Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Transracial Adoption Must-Read

So, you may have noticed J and I like to make a decision and then go for it. Well, a few years ago we went to Ethiopia, saw there were a lot of orphans, wanted to start a family, and started the adoption process. Sure, I read a book here or there, but most of the absolutely vital things we have learned about attaching with an adopted child and adopting a child of a different race (which are both HUGE deals) we have learned after the fact. I have read some pretty excellent books and talked with some very helpful people since then, however, in regards to the race-related issues, I just finished a book that should be a must-read for every transracially adoptive parent (or potential transracially adoptive parent). It is called In Their Own Voices: Transracial Adoptees Tell Their Stories by Rhonda Roorda and Rita Simon. The book is made up of a small section of expert opinions, statistics on related studies, and then 24 interviews with adults who as infants or children were adopted into families of another race.

I held my breath at first, hoping that the book would tell me that transracial adoptees are happy and healthy and everything is okay. Thankfully, the empirical evidence and overall interviews did show that most of the children had a positive experience with their families ::sigh of relief!:: and would continue to recommend transracial adoptions. However, there were also plenty of parts of the book that were hard to read, such as the descriptions of the racism these children faced and the identity issues some of them struggled through.

For example one African American male stockbroker who was raised by white parents shares, "As I got older, I stopped being this cute little boy and others perceived me as this black teenager and a menace to society. Apparently I was liable to rape, kill, or whatever. I got pulled over by cops, I got slammed against the wall with a flashlight up in my face. The fact that I was able to go to my dad and see his pain and outrage, the same way as I was feeling even though he had never experienced it, was a support system for me" p. 296. The interviewer then shared that "When I do public speaking before parents who have dark-skinned sons, I tell them to prepare for the fact that their sons will be treated unfairly because of the color of their skin" p. 297. Talk about breaking a mother's heart! The stories that were shared in this book were so out of my realm of understanding as a white woman. Thinking about the fact that T may (and most likely will) face this type of injustice in his lifetime sickens me and makes me want to better educate myself on the issues he will face as well as how to prepare him. I want to give him the most secure start he can have, and this book gave some helpful insights.

The best part of the book was hearing from these adults exactly what they would have done differently or what they were thankful that their parents had done a certain way. Basically, most suggestions could be summarized in:
*Provide a loving home where the child can be accepted for who they are and are encouraged to develop self-confidence. Help the child to learn more about their ethnic heritage (celebrate black history, etc.) and explore their identity without feeling threatened. Openly discuss race and racial issues. Appreciate their culture and have items, dolls, books, etc. that do, too.
*Have an experience where you are the minority (so you can relate to how your child feels all of the time. I definitely think being in Kenya helped me understand the possible discomfort better. They suggest ethnic churches for a similar experience.)
*Recognize and validate the unique challenges that your child will face that you haven't. Don't pretend that everyone is colorblind. Instead talk through incidents as they occur. Although, race may not be a big deal to you, even though we wish it, that is not the case for the majority of society. We need to prepare our children to deal with such inequities.
*Raise them in a diverse community and with a foundational belief in God. Put a high value on education, too.
*Have friends who are of the child's race, or who have transracially adopted, and if possible, give the child a sibling of similar background. Give them role models of their race to look up to.

The book ends with this paragraph, "All participants believe that transracial adoption served them well; all of them feel connected to their adoptive parents; and all except one, support transracial adoption, but with strong recommendation that agencies and prospective parents recognize the importance of learning about their child's racial history and culture and make that history and culture part of both their child's life and their family life" p. 192.

When we grow up in the family of our own ethnicity we never have to "learn" culture. However, when we adopt transracially we are no longer just a white family. We no longer blend in and we need to fully understand the impact and responsibility of raising a child of a different race. I don't think many people think through this before they make the decision to transracially adopt. I know we didn't. However, for T's sake I sure hope that we can now continue to learn and be mindful of this great responsibility. He is certainly worth it! And we gain some beautiful things ourselves: a precious son, a new richer understanding of another culture, and hopefully the diversity even in our home will fight our own ethnocentrism and make the world look a bit more like God intended. This is an excellent resource and I highly recommend it! Love to hear your thoughts, too...


  1. Do you own this book? Can I borrow it? :)

  2. As I was reading this (yes through tears), I couldn't help but think how lucky T is to have parents who are doing everything in their power to prepare for things that he might have to face in the future. It also makes me sad that, as you said, not everyone is colorblind. I will admit I always stalk your blog ;) but I hardly ever comment. This time however, I felt like I needed to tell you how much I admire you two and how amazing you two are as parents. Thanks for inspiring all of us parents out there!

  3. Great job on the review. This book is currently collecting dust on my shelf. I will be reading it soon.

  4. Buying book on amazon now... I wanted to after hearing you talk about it, but after seeing tose adorable pics in the last paragreaph of the blog- IM SOLD!!! HA!!

  5. What a gift you are Erin, as you continue to push toward all things good for your children and family. It is so hard to explain to a majority cultured perspective person what it is like to be part of the minority or non-empowered group, and most especially, the exasperation of being black in a world of low or even negative expectations for people of the black race. It is amazing how great your love for your son is to understand, be open to learning from others, and to embrace all things helpful to him, no matter how much it costs you. I just am so filled with hope. I must say, with a blond/light skinned mom and a dark skinned dad, I often felt I didn't fit in either culture, and others didn't accept me based on my skin color as well. It is so hard to explain to someone who wants to believe that there are no prejudices out there, and it is so encouraging to be heard when someone is willing to let the tragedy of that reality be spoken of and processed through. So thankful for you, my friend!

  6. Erin,
    Thank you for your insight. I saw this book on Amazon before I read your review, and I will be hunting a copy down for myself. I noticed you live in the Phx area?? So do we!

  7. I am a transracial adoptee and just started to read In Their Own Voices. The academic information in the beginning was eye opening for me and I am so excited to hear adoptees voices. We can learn so much from them. Although, there may be parts that are hard to read, I encourage each transracial parent to push through. It is through information like this that you can learn so much to help your children of color navigate through this interesting world.

  8. Erin,

    Thank you for reading In Their Own Voices! I am impressed with your review of the book...but of course!

    Since we are heading into Adoption Month and because again I am impressed with your insight on adoption as well as being moved by your photos within your blog, I would like to give you a signed complimentary copy of In Their Parents' Voices and In Their Siblings' Voices to complete your set of the Simon-Roorda trilogy on transracial adoption. Enjoy!!

    Please contact me on facebook and send me a private message as to where you would like me to send the books.

    Thanks again for sharing your adoption experience. It is through conversation in the written and verbal form that we all can better learn more about this complex gift.