Tuesday, September 20, 2011

White Mom, Brown Baby

As a white mom with a brown son, I’m consistently on the hunt for equipping articles and studies that would better prepare me to parent a transracial family.  At the beginning of our adoption process I struggled to see racial identity as a principal matter.  In my heart, I wanted race to be a benign topic.  I wanted the world to wear colorless goggles.  Then, something clicked, and I realized seeing my son as colorless would in fact remove part of him.  There is a pride that comes with his handsome latte colored skin, and I want him to find that pride.  I went into this adoption hoping love would be enough to conquer our differences and instill self-regard.  I really thought it might be; but with each passing day, I am far fearful it won’t be enough for the long haul.   I am inclined, just maybe not fully qualified.  So I read.  And read.  And read on and on.  I ran across this article this past week on transracial families.  It validated my concerns.

The Importance of Racial Socialization on Transracial Adoptees

The Evan B. Donaldson Institute just reported on a research study that found: racial socialization and NOT focus on culture or ethnic socialization decreased adoptees’ sense of marginalization (and by extension—low sense of self worth), and resulted in greater self esteem.  The study sample included 100 adult and adolescent transracial adoptees.  Further details of the abstract can be found on the Evan B. Donaldson Institute website. 
    I wanted to post information about this research finding because, as an adoption professional and veteran adoptive parent, I believe that this is ESSENTIAL information for adoptive parents to get and use in raising their children. 
  Racial identity is THE salient issue for our children and families. Facing up to what we need to do in order to nurture healthy racial identity in them is a major responsibility. We cannot excuse ourselves from fulfilling that responsibility simply because we adopted through agencies/social workers who had no idea how important racial immersion experiences are in the formation of racial identity and allowed us to adopt, despite lack of diversity resources in the communities in which we live. (when that is the case)
We also have to face up to the fact that merely living in a racially diverse community is not enough.  We must help our children connect with adults of color, and we must recognize that our children need to see us doing the same. 
    Over the last couple of decades, I have observed how adoptive parents—especially those who have adopted internationally—focus on engaging in cultural events and activities, instead of dealing with race-related issues.  When they are confronted by adoptees and/or experts (social scientists, diversity educators, etc…) they make excuses for raising their kids in nearly-all-white environments and engaging in white social circles themselves on the basis of all they claim that they do to teach their child about his or her culture-of-origin.  That is and has been very disturbing.
    That is why this type of research is so very important to us, as members of the greater- transracial-adoptive family network, regardless of whether our children were adopted via domestic or international adoption, and which country they were born in/adopted from.  It is up to us to broadcast this information—research findings like this—throughout our adoption communities.  It is also important that we urge adoption agencies to educate themselves about HOW to assess prospective parents for transracial adoption and approve them only if and when they are able to provide the racial socialization that will be necessary for any child they adopt to grow up with healthy racial-ethnic identity.  With more people than ever wanting to adopt, and fewer identified children (internationally, at least) waiting for adoptive placement, there is no reason for agencies to place children in communities where they cannot have regular, ongoing immersion, their parents cannot make and keep friends of color, and there are no adult role models of color to be found. 
    As adoptive parents, we have to make this a priority and stop fooling ourselves that as long as we try to expose our children to birth culture, that is “enough" and they will be “fine.”  Evidence is now accumulating that demonstrates otherwise.  Our conversations now need to be about HOW we find and incorporate those essential people and experiences into the lives of our children and families that will truly help them develop healthy racial identity. 
Jane A. Brown, MSW

I get the article.  It brought to light areas I’m failing as a white mamma of a brown boy…I harp on teaching Mez and our family about Ethiopian culture without focusing on race issues.  I believe the points made are valid; but in a primarily white community (can I say pretty segregated community), it’s difficult to find opportunity to build these valuable relationships.  What’s a girl to do?  It seems rather pious to shop for friends “of color” simply to fill a need for my son.  So, I’m asking what is the way we work to integrate our community and move into a blended community that offers cross-cultural interaction and positive peer relationships?  I’m taking suggestions.  Help.

Meze and Mama

*to view article in original publication click HERE


  1. We use random things all the time to decide that we're going to strike up a conversation with someone--that they have kids the same age as ours, that they're our same profession, that they also have a big family, whatever. So I think that maybe it's okay to use "raising brown babies" as the thing that we initially have in commom...of course there has to be more for it to turn into a relationship, just like with anyone else you meet because of something they have in common with you. My thoughts on the matter, anyway. :)

  2. I don't know the answer. My sister & her 2 biracial kiddos have similar questions, but she hasn't found the answer yet either.

    I know it doesn't answer your dilemma, but I just finished reading Missy's article on her blog. I knew you'd enjoy it: http://itsalmostnaptime.blogspot.com/2011/09/am-i-hero.html

  3. Ok, so I don't have my babies home yet, *and I generally NEVER give advice over the internet*, but I feel your pain and I wanted to share what has really blessed me in this area. I used to worry that there was something wrong with me that all my friends were the same race as me, but the truth is it's such hard work and so uncomfortable at times to cross those cultural barriers that almost no one does it... so you're not alone. Last year, I started working for a program that encourages and equips teen parents to succeed, and found that all of the sudden I was immersed in a beautiful, loving, multi-racial community in an otherwise pretty segregated southern town. I'm learning a ton!! I feel so blessed to have this community and am excited for what it will mean to our kiddos. So that's what's worked for me: working or volunteering in a program on the other side of town. Note- I don't want this to sound like you're going to help them out because of their race, but more just finding somewhere where volunteers are needed or something to be involved in that just happens to be more racially diverse, and preferably something you can bring your kids to when you go. Hope that's a helpful idea and encouraging...

  4. I SO understand where you are coming from. I was raised in Tyler, but have lived in Longview for 10 years now. Tyler is VERY different from Longview and yet we are still a "different" family. Another issue we are dealing with is how my older children perceive how we are viewed in public. When we go to Tyler, they make comments about how people are staring or whispering (we don't see this often in Longview). They want to defend their siblings and "fight back" so to speak, but my desire is for them to want to smile and just love on those people. I have come up with conversation starters that have turned out to be blessings for those who may be bothered or confused about our family. We have 3 bio kids with blonde hair, no less, a bi-racial daughter with pretty light skin and a head full of very curly hair, and a VERY dark mocha daughter who is completely black. These girls are 7 months apart so they confuse people. I find it challenging like you to make sure our children are educated as well as in tune with the race they are. We are NOT color blind! We want to love every bit of our individual children's races! Thanks for posting! I am sure God will guide our paths as we travel this journey with the children God intended us to have all along.

  5. Thank you to each of you for your thoughts. They do fuel this mama to do what it takes rather than resign herself to what's easy.