Dear Adoptive Parents,
I was adopted at a time when most adoptions were closed and there was little talk or acknowledgment of differences in race, class, and culture. The paperwork that accompanied me mentions the presence of a specific kind of birthmark that “could be” an indication that I was of mixed race. There is no “could be” about it…I was brown and my white parents certainly knew. There was no training or transformational conversation and my parents were left to their own devices. They did their absolute best and what they could not give me in terms of understanding what it meant to be a person of color, they gave me in strength, grit, and integrity.
Being colorblind is not an answer. As well intended as this concept is, it makes me cringe. At best, it is naïve and at worst, it is harmful. Naïve because whether we like it or not, we all see color and have biases. Harmful because when people claim they don’t see color, they really don’t see me. How can you truly love me, all of me, if you deny seeing the color of my skin? Seeing color also means seeing and celebrating the beauty and diversity in our families and recognizing the richness that can come with exploring different cultures and traditions.
See yourself. In order to authentically engage and understand where you are and where you uniquely hold differences of race, class, and culture; deep, internal reflection is necessary. This exploration must begin with insight and empathy as a starting place. Only then can you ask yourself the pointed and tough questions that will help you see yourself and see me.
– What are your personal biases and prejudices?
– What personal experiences have you had surrounding differences in race, class and culture?
– Have you ever been in a situation where you are the minority? If so, how did that feel?
– How do you define racism and discrimination?
– Do you know and understand your trauma and triggers around differences of race, class and culture?
Don’t let anyone touch my hair and/or understand that when people invade my personal space to touch my hair, it is not cute or funny and it makes me uncomfortable and angry. As a child people were always in my hair, patting my head, rubbing my hair with a running commentary…”ohhh it is so soft” “it’s fuzzy…” “it feels weird…” I never felt I could say no or tell them to stop. I thought I would make the person doing it mad and would call more attention to me than there already was. So, I bit my tongue and let them touch my hair. This was only one of the things I kept inside and did not talk about. I felt allowing people to touch my hair was simply what I had to endure. I often hear parents of transracially adopted children and young people saying they think their child loves it when people touch their hair. For me, even though inside I hated people touching my hair, I feigned being happy about it even when it was crushing my insides. Now, as an adult, perfect strangers are still constantly reaching into my hair without permission. It is so wrong for anyone to think they can touch a stranger without permission and even worse when a white person invades the space of a person of color to touch their hair. While hair touching can seem like a small thing, it is not and can open the door to other kinds of violations.
If you are a transracial/transcultural family, understanding differences of race, class and culture authentically is just the beginning. Understanding must also be activated into behaviors and infused into your family, extended family and as much as possible into your community. Adding deep love to a deep reflection and understanding of identity, privilege and place in the world as adults and parents, gives children every opportunity to fully embrace their complete identity, to love all parts of themselves and to be prepared for the realities that will echo throughout their lives.
Be sure to subscribe to April’s podcast, Born in June, Raised in April, as she interviews many wonderful guests and addresses incredibly important topics in the adoption world.