Thoughts on Racial Identity Development

I’ve been fretting lately…fretting about Hope and her Blackness or rather her racial development.

Did you know that moving from the initial stage (pre-encounter stage) of racial identity development to the second stage (encounter stage) is usually precipitated by a negative encounter around race for people of color?

In lay terms, we all are getting along peachy keen until some dingbat says/does something racist, pointing out that the brown or black kid is different and that difference is bad.

For me, this happened when I was little, before I even started kindergarten. It’s a moment that I have long likened to eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The evil is knowing that people hate me because of my skin color and might go so far as to hurt and/or kill me. The good is having this knowledge and avoiding the naiveté that might get you killed. Racial identity is built on this foundation. If you are privileged not to have to this experience then your identity as a racialized person is stunted, and your privilege is allowed to bloom, so says the research.

I know that there have been events in Hope’s life that meet the criteria that would push a regular kid to the next stage of racial development, but given all that she’s endured it doesn’t seem to have registered. So much of her development in general was negatively affected. The racial piece, well, maybe it just didn’t register when she was just trying to survive.

I get all that. I really do. That said, racial identity development then is recognized as just another area that has to catch up.

When Hope first moved in 2.5 years ago, I remember being a bit put off because all the posters of pop stars were white, with very, very few exceptions—Selena Gomez, the Black girl in 5th Harmony and Bruno Mars. Turns out there aren’t really any teeny bopper pop stars of color these days. Hope’s not really into Beyonce or Rihanna so…yeah, white kids on the wall it is.

We dealt a little while with colorism and issues around Hope wishing she had lighter brown skin. Ughhhhh, she still vocalizes this when we go shopping for tinted moisturizers (#damnmakeup).

Then I noticed she only liked white or Hispanic boys; there aren’t many Black kids in the band and only like one or two boys and ok, they aren’t her type. So there aren’t many kids of color in her social circles here; they heavily populated her circles back home, but it’s like she left it all behind.

Recently, I realized during a social outing that she deliberately avoids kids of color; she doesn’t even want to associate with them. Same with my efforts to have us “friend date” other families with kids of color. She wants nothing to do with it.

I know she struggled with my version of Blackness; I was really different than the Black folk she had previously experienced. She even told me one time that in some ways it was like I wasn’t really Black. I struggled with that, and I don’t know if it’s my perceived unicorn status or what, but she is ok with me and my bougie, upwardly mobile, educated black folk. But she doesn’t seem interested in accepting the black diaspora.

And maybe it’s too much for me to expect from her at this point. She is still healing from all her trauma, embracing Blackness as an identity is probably not even on her subconscious list of things with which to grapple.

It doesn’t stop my fretting though, as I watch my beloved Hope cloak herself in social Whiteness. Even if I hope it never happens, I know that something will happen, something that will hurt her. I hope that her friends will be wonderful allies. They are good kids, but they aren’t forced to think about the things I think about, the dangers that our color expose us to, they don’t have to think about it unless they choose to.

From a parenting perspective it’s odd; I am glad that she’s bridging some of her social challenges, but I feel some kind of way about her not having any brown or black friends and her refusal to pursue any of those kinds of relationships. I’d love to see a mix of folks in her life who love her and support her. I want her to have safe spaces—sure her White friends can offer that, but I fret that having no friends of color limits her safe spaces if and when something goes down.

Add to this, my abject horror in thinking about police brutality, microaggressions, the resurgence of laws codifying acceptable discrimination and a nation’s willingness to increasingly accept racist discourse.

I worry.

Actually, describing my emotion as worry is an understatement. I am afraid. I’m also aware that all of this has a huge impact on my own well-being. I think the current political environment has exacerbated my emotion around Hope’s racial identity development. It’s complicated. I also know that this process is a natural one; it is not something I can control. I can’t control when, where or how it might happen.

I can only be there for my daughter. That’s it.

But it doesn’t feel like enough. Hugging her tight and soothing her over what might feel like an enormously painful betrayal, just doesn’t feel like enough. Teaching her how to move past it doesn’t feel like enough. Nurturing her healing doesn’t feel like enough.

I wish I could make it all go away. I wish I could make racism all go away. I wish I could make the need for this kind of identity development vanish. I just wish I could protect her from every other thing that might make her path hard; she’s suffered enough. I just want to keep her safe.

But I can’t, not from everything.

I know that, but it still breaks my heart.


About AdoptiveBlackMom

I'm a single Black professional woman living in the DC area. I adopted my now adult daughter in 2014, and this blog chronicles my journey. Feel free to contact me at, on Facebook at Adoptive Black Mom, and on Twitter @adoptiveblkmom. ©, 2013-2022. All rights reserved. (Don't copy my ish without credit!) View all posts by AdoptiveBlackMom

11 responses to “Thoughts on Racial Identity Development

  • Belladonna Took

    I read the post on Definitely Lorna, and am so grateful to you for introducing her to me. Honestly, ABM, I struggle so much with this African Identity thing – which is so huge here in America. The fact is, I’m white, by definition privileged (although from a very ordinary, somewhat cash-strapped, middle-class family) … and I’m also bone-deep African. My maternal grandmother was born in Scotland (or England – actually I’m not sure) and moved to South Africa when she was two years old, so from her I’m 2nd generation born-in-Africa African. My maternal grandfather and both my paternal grandparents have roots going back several more generations. Their ancestors arrived in the Cape at about the same time as black tribes were emigrating down from the north. The Hottentots and Khoi-San, who were already established there, are pretty much history, having been all but wiped out by both African and European immigrants to the area.

    So … here I am, with my freckled beige-pink skin and (usually) non-frizzy brown hair, and my 8-year-old American passport, and I identify first and foremost as African. When I hear township jazz or the lilt of African vernacular or the Nkosi Sikelel’, when I smell the dust of Africa or the way it smells after rain, when I taste pap … I am at home in a way I never can be anywhere else on earth.

    And, I’m sorry if this offends you, it hurts and angers me when people deny that I have this heritage because my skin is the wrong color. I know my ancestors did terrible things. I know my privilege is rooted in deep injustice. But here I stand … and I am still African.

    • AdoptiveBlackMom

      No offense taken. I don’t see anything wrong with your identity as an African woman; you are and there are many such folks who do not have brown or black skin. I have numerous friends and colleagues who are from various countries on the continent. Be you.

  • AL

    Just a thought re: the pop stars – Would Hope like Choe x Halle? They are beautiful and talented teenaged (or preteen aged?) sisters who got youtube famous and are now signed to Beyonce’s label. I’m 23 and love them but at the same time feel like they sound a little young for me, and the Obama sisters love them, so she might? There’s a wealth of their songs on youtube and their about 6-song album is cheap on itunes. And now I’ll introduce myself- I’m Al, long time reader and podcast listener but I usually read/listen after the fact in spurts and don’t interact much- mostly admire from afar. I’m in a long term same sex relationship, white, female (Al is an abbreviation of my name and a nickname), and definitely a future foster parent / possibly hopefully adoptive parent. I love reading your blog so much and get so much inspiration and insight from it. (And I very much appreciate Mimi as well from the podcasts but haven’t had the proper time to delve into her blog yet.) I look forward to reading more about this aspect of Hope’s development.

    • AdoptiveBlackMom

      Heyyyyy, AL, thanks for your comment. Hope is hardcore into the EDM scene now (sneak on over to my FB page to see a vid of her dancing last night!), so the interesting thing about that–no people posters to put on the walls.

      Thanks for reading and listening to the podcast! 🙂 We will have to shout you out on the next show! Def check out Mimi’s blog. #herecomesshamelessrequest–be sure to rate us on iTunes! 🙂 ❤

  • Deborah the Closet Monster

    I’m a White lady who was told, seven years ago, that her first child would experience racism someday. I had a very vague idea what that meant, after a few discussions, but I’ve come to understand a lot more the last couple of years.

    I really was perplexed the evening I wrote the post “Pride in blackness.” Since then, I’ve witnessed and read a lot more, and it makes a lot more sense to me, but I’m frustrated and saddened how many people say they haven’t seen anything like racism (nope, you just haven’t recognized it) and say it must therefor no longer exist.

    My hope for the internet over the next few years is that people will learn how to hear other people’s experiences for what they are instead of trying to overwrite them with what they expect. For me, it was super sweet one evening to have my older son (who’d demonstrated a few times that he’d been hearing how Black=bad) proudly correct his dad at a comic convention one evening.

    Dad: I guess it’s rare to find Black Ghostbusters! Well, they’ve got one now!
    Li’l D: Two, you mean. They’ve got two.

    That moment made me so glad. There are a lot of hard moments ahead, I’m pretty sure … but I hope there are proud ones like that, in abundance, to help guide, affirm, and strengthen, but most of all I hope that the U.S. finds a way to create a future where that strengthening isn’t needed.

    • AdoptiveBlackMom

      Get it Li’l D! 🙂 I pray for changes that will reduce my need to worry or teach my kid racial survival skills, but the way the current discourse is set up…sigh. It’s odd how I can be hopeful and pessimistic simultaneously. I agree with you, if folks read/listened more and talked less, we’d all be in better shape.

  • TheChroniclesofaNonBellyMama

    I just remember high school and associated with people that were “just like me”. I was a musical theatre nerd, and there weren’t many (if any) blacks or Latinos in theatre, chorus, band. It was situational for me. Going to college really opened my eyes to the world that was out there. Like, “damn! There are Puerto Rican’s here that play sports, listen to Broadway musicals, AND eat Pernil at their Abuela’s on the weekends? This is some Harry Potter mystical unicorn shit!” Sure enough, as I got older and experienced and saw more of the world, it occurred to me that there are more people out there that are more similar to me than i thought growing up in my tiny home town. I’m not sure if that is what’s going on with Hope but it could potentially be part of it.

    I know that I wasn’t necessarily embracing my Latino roots when I was younger. I wanted to be less like me, and more like everyone else for one reason or another. I absolutely get what you are saying about Hope embracing her “blackness” if you will, because I have 4 very white looking children who’s Latino blood and roots aren’t visible on the outside, and I hope that they don’t let that perceived white privilege take hold of them, and every day I will do my best to make sure that they remember that.

    • AdoptiveBlackMom

      Absolutely, some of this is just regular teenager ish, but I guess, given the climate, it feels so important. It feels more dangerous than when I was growing up. I hear my folks talk about how it feels more like when they grew up and how comfortable folks were saying/doing racist ish. I think it’s more about me and the worry I feel about when the ish inevitably hits the fan. I think we all go through it; it’s a part of natural personal development. It’s just now I’m on the other side of the dynamic and wishing like hell I could prevent her from getting hurt in any way. Totally not going to happen, but you know…#hope

  • Ashley

    As a white woman fostering and (hopefully) soon adopting two black children, this is a struggle for me but in a different way. I worry that I won’t be able to teach my children because it’s not a learned experience, I worry I won’t see the microagressions or covert racism because my privilege will cloud my vision. I worry they will be sheltered with me an unprepared for a world that doesn’t know their mama is white (in other words, treated differently when with me versus when they are not with me). Right now, my little ones gravitate towards black adults and children. Their daycare is fairly diverse and the director is a black man married to a white woman, so I think it helps to see that there is diversity even in families. I grew up in a very homogenous white world. There was one black student in my rural school and a few kids who were adopted from China. I live in town now, so the population is much more mixed than where I grew up. Still, there tends to be levels of intolerance more visible just outside the city and through-out the county. I, like you, wish the reality were different than what it is, but I refuse to be blind to it. Thank you for being candid in relating your fears and worries, it is something I can internalize and use to help me with my children.

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