What can I do to give [this child] the best life?

I randomly came across your blog tonight and can’t stop reading. I am a white adoptive mom to my African-American three-year-old daughter. I already feel some ridicule just by saying that and in a crazy way feel I need to give you a synopsis to justify her adoption but am trying to just stick to the point. Since her first days in our family, I have cried over, prayed over, and worried over the issue of race/ethnicity and wondered if this was the right thing for her. At the time of her adoption, she had no family willing to raise her and we were the only family on the foster care/adoption list who would be willing to adopt an African-American child. We live in California—not in small town—this blew me away.

I can’t begin to convey how much I love her, how proud I am of her and how inadequate I feel in some ways in raising her. The questions are harder than I thought—my heart aches and really I just plain want to punch the daylights out of some people with the questions they ask me while she is standing right next to me. I understand that the overall opinion on here about transracial adoption is that it leaves a child feeling alone among many other things. I guess I just want to know what I can do to give her the best life—to allow her to feel intensely proud of her ethnic background, of who she is? I am crying as I type this because the thought of her feeling alone, the thought of her wishing she looked different or not feeling like she has an ethnic identity because of us adopting her kills me.

I sought this site out because of too many sleepless nights pondering all of this and because of all the long talks my hubby and I have of needing to really think about relocating to a city that has a more diverse population of African-Americans (we are in an area of majority Latino and white, with something like seven percent African-American). I wonder all the time if she will grow up feeling isolated here. I would love to hear any thoughts you have on what I can do to make her transracial experience less painful and help her grow up proud of who she is. Any resources (books, videos, blogs, etc.) you can point me to—especially from African-American adoptees who were raised in white families? Thanks for your time. I am really looking forward to reading your thoughts.

7 thoughts on “What can I do to give [this child] the best life?

  1. This is a hard one and what makes it hard and deeply depressing to me as a transracially adopted person myself; is the fact that I did not have adoptive parents who thought the way that you do. There is no wrong or right and what I’m saying here is based purely on my own personal experience and what I would have loved to have had from my parents.
    Talk to your daughter let her know that you are there for her and that she can talk to you whatever.
    Standing up for your daughter when the ignorant and prejudicial people pass comment – this was something that my adoptive parents never did they would either remain silent, walk away or in some cases even join in.
    Making sure that your daughter has all the access that she needs when she needs to answer any questions she might have about her ethnicity. I think that enabling your daughter to have pride in her dual upbringing. Giving her knowledge is power. I guess what I am saying in a really roundabout way is that you are on the right track, that you need to keep supporting your daughter, but also know when to step back (difficult I know) but always be there for her – which you are. Never stop questioning, never stop searching with and for your daughter, answer her questions when they come, as they will. I wish you all the success

  2. This is really difficult. Whatever path you take will be difficult for her. If you move to a more diverse community, even in that community she will be different because her ways will be white and her parents will be white. She is an Oreo. But I think that moving is a good idea. Because she’ll have to learn how to be more black eventually anyway, so the sooner the better to reduce years of isolation.

    Also, I’m not religious, but if you are then join a black church. The church is the bedrock of African American community and a cultural center. Choose wisely, as some evangelical churches can be extreme about discipline and commitment, but most are vibrant places full of love. There I’m sure a lot of people will want to nurture her into a proud African American. It may not be easy for you, as you will be a symbol of how our society favors and privileges your race, but that’s only fair and might give you some insight into what it’s like to be different.

    But you really do have to give her access to claiming the culture of her race or she’ll be predisposed to identity crisis later.

  3. First of all, thank you for your honesty. As painful as it is for you, it is on some level refreshing to finally hear some true sentiment from APs that doesn’t tie back into the arrogance of the privilege that allows for such an adoption, and which usually has white adoptive parents waxing boastfully about knowing how to take care of skin or hair, or how they celebrate Kwanzaa, etc.

    There is a danger especially here in the “cultural dipping” that so many APs see as worthwhile in terms of international adoption, primarily because Black culture is much closer to home, as it were, and this “dipping” is much easier to call out as the slumming that it usually is.

    There is something in your desire to perhaps relocate to a more diverse neighborhood that to me leads somewhere, but we also have to be careful here: It would be very easy to move to a completely bourgeois predominantly black neighborhood, and you would be “soaking” in the same culture perhaps, just with a different set of actors.

    In my high school in New Jersey, which was about 40 percent black at the time, there were derogatory words for the black students who “acted” white (worse than Oreo), as well as for the white students who “acted” black. There was never an acknowledged crossover possible. This is often discussed at the blog Racialicious, which I would recommend to you.

    But what we are talking about here is more class difference than racial difference, and I think they have to be brought out in the open. This subject came up at the blog Love Is Not Enough (a blog about racially mixed families), and although I thought it was an interesting discussion, I felt compelled to chime in and explain that the moving to a gentrified neighborhood which happens to be more “mixed” in terms of race means nothing if it is not mixed in terms of class, which is usually the case. Quoting what I said there:

    I often refuse to admit being “American”, but readily and proudly claim to be a “Jersey Boy”. I think the evaluation of New Jersey here is fair, in the descriptions given, but I would only add that there’s an element more important to talk about than race, which is class. New Jersey’s industrial north and agricultural south made for a state where the majority of people were truly majority working class. Growing up on the outskirts of New Brunswick, I still say that the diversity of my public schools made a huge difference in how I see the world. All the same, it was clear then the class divide, as well as its incentives, but I can say that the stigma was less for those on the lower end, because all in all everyone had their place: A place to work, a place to live, a place to play. By this I mean to say that one could claim “place”—being from Jersey—and no one would argue with this. Quite different than growing up brown and being denied one’s “American-ness”.

    No state has more municipalities, townships, boroughs, and districts than New Jersey, and reading a book like The Encyclopedia of New Jersey published by Rutgers reveals an almost laughable effort of the upper class to pull away from the “riffraff” of the state. Nonetheless, municipalities often made do, with volunteer fire and first-aid squad services, for example, or shared public libraries. And so the changes in the state are mostly class shifts—Montclair has become a New York yuppie outpost; the Jersey Shore has been undone in the same way. The “collective” notion has been replaced by a more individualistic one. The “good life” of home, work, weeks at the shore does not exist anymore. When I visit friends today I don’t recognize the state I grew up in, and this is a shame. The culture is gone; the accent is gone, except on horridly racist/stereotypical TV shows like The Sopranos and The Jersey Shore.

    The incentives of “towns with good schools”, etc. enforce this class shift upward, and condemn large parts of the state now to decay and urban rot. I would argue that the visible manifestations of anger that you see on a daily basis are a function of this breakdown. I guess my point is that perhaps it is time to look beyond race as a fundamental issue, and consider class differences as a primary marker. After all, what good is a “rainbow” community all of the same class interest? None of my siblings or I could afford to live in the town we grew up in. It’s a shame when the collective, multi-ethnic past of a place becomes the deactivated trope for the present.

    What I’m trying to say is that a stepping down from your class position might be more beneficial. I say this because in effect this is what I’ve gone through coming back to Lebanon. Not to say that it hasn’t cost me; it has, and dearly. But I do feel closer to those I see myself as “of”, and this has renewed my own sense of self in a positive way, although at a very late stage in my life. I imagine what it might have been like if my adoptive parents had made this shift on my behalf, and as hard as it is for me to envision this, the effort would have provided a huge difference in how I might perceive my own place in their world.

    Because at the end of the day, if every adoptive parent were to make this effort to shift down in terms of class, the world would not be suffering from half of the ills that plague it today.

  4. Totally agree about class. It’s no service to your child to shelter them from the world in which they will be pigeon-holed as being part of. An African American child can not survive and make smart decisions if such knowledge is withheld from them.

  5. Pingback: What can I do to give [this child] the best life? | One Woman's Choice

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