Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Identity Crisis

I've wanted to write on this topic for some time, but I couldn't find the write words to convey my feelings.  Then I realized, there are no right words.  This is messy.  If I wait for the perfect way to share my thoughts on this issue, I never will.

So, here goes...

I have been having, for some time, an identity crisis, and not a cliche one where I'm getting tats and piercings and going to parties on weeknights and buying myself a younger-person car.    (Though all of those things to sound mildly appealing, especially the going somewhere on a weeknight, if I weren't so tired by 6 p.m.). 

I've been thinking a lot about transracial adoptive families and what we are, racially-speaking.   A racial identity crisis, of sorts.

(For the purpose of creating examples, I'm going to hash this out in terms of our family:  White parents, Black kids.)

If a White couple adopts a Black child, the family becomes transracial.  This means the parents should be thinking in terms of how to nourish the children racially, using resources (people, literature, activities, etc.) to give the child what many other Black children receive organically, when being raised in Black families.   This provides the opportunity for the child to develop a healthy racial identity.  

But what does this mean for the parents?   Their skin is White, obviously.  But are they still fully White after adopting a child of another race?  Because they, if they are parenting to the fullest (in my opinion), are changing to empathize with people of their child's same race:  to understand their struggles, to deal with their challenges.  They are evolving into someone else and not remaining the same.  They find being White a bit discomforting in some ways:  recognizing White privilege, for example.   They are conflicted.  Caught between being White but having the concerns of the Black community.  But being able to continue to be protected and privileged by White skin.   The covering is White, but the heart is...something else?  Black?  Black/White?  White/Black? 

Is race a matter of skin?  A matter of heart?  A matter of culture?  A matter of upbringing?  A matter of someone else's perception or personal perception?

I get myself quite worked up every time I hear racially-charged stories of prejudice, injustice, negligence.  I bawl every time I see another interview with Trayvon Martin's parents.  I feel my blood pressure rise when I hear stories like the young man who innocently purchased a belt in New York and was taken to the police station simply because he was a Black boy with money.  Or the story of the precious little girl who was shamed by her school for wearing a protective hair style.   Or when a teacher identifies a student as "black boy" instead of using his name.   Every time I read a book about a Black person's experience where racism has prevailed.  Every time I hear of another Black child who remains in foster care for years, while thousands of couples line up, eager to snatch up the next healthy, White infant placed for adoption.   Or what about when a school uses slavery as the subject of math problems?  And what's up with the super-racist Halloween costumes (Black face?  What?) that seemed to dominate this October? 

And it's not just the overtly racist stories, but what about the ignorance of toy companies who refuse to create one or more than one doll or action figure that represents Black children?  What about the lack of tv characters or book characters of color?  Clothing?  Another example.  Bandages----yet another.  "Flesh tone" tights for girls---yep, they are for White girls.  

I'm burdened by these things and more.  Like the adoption agencies that charge more for the adoption of a White child than a Black child.    Why are the adoptions of Black children discounted?  Or is it that the fees of adoptions of White children are inflated?  

Why are "ethnic" hair care products often quarantined to a dusty, dimly-lit corner of major discount stores?  

So, here's my point.

My White friends with White, bio kids, aren't all up-in-arms over these things.  They aren't burdened by the culmination of these examples. 

But I am.  And so are other transracial adoptive parents.  And, we are just beginning to get what people of color have known and have been trying to share all along.

So there's the injustices.

The oversights.

The dismissals.

The dedication to raise racially-confident children.

The weight of not being Black and never being Black, yet teaching kids to be Black.

The knowledge that there are gobs of resources, and the excitement of their availbility, yet the constant awarness that all the resources in the world cannot change the fact that there is a color difference between family members that love can't (and shouldn't) "hide" or "heal."  (As I believe race should be celebrated and not ignored). 

The fear that we, adoptive parents, may not be doing enough, or may not be going in the right direction.

The overwhelming love we have for our children.

What are we?  Where does that leave us in terms of our race, our feelings about race, and our ability (or not) to take what we know, what we are still learning, and channel that into the betterment of our families and of the world around us who is watching?

I took part in a radio show this year.   One of the other guests was a Black woman who was raised by White parents.  She said something rather simple, yet profound, when the host asked her about what effects her parents had on her.  She said that above all, she was taught that she is valuable and beautiful because she's a child of God.   Having that knowledge and confidence, first and foremost, has given her the confidence that she needed to be an adoptee, a Black woman, and a child of White parents.

Sometimes I let my fears get the best of me.  There's no right way to raise a child who was adopted transracially.   I think there are some things that should be done and done well (ahem, that's why I wrote a book about it!).    But if the very foundation isn't there, the foundation "on Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand," than isn't everything else going to be on unstable ground?

I know that I cannot let the fear, guilt, uncertainty (this racial identity crisis) burden me into becoming paralyzed and ineffective.  I refuse to let it.   But I also sense that this ever-present sense of wondering and unease can push me to be the best mom possible, the parent my children need.  

Race doesn't define how much I love my children or how I love them.  But adopting transracially has changed me, deeply, and continues to do so, which in turn pushes me to be a better parent, a different parent, certainly, than I would have been had "transracial" never become part of our family definition.

Crisis usually stems from confusion/lack-of-foundation.   So as I think through these things and always think through these things, I will choose a firm foundation, knowing that no matter what else comes our way (things will inevitable come our way), we will stand strong.

Luke 6:46-49
46 “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? 47 Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: 48 he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built.[c] 49 But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.”



  1. This post is amazing. Thank you for putting in to words what I have been feeling as well as the mama of our gorgeous transracial family. I work so hard to turn these anxieties, worries, etc...over to God, but that is easier said than done. I pray everyday that I am being the best mom to my boys as I can be. I love reading your blog, and knowing there are other families out there like ours. Blessings, Rene

  2. Love reading your blog! I'm just at the brink of this and my daughter is bi-racial, so I'm just beginning to be more aware of all of this. So overwhelming!

  3. what a great post. my husband and I just started the process to adopt and I've been thinking a lot about transracial adoption because we are open to any race. your insight is helpful. I've been reading so much negative research--that black kids should only be adopted by white families if there is not other option, etc.--and have been extremely disheartened and confused by it. it's so sad that our society is still so racially divided.

  4. Oh thank you for this! We are a transracial family by adoption as well. My little one is three months.

  5. Rachel, the way I think about it is that we, as parents in a transracial family built by adoption, lose a part of our white privilege. Not all of it, of course. I as a woman still have all my privilege. BUT, as a parent, I don't have that anymore.

    For anyone who is new to the concept of white privilege:



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