Transracial Adoption: 6 Things That Matter
Two years ago, a little black boy rocked my white world. Adoption was how the hubs and I wished to add a second child to our family. And adopting from our South African homeland pretty much guaranteed that our new bundle of joy would be a black little person.
We had zero issues with transracial adoption. We were not concerned about how we as white parents would raise a black son. We had it covered. We were color blind, don’t you know? The “enlightened” generation. Challenges related to race did not cross our minds. Racial identity…never heard of it. Our little boy experience racism? Of course not! Our white privilege would extend to him. Obviously.
How very progressive we were.
How accepting and inclusive.
Thankfully, our adoption agency (experts in transracial adoption) moved us back toward Planet Earth. At our pre-adoption training workshops, we started to realize that maybe transracial adoption wasn’t going to be as easy and issue-free as we had imagined. But it was only when our beautiful black baby boy came home that the scales began falling from our eyes.
Suddenly we were thrust into entirely new and unfamiliar territory. And it was overwhelming. Turns out we weren’t as prepared as we thought. We were well-acquainted with what it meant to be white, but what was it like to be black? What would it mean for our black son to grow up surrounded by white family members? For the sake of our little boy, who is truly our son in every sense of the word except genetics, we had to face a reality that we had absolutely no experience with. And we needed an education.
I started reading anything about transracial adoption I could get my hands on. I observed my son and other black people. I girded my loins and subjected my black friends to my awkward questions. We began to think deeply about racial issues.
During our journey on this transracial learning curve, several things have become significant in how we parent our son. This is our transracial adoption manifesto.
Race exists. We are not permitted to be “color-blind.” Rather than a virtue to be applauded, color-blindness is an insidious tendency to becoming blind or dismissive towards the very real prejudices that people of color experience.
Race should not be ignored. Our son is black. We must fully acknowledge this, with no shame, offense, or hesitancy attached to talking about our racial differences. Even if we were to ignore our son’s race, others would refer to it, and he needs to be equipped and comfortable in his own skin. We talk about race because we want him (and all our children) to feel free to talk about race. We notice and celebrate race.
It is our job as parents to ground the identity of all of our children primarily as image bearers of God, as well as followers of Christ. But we also need to intentionally shepherd our son as he forms a racial and/or ethnic identity. Representation has been proven to influence children and it is vital that our son be surrounded by positive images of people who look like him. We will try to provide him with this representation as we:
– Immerse ourselves not only in our same-race history, but in history that would be relevant to his same-race community.
– Cultivate friendships with people who are black and white.
– Ensure that the books, movies, toys, music, and images on clothes in our home represent black people as well as white people.
– Purposefully esteem black role models, as well as white.
We ceased to be a “White” family the moment our son came home. We are now a “multiracial” family. Our son is not just a black add-on; he is an integral member of our family. His arrival changed the very nature of our clan. This is not simply semantics; understanding this truth deeply will help us to communicate his total inclusion and belonging in our family.
We must realize that our “whiteness” cannot shelter our son from racism. While he will experience a certain measure of white privilege just by being in our family, as he grows older this will be less and less of a reality. At times racism will rear its ugly head. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and pretend that he will never be subjected to bigoted individuals. Rather, we must proactively educate and equip him for this, as well as educate and equip his siblings for when they see racism directed to their brother and to others.
Because my husband and I are white, we know that we cannot shepherd our son in developing a strong and healthy racial identity alone. We would be foolish and naive to think that we can. We need other black people to come alongside and teach us. We must intentionally seek the insights and involvement of mature and wise black individuals. When we see black individuals where we live (more on that in a sec), we introduce ourselves and our son. We want him to know that we are ok with him seeking out other black people to identify with, so that he will feel ok to do so as well.
My family and I recently moved to a country in Asia where our son is drastically under-represented (and so is the rest of our family, actually.) We understand more of how it feels to be surrounded by people who do not look like us. To be a minority group. Many adoption experts would be horrified at the fact that we moved our little black boy to a place where he would encounter very few black people in the flesh. Their concerns are valid, and if my hubby and I were to ever wrap our heads around having #4, we would love to adopt another child who looks like our second born.
But far above circumstances and experts we must always remember that God is completely sovereign and He provides grace upon grace. We must have faith that He can take our intentional parenting efforts and produce a bounty much more than we could ever offer.
Lest I give the far-from-accurate impression that we have it all figured out, let me remind you that our son is not yet even three years old. 🙂 We are so wet behind the ears and we blunder regularly. But by God’s grace and a little help from our friends of color, we are not where we were when we took our first stumbling steps on this messy, stimulating, awkward, beautiful multiracial adventure. And by God’s continued grace and a little more help from our friends of color, our son will be fine.
I am desperately hoping that I don’t sound like I think of myself as some kind of Barbie white saviour…a thousand times no! Writing on how we as white parents are parenting our black son to have a strong identity makes me feel under-qualified, uncomfortable, and somewhat presumptuous. But parenting a different-race child is something we have been called to do and we have decided to become a lifelong student in doing it wisely.