I recently joined an online transracial adoption group with group members from the across the extended adoption triad (adoptees, adoptive parents, social workers, friends of adoptees, etc.). They are admittedly heavy on the adoptive parent side, and as a result, I notice a lot of posts by (White) adoptive parents relaying an incident they encountered when with their adoptive child or in reference to their adoptive child and asking if it was racist. As a non-White person, it’s kind of humorous to hear White people asking if something was racist, because, well, we pretty much know when something that was said or done was. But, it made me reflect on my childhood and think about incidents I had that were a reflection of race and/or my family formation.
There was the time in elementary school when, in the heat of an argument, my ‘friend’ retorted, “At least my mother loved me and didn’t give me up for adoption!” Definitely about family formation. Not at all about race.
Then, there are the countless times people mistake me for my father’s wife. Sometimes it’s the hostess or wait staff at a restaurant, other times it’s a tour guide, and the first time it happened it was military personnel in line in front of us at the grocery store. In his defense, we were on a military base, and, you know, there is that whole history of G.I.s and Asian brides. But, I was in my early teens, so the idea of it all is a little bit ridiculous. Definitely about race in family formation.
Of course, the lack of incidents about the race mismatch between myself and my parents may have more to do with my race and my parents’ and how Asians are racialized coupled with where I grew up than the non-existence of racism or discrimination. Living in a Black-White Southern city with no sizable Korean population or interaction with an Asian community greatly decreases the likelihood of being shamed by my ethnic birth community.
However, that doesn’t diminish the fact that transracial adoptees (TRAs) will, at some point, experience racism and/or discrimination. While being able to discern racism and/or discrimination is important, what’s more important is equipping TRAs with tools that will help them react and respond in a healthy and self-affirming manner. First, it’s critical that TRAs not internalize racist/discriminatory interactions. TRAs must be aware of race, racism, historical and contemporary race relations, and the history of marginalized racial groups. And, this information should come from parents not because it’s important for your child to know but because it’s important for you to know. Saying nothing is saying something. Secondly, TRAs should feel comfortable and confident in addressing racist/discriminatory talk. This doesn’t mean they have to, but they should be able to if they wanted to. It’s certainly not TRAs job to educate every ignorant, racist person they come in contact with, however they should also not feel silenced or ashamed.
Even though I find it a little funny to read some of the White adoptive parents’ questions, I do find some comfort in knowing that parents are care about these issues and are engaged with a community of people where they can ask these questions, get answers, and find support.