Michelle Hughes - Transracial Adoption

The excitement when one decides to parent quickly involves the realization of the numerous decisions that need to be made in the adoption process, including if one is willing to adopt across racial lines. For some potential adoptive parents, it is the first time thinking about complicated global and personal racial issues. Nevertheless, in 2014, in domestic infant adoption the estimates are approximately 40% or more of adoptions are transracial. The number is even higher for international adoption, and it is not uncommon in foster care adoption.

While the strong desire by many once they have decided to adopt is to request any baby regardless of race, the decision should not be taken lightly as this impacts the child as much, if not more, than the parent. It requires additional skills to be adoptive parents than biological parents, and with transracial adoption, that adds an additional layer of parenting skills. Some of those parenting skills can be acquired through good transracial adoption and general adoption education. The following is a practical list for a potential adoptive parent to access before agreeing to adopt transracially.

1. Access true feelings about race and color (a/k/a shade). First, race and color are different concepts often interchanged in our society but both important to access. Only after parents evaluate their personal feelings about race and color will they be able to determine if it is appropriate for them and for the child if they should adopt across racial lines. Sometimes acknowledging one’s true feelings can be an unpleasant realization. But all Americans have been raised with it, heard it, know the stereotypes of people of different races, whether they personally believe them or not. What differs is how parents have processed it or will process it, especially as transracial adoptive parents, as the parents must be an advocate for their child.

2. Learning the language of race: understand race, ethnicity, color (a/k/a shade) and culture are not synonymous. The terms transracial and transcultural adoption are often used interchangeably but they are not identical. Likewise race and ethnicity are used interchangeably but they too are not identical. A person’s race, ethnicity, color, and culture are four different things. Furthermore, all races have multiple cultures. And many cultures have multiple races. Learning the language of race is the first step in being able to talk about race. It also helps to know which words are outdated or offensive as the language changes over time.

3. Acknowledgment of racism, both in its overt and subtle forms. Parents need to be able to recognize and acknowledge racism in order to help protect, validate, and support their child. Once recognized, parents can then assemble the skills needed to help their child cope with racism so they become people with healthy self-esteem and racial identities. It is easy to recognize the overt but it often takes some fine tuning to recognize subtle racism. Additionally, transracial adoptive parents will need skills to help support themselves as they will experience criticism for their decision to adopt across racial lines.

4. Acknowledgment of White Privilege. Parents will not only be forced to recognize the disadvantages placed on certain races of our society, but also recognize the advantages being White has in this society. This is a hard concept for many as they want to dismiss white privilege and shift the conversation to class or gender or other areas of lack of privilege without realizing all of these privileges can exist or not exist in conjunction. Their child, if not White, will never have this privilege because their child’s race is not White. A more complicated element is that their child, while they are still young (or, a child), may get some extended white privilege through their parents but once they leave home, so goes the privilege. This can be a complicated awakening for the transracial adoptee but with good transracial adoptive parenting skills, less so as the parent can help prepare their child. “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” by Peggy McIntosh is a great first article to read on this topic.

5. Willingness to communicate about race. Parents will need to have candid discussions with their child on race. In addition, parents will be forced to have candid discussions with family, friends, and the public on race. This can be difficult as race is a taboo topic of discussion for many people. However, in a multiracial family, the ability to discuss race is a skill by necessity. If a parent cannot discuss it with their child of color, which includes an integral part of their identity, their child will find other people to discuss it. The colorblind approach is not recommended as while the parent may not see the child’s race, the world does, and the child needs the skills to navigate all that race means in American society.

Tune in for Part 2 on August 23rd!

Copyright © August 2014 by Michelle M. Hughes
Ms. Hughes’ legal practice focuses primarily on adoption. She is a fellow of the American Academy of adoption attorneys. She also co-founded Bridge Communications, Inc. specializing in transracial adoption education. Bridge Communications has seminars to further examine and build cultural competency to adopt across racial lines. Ms. Hughes also regularly speaks at conferences and adoptive family camps. She can be reached at hughesbridge@mindspring.com or (312) 857-7287.

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