in San Antonio. Wherever you are in your journey, I hope I provided some insight by sharing our experiences.
~Jessica, Gladney Mom