If you follow me on Facebook you already know that I was at a professional conference this week when I found a session on the experiences of transracial adoptees in college. The session featured a panel of three scholars, all of whom are also transracial adoptees.
Now, the conference I attended is one of my favorites to attend each year as it gets at the intersections of higher education and race, which is where my own IRL career is situated. In the 13 years I’ve attended, it was only the second session I know of that explored the experiences of adoptees in higher education.
I was super jazzed! I am so glad I attended.
I wanted to be sure to share a few of the hot takes I posted in real time on my FB page here, and add a few of my own thoughts at the end.
Ok, it was a wonderful session attended by a pretty significant number of transracial adoptees and others in the adoption constellation. I don’t want to share too much of other people’s stories, but I sat next to a TRA who no longer speaks to her white parents and another adoptee shared some heartbreaking identity issues dealing with colorism and culture.
I thought a lot about me and Hope during this session and ever since. It has been fun, though sometimes challenging to expand Hope’s conceptualization of blackness. When our journey started, she had such a narrow, negative view of us racially; it became a life goal to broaden and elasticize her view of us. Of course, being a same race adoptive family and still having a good foundation of similar cultural experience, well, there’s a lot of privilege there. In just being with me and engaging with me daily, Hope picks up many of those racial and cultural markers. TRA families, well, that takes more effort.
But that effort should be considered essential. I saw adoptees be really emotional during this session. I heard how some felt they existed in the middle–not quite fitting anywhere, not black or brown enough, obviously different in family photos because they will never be white. Folks weren’t learning about being adopted or how to even do their own hair until they were in their 20s because their parents, who were probably otherwise super well intended and all that other stuff we love, didn’t put forth that effort.
I know from hanging out in numerous adoption spaces on social media how little so many folks want to believe that these adoptees are or should be impacted by the absence of racial and cultural touchstones. I know that there are countless folks peddling that sorry arse colorblind ideology because white folks want to save the world by erasing the identities of black and brown folks–for some even the children they are raising–rather than getting their white supremacist kinfolk together and taking them ‘out back.’ #yeah #Isaidit #cleanyourownhouse
It’s criminal that foster care and adoption agencies do not provide adequate baseline education on transracial adoption. How can things be child-centered if all that’s generally covered is the skin and abysmal hair care. I’m convinced that the absence of appropriate content signals just how marginalizing the child welfare system is to families of color and especially the children born to those families. You can’t have a disproportionate number of families of color having contact with these offices, having their children removed, having black and brown children languish in a system and all we tell placement families about raising them is to make sure you buy cocoa butter and some conditioner with decent slip…well, that ish pretty much does its part to uphold white supremancy. #yeahIsaidthattoo
So, here’s the other thing, and why that session at the conference was important to educators. There’s a lot of racial identity development that happens during those first 20 years of life. And you know when things are really crystalizing? Yeah, the college years. So these young folks are off to college and then some are wandering around campus wondering if it’s ok to join the black student organization because they aren’t always following the vernacular and sound ‘white’ or should they join the international student organization because it was an international adoption but they share zero experiences with those students. Should they pledge a Greek organization and should it be one of the Divine Nine or one in the National Panhellenic Council? College is a time when you are already trying to figure out where you fit in, questioning what you’re going to do with your life and now you gotta navigate the absence of some homeschooling on race, ethnicity and culture too.
It ain’t right.
So, my lovely white folks who want to parent kids of color, work a little harder and do better. Learn about racial identity development: Here’s a resource. Do some of your own work, understand privilege and how real and impactful it is. Consider what world you will contribute to–one that recognizes difference, embraces it, and celebrates it or one that pretends that difference doesn’t exist, but still centers your racial make up as the default setting–ie, no one is different from *you*.
I hope to connect with these scholars at some point. They were all amazing; I’m glad they shared their stories and explained how they ground their research. I’m excited that there is increasing scholarly literature on TRAdoptees and adoption more broadly. Thank you adoptees, all adoptees, for your voice and contributions to improving adoption.