Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Interview With a Transracial Adoption Book Author

Baby E, playing in a puddle

Someone had posted on the Adoptive Families Community page about a book on transracial adoption, one I hadn't heard of.  I immediately ordered it from my local library (you can purchase it on Amazon):  White Parents, Black Children:  Experiencing Transracial Adoption.  I had a mixed reaction to it's contents, but no matter if I read a book on adoption and walk away feeling angry or if I feel celebratory and educated, I am happy that books get me thinking and talking.

Recently, I interviewed one of the book's authors, Mr. Darron Smith. 

Rachel:  What was your goal in writing the book? Your motivation?

Mr. Smith:  I wanted to better understand the experiences of white parents on the front lines raising black and biracial children. Research has uncovered many things from the adoptee's vantage point. What scholars have been slow to address is white adoptive parents racial understandings and how those notions affect the self-esteem of black children.
R:   Your book is full of research, but the book then ends with a chapter of practical application for adoptive families. Why not more practical application suggestions? After all, the subtitle is "Experiencing Transracial Adoption."

S:  The authors and myself are first and foremost researchers, and the book was marketed as a research manuscript to be used in academia such as sociology and social work departments. I knew, however, that there would be an additional audience looking at this book, particularly transracially adopting parents. I wanted to share with the adoptive parents other truths we’ve learned from the parents in the study, which I thought would be helpful for a general transracial adoptive audience. What I’ve come to understand is a book of strategies is not really transformative. White parents must learn to navigate and understand the meaning of “from the center to the margin,” or in other words, recognizing to the best of their ability what it means to live in a black body and to understand the overwhelming racialized events that continually shape the quality of life for black adoptees. To put another way, the tools and practical applications aren’t useful unless one understands the context in which they are coming from.

R:  Page 13 shares, "This book is not about blaming White parents, or even suggesting their parenting is inadequate"; however, at times, it does feel that the authors are attempting, through quotes from transracial adoptees and adoptive parents as well as research, that parents are failing at parenting black children. I noticed that many of the people you interviewed were older adoptees and older adoptive parents. From my experience, younger parents of black children are making great strides in many areas to provide their black kids with the necessary tools to grow into successful, racially-healthy adults. Why did you focus on older parents? Have you done any research on younger parents?

S:  I thought older adoptive parents would make for a richer study. These parents have the benefit of longitudinal hindsight of what worked and didn’t work regarding raising black children. Furthermore, I wanted to include insight from the transracial adoptees as they looked back and reflect on their life experiences and self-awareness as children, teenagers, young adults, and into adulthood. Those insights understandably come with time; thus, an older audience (children and parents alike) were interviewed.

I don’t doubt that younger adoptive parents are making great strides. With all due respect, regardless of generation, Whites as a whole continue to ignore the realities of benefitting from white privilege as well as recognizing the experiences of children of color in the context of a racist society. Adopting transracially may increase the awareness of the parents, but until these concepts are fully understood and embraced, transracial adoptees will continue to struggle with identity issues. See the following response to a recent blog I posted online “raising culturally responsive black children in white adoptive homes” from a transracially adopted black women:

Read the article it is nothing but intellectual claptrap. I am a Black woman who was adopted by White parents and none of it came clise to describing my experience. Yes, I sometimes wished I looked like my parents but not because I hated being Black or thinking White was better but because I simply wanted to resemble the people I loved the most. I also probably know more about true Black history than those so called authentic Black people. Who is Patricia E. Bath? Don't know? How about Ralph Bunche? Who knows Jan Ernst Matzeliger, Elijah McCoy, or Mae Jemison? These are Black people who.made a real difference in our lives. Patricia was the first Black woman to receive a medical patent for laser eye surgery. Ralph Bunche was a political scientist who graduated from UCLA and Harvard when few Blacks were doing so. He went on to work for the. UN and even negotiated a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Elijah McCoy was a prolific Black inventor and the quality of his inventions were so superior to others who tried to copy them that people began to ask if this was a real McCoy? Jan Ernst Matzeliger was a Black Dutchman who came to America and invented the shoe lasting machine. This made it possible to make 500 pairs of shoes a day instead of 50. Mae Jemison is a Black female astronaut. So yes I may not speak Ebonics. I may not listen to Jay Z or eat hamhocks. I am, however, a prouud Black woman. I have no desire to be a part of what sadly passes for Black culture today. It is based on ignorance, a lack of formal education and the embracing of the thug life. While the real culture heritage that is so rich and filled with so many remarkable is overlooked or worse yet ridiculed. I will never associate myself with what passes for Black culture today but I most proudly align myself with the great Black cultural leaders and thinkers throughout history.

R:  I read the biographies provided, and it seems that none of the authors are adoptive parents, adoptees, or birth parents. As an adoptive parent, it's tough to take advice or suggestions from people who aren't in the trenches alongside me. However, it seemed to some degree, you wanted the research to speak for itself and that you and your co-authors weren't trying to advise or suggest. Can you respond to this?

S:  Although the authors were neither adopted nor adoptive parents, Dr. Juarez and myself have both raised and mentored biracial children in predominately white settings who endure many of the same issues that TRA children face. Although much research is available regarding the self-awareness and identity development of all adoptees, this book is more centered on the issue of race in raising black and brown children in white homes and in predominately white contexts/environment. As an African American father, raising my biracial daughters to love their blackness is a daunting task given the competing mainline discourses regarding what is acceptable norms and values that shape the human condition. I struggle every day to teach my daughters to develop a healthy (black) self-identity. The difference is that I have experiences to draw from as a black man growing up in a white racialized world. The enemy of positive self-esteem is self-doubt, which I share in a very personal way with white adoptive parents.

Furthermore, although I understand your point to a degree, I strongly believe that part of the problem with our black and brown TRAs and their struggle with identity is that transracial adoptive parents are not taking advice from black parents who have generations of experience of raising children in our highly racialized society.

R:  On page 13, it's written, "Transracial adoption is both deeply perplexing and highly interesting because race simultaneously does and does not matter." Well said! Can you explain this further?

S:  There are two meanings to this statement. First (and a bit more difficult to grasp) is the concept that race is a socially constructed artifact that people attach meaning too. In other words, “race” doesn’t truly exist. Skin tone, however, is a major factor that lurks deep within our subconscious mind, regardless of who you are. And skin color incites particular white racial frame in one’s head, which leads to assumptions based on race of who that person is, where they came from, how they will act, talk, dress, believe. These race-based assumptions lead to differential treatment in opportunities based on a society that was created on the pretense of equality. Or at least a limited notion of the concept as expressed our nations founding elite white males. In saying that, race matters and it doesn’t matter depending on what is at stake for elite whites. I also see that race is often used when it is expedient to oneself and withheld when it is not expedient……..

R:  At one point you talk about "drive by" racial education---the idea that transracial adoptive parents simply wish to occasionally and lightly teach kids about race, but it's not enough. I totally agree with this. What suggestions do you have for adoptive parents to help them instill more dense and meaningful and continual racial education and experiences in their children?

S:  White parents simply must unlearn those white-centered frames about the world as invented and discovered by Westerners. Before, I believe, white adoptive parents can be effective at raising healthy and psychologically balanced children they must analyze the very concept of race as more than stereotyping and prejudice but as an centuries-old structure, which has not been an everyday part of their reality. When white parents uncover the deep-seated racism(s), it speaks them in ways they are unaware of. The transformation is a moral and philosophical metamorphosis which can be painful at times for many well-intentioned Whites as they begin to see that what they “know” about race is wholly wrong-headed, and yet, enlightening if they allow the knowledge to unfold.

If black adoptive children aren’t given the cultural tools they need to cope with the devastating effects of every race-based mistreatment, they are left at a considerable disadvantage. They have the increased potential to become self-doubters which is the enemy of positive self-esteem. Parents are the gatekeepers of socialization, whether implicitly or explicitly, and therefore, must redouble their efforts to unlearn white supremacists frames that continually reshape the American experience. Because truthfully, “drive by” strategies and cultural tourism has yet to significantly change the landscape of race relations.

Thanks to Mr. Smith for his time and energy.   I hope, dear readers, you will pick up a copy of Mr. Smith's (and company's) book.    

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