Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Dear Sugar: If You Adopt Transracially...

Dear Sugar,

It's Black History Month and as we continue to celebrate, I want to address something very important, especially for those new to transracial adoption or those considering it.   

I was recently part of an online discussion about race...this was IN a transracial adoption group.  I was shocked at how divided the members were when it came to the topic we were discussing, essentially:  #blacklivesmatter.  

There was a debate about #alllivesmater vs. #blacklivesmatter, supporting police officers, etc.   

Now, if you know me and my writing, you know that I firmly believe that each parent is doing the best job she can with what she has and knows.  You know that I don't care about a lot of parenting choices others make.    I'm not going to get up into your parental business, and I'd appreciate you staying out of mine.

HOWEVER, when it comes to adopting transracially, I have an opinion or two.  Now before you think this is just a personal rant, it's not.  My feelings are based on nearly a decade in the adoption community:  based on things I've read, things I've heard, things I've discussed, and of course, personal experience.   

I want you to know that the following comes straight out of my heart.   It comes from experience and understanding and empathy.  It comes from a wiser, older, more taught me.   

-If you adopt transracially, your child shouldn't be the only child of color in your neighborhood, in their class at school, at church, etc.  

-If you adopt transracially, you need a diverse group of friends, including many friends who racially match your child.   

-If you adopt transracially, you need to listen to adult, transracial adoptees who plead with today's parents to not repeat the mistakes and mishaps of parents from ten, twenty, thirty years ago.  

-If you adopt transracially, you need to fill your home with books, toys, art, music, films, etc. that reflect your child's racial culture.  

-If you adopt transracially, you need to ask for help.   It's cliche and true:  it takes a village.   This might be help doing your child's hair.  This might be help navigating a racially unjust situation.  IF you have a diverse group of friends, asking for help isn't a BIG deal.  But when you don't have a diverse group of friends, the yes, going up to strangers and pleading for their help is weird...and really, unnecessary.   

-If you adopt transracially, not every opinion and voice out there is going to be best for you and your family, but SOME of them will be.   It's best if you humble yourself, listen, and learn.    

-If you adopt transracially, without question, without hesitation, without explanation or excuse #BlackLivesMatter .   Now, to clear up any confusion, as I did in the online discussion I mentioned, #BlackLivesMatter isn't anti-police and it isn't anti-White people.   Black Lives Matter is about advocating for Black people to have the same rights and respect as White people and police officers, and it's about bringing attention to the many unnecessarily murders of Black people over the past few years.

-If you adopt transracially, you'd better be willing to disconnect from anyone (relative, friend, neighbor, etc.) who is racist.  There is no choice here.  Your child is the one you stand up for.  

-If you adopt transracially, seriously consider adopting more than one child of the same race.  A child needs to feel supported racially as well as through shared adoption feelings and experiences.  

-If you adopt transracially, when a person of color tells you something (shares hair advice, says that something that happened to him/her was racist, etc.), shut your mouth and listen.   You are not the judge of their situation.  You aren't Black, you will never be Black, and you won't be able to be the best parent to your child unless you LISTEN and LEARN.

-If you adopt transracially, you need to always listen to your child

-If you adopt transracially, you need to teach your child Black history.  Do not rely on the school systems do this for your child.  (As a former college teacher, I can attest that my little ones know more than some college students in terms of their racial history, which of course is quite sad.)  Of course, in order to teach your child, you need to know Black history yourself.  I get that this might be intimidating for any parent, given that Black history isn't emphasized (at all) in school; this is why I wrote my book Homeschooling Your Young Black Child:  A Simple Getting Started Guide and Workbook.  

-If you adopt transracially, you are raising a child of color to become an adult of color.  This means you cannot rely on your own (White) experiences and understanding.  Again, this is why you have a village!  

- If you adopt transracially, consider having a same-race mentor for your child.  Our girls' mentor has been with us for three years, and she's become part of our family.  We love her dearly!  

-If you adopt transracially, be willing to stand up to ANY type of injustice:  racism, sexism, ageism, etc.  Teach your children to SPEAK UP and stand up for others.   

-If you adopt transracially, please do not talk about colorblindness being a real thing. COLOR SHOULD BE CELEBRATED AND ACKNOWLEDGED; NEVER IGNORED.   Colorblindness DOES NOT EXIST.   

-If you adopt transracially, know that your education NEVER ends.  You should be reading books and articles, watching documentaries, reading Black-edited and written magazines, taking classes, going to conferences, listening to Podcasts, etc.  Again, not every voice you read/hear is right for you and your family, but there are SOME voices that are.   

-If you adopt transracially, be willing to step up and educate others.  Ask your library if you can help put together a Black History Month display.  Start or join a transracial adoption support group.  Add to your child's classroom library or toy collection (with items that racially support your child).  

Not every step you take will be the right one.  Not every word you speak will be perfect.  Racial issues are uncomfortable.  But discomfort and growth are much better than complacency and ignorance. 

I urge you this week to fight burying your head in the sand or fight like hell to prove that all lives matter is right.  I urge you to lay down your pride.  I urge you to listen.  I urge you to ask questions.  I urge you to consider.  I urge you to do whatever you have to do to make sure you are doing the very best for your child.

If you are considering adopting transracially, I do not wish to scare you.  There are many, many wonderful transracial families formed by adoption who are doing the very best they can and are learning and growing and flourishing.   I don't want you to think you can just NEVER get this thing right.  Because that isn't true.   You just need to press on in education and with open hearts and minds.  

For more on all-things-transracial-adoption, you can get my book COME RAIN OR COME SHINE: A WHITE PARENT'S GUIDE TO ADOPTING AND PARENTING BLACK CHILDREN from Amazon as a paperback or e-book.  

I want to leave you with a few Bible verses to mull over.  Whether you are a person of faith or not, there is wisdom here:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves. (Phil. 2:3)

When pride comes, then comes disgrace,

but with humility comes wisdom. (Prov. 11:2)


  1. There are two bullet points that specifically discuss Black history. Those should probably be changed to history. Other than those 2 bullet points, though, the rest are good points for all White parents of children of color.

    The only thing I would put an asterisk next to is the listen and learn from people who share your child's ethnicity. Most of the time, that makes total sense. However, I have no intention of slathering my child's head in toxic hair products, nor do I have any intention of straightening it - both "suggestions" made by Black women, totally unprompted. I had one woman yell at me from a moving car, while I was crossing a parking lot, telling me what to use on my daughter's hair. Um, no. 'Cause I don't know you, you don't know my daughter, and you're supposed to be driving!

  2. Robyn, I agree with you on both counts. Although my two children of colour include three races/ethnicities, we not only teach and celebrate those (and to be honest, with AA, the best we can do is African AMERICAN, because we have no idea what areas the ancestors came from decades to centuries ago - we also celebrate and teach my families Engish/Irish/Scots American (Midwest) heritage and my husband's Dutch American (actually can trace back to the Mayflower) heritage and our shared Navy heritage/culture. We also teach and celebrate Jamaican heritage because we know a number of Jamaicans and Jamaican Americans and Phillipine heritage because of the same, some Japanese/Okinawan because one child was born there, and anything else wherever we are.... and because one thing we wanted to do is raise citizens of the world.

    As to the hair products: yes, I have gone up to complete strangers in a store and asked for help because the products that were recommended by good friends were not carried. I have had people see me sniffing and checking texture and offering help. A good friend straightened my son's hair when he wanted it to look like his best friend at the time.... I held my breath on that one because I thought, 'oh, no, he wants to be white' - but his friend was from Guyana - about the same shade of brown, but with straight hair (naturally). For most of his life, he has chosen to have a high and tight because many sons of military do - especially if they live on a Base. Now, a college student, but at a community college with a very small Black community, he wants a change - and having moved recently, we really have no ties to the Black community (in the past we have had very diverse groups of friends... unfortunately, none of us are really finding our niches here and have never chosen friends based upon race: whether white, black or brown. So, I went into the Black Student Union at my university (54 year white lady with serious blue hair) and simply said, 'I need help'. Someone asked me what I needed and I explained that my son at another school had never really had much hair, but now we needed advice. The crowd parted and two young ladies started asking me questions. I had a picture, but without feeling and seeing the texture live, all they could do was give me some suggestions of where to take him. So, we are going to a shop for a 'lesson' - I'm only going because it's an area neither of us is particularly familiar with and I'll likely drop him off and go find a Starbucks.


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