May 19, 2014

Do I Have Enough Black Friends?

I don't know what triggered it, but all of a sudden last week, I was back on the "let's research trans-racial adoption" bandwagon.

I really haven't touched the idea since January or February. For a variety of reasons: Late-winter malaise, frustration with how complicated and expensive it is, and mental exhaustion. I think I needed more time to fully process the fact that life is not going to exactly be easy whether we choose to live childless or to adopt. No matter what we do, all of our choices are firmly outside the circle of "normal" (I'm gonna play fast and loose with a lot of loaded words, but please know that if I put them in quotes, I mean the word is supposed by society at large, not by me in particular). I think that was the hardest for me. No matter how hard I tried to be "normal", it just did not happen. And I never asked to be in this position! I don't want to stick out. But here I am, through no fault of my own, choosing in which way do I want to appear "odd" to others.

You might notice I am fixating on what other people will think. I don't know why I do that. My husband pointed it out on Friday when I told him I was researching again. He is...interesting. Ever since we started kicking around the notion of adoption, he just seemed to accept it very simply and move on. I don't know how he does it. I worried that it meant he wasn't truly considering the ramifications of that choice. That he was not soul searching to find out if he felt comfortable raising "someone else's" child - a child that will not resemble us. But after talking to him more, it seems he just truly doesn't care. "There will be problems we have to face no matter what way we have a child. You can't prepare for everything. I know that we will figure things out as they come." Maybe it is different for men because even with a bio-baby, they aren't getting the early physical bonding that the mother is through gestation.

And we aren't just talking about adoption, here. We're talking *trans-racial* adoption. A means of family building that is weighed down with judgments from so many groups. There is an organization of African American social workers who have published their beliefs that being raised by white parents is so damaging to a black child, that they should *only* be placed with an African American family. How is that not supposed to freak the shit out of me??

I mean, I get it, I'm white, so what do I *really* know about racism and prejudice, having always lived in my white-privilege protected world. I can see institutional racism, but I can't experience it, not in this country. At the same time, does that mean I am completely incapable of understanding my limitations and working to overcome them in order to prepare my AA child for the racism and prejudice that they will face? That's not rhetorical, I am honestly asking because I honestly don't know, never having had to consider it before.

And I feel like I can't accept "permission" to adopt trans-racially from another white person, even if they are an adoptive parent or an adoption agency employee. I feel like I need to talk to an adult adoptee who was raised by parents of a different race who can tell me they did *not* get screwed up. And then maybe tell me what the parents did that kept the kid from being completely ill-prepared to face a racist and prejudiced society. I need to hear, from someone who knows, that it *can* be done so I can wear that affirmation as armor when someone inevitably verbally assaults me for raising a black child in a white household.

It's one thing to honor a child's culture of origin. That, honestly, sounds easy to me. Buy health and beauty products meant for their skin and hair type, provide books and toys that reflect their heritage, skin color, historical experiences, expose them to art, music, TV, and movies that are created by people of that culture, etc. That might be difficult if we were adopting internationally, but it's not like African Americans don't have a deep and thriving culture here in the U.S. And it's not hard to find, you just have to step outside of your white-bread world. I can do that!

It is quite another thing to be aware of the unique difficulties a person of color (any color other than white, really) faces in their daily life. Do I have enough black friends? Am I culturally aware enough? Do I know the limitations of my own experiences? Is there a way to discuss race and racism in a meaningful, helpful way when I am one of the privileged majority? If not, what do I do? Do I have to let someone else, someone of the same ethnicity, be a mentor to my child, to teach them how to handle institutional racism that I may not even be able to see at times?

When I was in college, I had friends who were African American, Middle Eastern, Asian, all kinds of different cultures and backgrounds. College is an easy place to have a diverse group of friends, I think because people mix and mingle more than happens in the "adult world". But since graduating, we've all spread out and moved away. It doesn't mean the same thing to be friends on Facebook as to be friends who actually see each other from time to time. What resources do I tap to give me support and guidance on an aspect of parenting I am completely unprepared to face? Sure, I'll join adoption groups, but if it's a bunch of other white parents I will always question if their advice is right or if we are all convincing ourselves that our interpretation of race and prejudice is enough for our kids, cloistered in our white experience, with no outside perspective to validate what we are doing. Can I do right by my hypothetical, African American, adopted child? Wanting to and hoping to just aren't enough. I need to *know* that I will do the right thing.

Does this all circle back around to fixating on what other people think? I guess it does, but in this instance, I think I do NEED an outsider's validation. It is the only way I would know I am doing the right thing because I'm lucky enough to not deal with people being racist AT me. Does that make sense? I don't want to be the blind leading the blind - I want someone who can SEE to give me guidance, and that means relying on an outsider's judgment and opinion. So what do I do?

None of this is going to keep me from moving forward with information gathering. I'm even prepared to start narrowing down our agency choices. But it is something that is permanently housed in the back of my mind. I would hope that by being aware of this issue, that it makes me fit to parent trans-racially - that it means I'm not blind to the unique challenges and I will do my best. But I also worry that my best is not enough.

I'm in an extremely vulnerable place right now, emotionally and mentally, so please be kind in the comments.


  1. When I read this post, I thought of one black person who is not against white people adopting a black child: Shonda Rhimes, because this was a storyline on Grey's Anatomy, a show she created.

    Just because one group of people feels that this is damaging, that does not make written in stone and true across the board, and each person's story is different.

    I really, really hope you can find resources to get more information about this: there should be adoption discussion forums on trans-racial adoption, even it is not merely focused on one specific combination. Best of luck!

    1. Thank you, Sci Chick :-) I think it has been hard for me to remember that just because there are a lot of transracial adoption "horror stories" out there, doesn't mean they are the majority and doesn't mean my family in particular is doomed to failure.

  2. I'm also going to be trite and say "all you need is love" (and lots and lots of common sense and research) and your child will be mostly okay. That may be overly simplistic though.

    Also. I think a trans-racial adoption (and please nobody jump on me for saying this) may be less or more difficult for everybody involved depending on where you live. I would think it would be more common and easier to deal with in someplace like say, some parts of California or in NYC...anyplace that is a melting pot anyway.

    That is not to say it would be impossible in say, a small town in the midwest.

  3. Listen, no matter what kind of adoption you decide to do there are always going to be people who don't agree. As an adoptive mom I've really had to develop a tough skin when it comes to this matter. There are people out there, adult adoptees especially, who will tell you how horrible adoption is. That a child needs to have a genetic link and know where they come from and if you deny them that then you are ruining their life.

    I call bull-shit.

    Here is the problem with a majority of adult adoptees at the moment - they where adopted in a culture that was mostly closed adoptions. So they didn't know their biological families or have resources to experience their culture. That has dramatically changed. Open adoptions are much more common now, also I think people are much more aware of the issues that can arise with adoption so they are able to be more proactive on introducing children to their biological culture.

    You know my daughter is black and I am white. So obviously I am going to be very pro transracial adoption. Because I'm going to tell you one very important thing - it doesn't matter. I do not look at my daughter and see her dark skin. I often forget that she is black because all she is to me is Zoe, my kid. Sometimes I walk past a mirror and it startles me because I truly do forget that she is so much darker than me.

    As for what other people think - that is hard of course, but in the end it only matters what you and the child's birth mom thinks. I remind myself all the time that our birth mom chose US. She knew we were white and didn't care. She knew we could handle the odd looks and whispers. She knew that no matter what we would love this child like she was our own even though she would never look like us. That is the only person whose opinion matters.

    Sorry if all this sounds harsh, that is not my intention, it is just something I am very passionate about. Honestly, just the fact that you are thinking like this is awesome, because you are aware of the issues that arise so you will be able to cope with them better than someone who tries to ignore them. If you decide to go this route I can't say you won't have issues, but I can say that you will be able to handle and raise a child with so much love.

    If you ever have questions or concerns I'm always here.

  4. So I'm back with another comment, I've been thinking about your post all day. I just wanted to reassure you that you CAN do this. And do it well. I always feel that those who worry about these kind of issues are the best off because you are aware of them. Pretending that the world doesn't see color is ignorant. They do. But it is getting better and better. I was so scared that people would say things to me about my baby's race but I have been shocked at how positive and accepting everyone has been. Issues will arise, I know that. But there are resources out there to help.

    I was lucky enough to find a mom group that was all adoptive moms. 90% of them are a different race than their child. Having them for support has been so helpful. They can relate and are also excellent resources.

    I'm gonna repeat myself once again, you can do this. I have no doubt in my mind that you would be an incredible mom to any child who is lucky enough to be placed with you. This process is hard, but the feelings you have right now are completely normal and healthy. Again, I'm always here. Even if you just need a venting post.

    1. Trisha, your presence in my life (my internet life?) is a God-send. Thank you for your thoughtful responses. It is so frustrating that a lot of the adult adoptee narratives out there do not represent the current reality of the adoption system (closed vs. open adoptions). Thank you for reminding me of that and having faith that I can do this! I have found a few good books that give me practical advice from the point of view of an adoptee - not just "this is how my parents screwed me up", but more "Here are better things to say or do that reinforce the adopted child's self-esteem, based on fears and concerns they are very likely to have". Thank you for being an ear to my ranting and a shoulder to lean on :-)