Education, resources and support are some of the best things that can be given to adoptive parents and families. When it comes to transracial adoptions, the need for these is even more crucial.
Adopting a child of another race adds many different components to adoption, some of which may be challenging for the adoptee and the adoptive family to navigate. Even the best-prepared parents will still have much to learn.
Understanding the role and the implications of race in transracial adoptions is essential for both the adoptive family and the adopted child. Here are a few things transracial adoptees want their adoptive parents to remember:
1. Everyone sees color.
Collectively, we need to stop using the phase, “I don’t see color.”
In my opinion, this is a fairly newer concept. Recent events have initiated and sparked many conversations about racism and addressing race appropriately. Oftentimes, when people address issues of race, an automated response is, “I don’t see color.”
The truth is you do — and so does your transracially adopted child.
I am a transracial adoptee and, growing up, my parents told me, “We don’t see color.” They thought it was a way to affirm to me that my skin color didn’t matter and that it didn’t change the way they loved me.
While their hearts were in the right place, the reality of their statement was incorrect. I see color every day. As a person of color, I am always aware of it.
Here’s an example: Anytime I walk into a room I am acutely aware of how many people have black or brown skin like me. In fact, I often inadvertently count them so I don’t feel like I’m alone. Have you ever done that?
You need to understand that your transracial child will always be aware of their differences when it comes to race. So, instead of not seeing color, celebrate color, affirm color. It can be as simple as buying a doll that has brown skin, showing your child a movie with a minority as the lead character, or buying a book that features a black or brown family.
Ultimately, you have to integrate color into daily life. You have to make it normal.
2. There will be topics in the classroom you need to process with your child.
I have vivid memories of being so uncomfortable and confused when talking about slavery and racism in elementary school, and I didn’t know what to do with those feelings. Learning how to navigate and initiate discussions on topics such as racism with your child is necessary and important.
Although I am not African American, my skin is dark brown, and oftentimes people think I am. Growing up as a person of color, I associated myself as being “black” because I wasn’t “white.” This made it really hard for me when discussing racism in school.
Your transracially adopted child may greatly struggle to articulate and process topics on racism or slavery that they are learning in the classroom. You need to be prepared for these conversations, and your child needs a safe place to process hard things.
If you know that there will be a unit, a book or lecture on slavery or racism, please provide your child with the help or resources they need to address what feelings may come from this. As a parent, if you feel like you cannot talk or process this out with your child, find someone who can.
3. Do not assume your transracially adopted child wants to identify with their birth culture.
Many adoption agencies will provide adoptive parents with resources and information for navigating transracial adoptions. One significant component is having your transracially adopted child connect with their birth culture. While some transracial adoptees may seek this, others may not. My suggestion is to always ask.
I was adopted from India when I was 15 months. Growing up, I would read picture books about India and, truthfully, they alarmed me. I never felt I was able to identify with Indian culture as someone that grew up in the United States. Every part of Indian culture was something that overwhelmed and shocked me. I had no ability to connect with the belief system, the clothing, the way they view women and marriage — nothing.
I felt so out of touch and foreign as an American when I visited India in 2013 as an adult. It wasn’t the sanctifying and healing experience I had hoped it would be. The truth is, India is an incredibly racist and sexist country. In fact, the skin-whitening industry in India is estimated to be worth $500 billion dollars. There is significant colorism and caste discrimination throughout the entire country.
How can I identify with a birth country/culture that won’t even let me celebrate who I am because I have dark brown skin?
This is just one example, and this is just my story. The reason I share this? I think it’s easy to assume that if your child is from another country that you need to find ways to keep their birth culture alive. That is not always the case. It can be very challenging for your child to navigate identifying as an American while also trying to identify with their country of origin. I think having conversations with your child — or having a counselor have conversations with your child — about what they feel comfortable with is crucial.
My suggestion: Don’t assume, just ask.
Ramya Gruneisen is an adoptee who lives in St. Louis, Mo. She has an educational background in exercise science and public health and works as an adjunct professor at Lindenwood University in the Health Sciences Department. One of her greatest passions is teaching and sharing her love for health and wellness with others. As a transracial adoptee, she has a profound interest and passion for adoption research and education. She believes some of the best learning is done through story. She loves spending time with friends and family, climbing mountains and watching the St. Louis Cardinals and Blues play.