interracial adoption

There’s a fabulous new exhibit at the Museum of Science in Cambridge, Massachusetts called the Hall of Human Life. Upon entering the exhibit, you put on a bracelet bearing a unique bar code and answer a few demographic questions. Then you travel from station to station–over 70 of them–as the mood strikes you, answering questions, performing activities and receiving back data that will enlighten you in individual and societal ways about the human race. I brought my kids there over the December holidays, and we had more fun than we’d had at any museum exhibit in a long time. Seriously, if you’re in the area, check it out.

One of the stations in the exhibit posed a few questions about race. All three of us–I and my two kids–gave the same answer to this multiple-choice question:* “With which race are you most familiar?”

We all checked, “Caucasian or white.” I did, my son did, and my daughter did–my daughter, who is definitely not white.

It’s amazing how the human brain is capable of processing so many individual thoughts within the space of approximately 1.6 seconds. When I witnessed my daughter checking that box, it took about that long for each of the following sentences to run through my mind:

  • Oh no, this is bad. She’s Asian. She’s not connected with people of her own race. She should have checked “Asian.”
  • Is she confused? She doesn’t see “white” when she looks in the mirror, does she?
  • I’m being silly. She checked “white” because we live in a place with a mostly non-diverse population. That’s what she sees around her every day.
  • What will this mean for her own sense of self as she gets older?
  • We live in a place that is too white.
  • We have failed her as parents.
  • We are depriving her of her racial and cultural heritage.
  • She will be scarred forever.
  • But though we can never do an adequate job because we are not Asian, and we are not Korean, we are making an effort.
  • Race is not the only thing that matters. My husband (I used his name in my head) and I have discussed this many times, and we feel that for many reasons, the overall benefits of living where we do outweigh the downsides.
  • But we do need to remember our responsibility to bring up issues of race and go out of our way to expose the kids to different races in various settings and ways when possible.
  • We need to do better at this than we have been doing.
  • Reminder: we need to get out of our central New Hampshire setting more often.

Does race matter in adoption? If you have adopted a child who is not of the same race as you, then of course it does. If you are the parent by any means of a child who is not the same race as you, then race is a factor in your family. Your family is an interracial family. It may be tempting to say that love conquers all, that because you don’t see any difference, none exists, but your family doesn’t exist alone on a solitary mountaintop. Sooner or later, your child will have to interact with the world, without you, and he will encounter certain experiences colored by race. How can you prepare for these inevitable situations, and how can you help your child when they occur?

17 Ways for Parents in an Interracial Adoption to Help and Guide Their Kids

  • Accept that she will have experiences that you will never have;
  • Accept that some experiences you share you will perceive differently, at times because you are of different races;
  • Accept that some people will see her differently, treat her differently, because of race;
  • Accept that when this happens, if you find out about it, it may break your heart, but you can’t fix it;
  • Accept that she may someday feel sad or mad or some other emotions reflecting a loss of racial or ethnic culture, and you may be in the line of fire for that;
  • Accept that you need to let her feel those emotions;
  • Accept that she may never feel those emotions;
  • Accept that you need to make clear to her that you are open to listening to her talk about race, on a personal or general level, even if you don’t fully understand what she’s talking about;
  • Accept that you might not understand what she’s talking about, but let her know that you’re trying;
  • Encourage her to express her thoughts and feelings, if not to you, then to someone else she can trust;
  • If she experiences racist behavior, be in her corner: work with her to determine the best way to fight back for or with her, depending on her age and how she wants to handle it;
  • Make an effort to expose her to people, experiences, culture, etc. of her race, even if it’s outside your comfort zone;
  • Allow her to go deeper with that exploration or to pull back if she wants;
  • Recognize that you’re still her parent; being supportive doesn’t mean there are no limits on behavior;
  • Recognize that other values in your family are important, too. Becoming an interracial family enhances who you are; it shouldn’t diminish you by canceling out other things that are important to you;
  • Let your child and the rest of your family know through words and actions that you find racism unacceptable and that this is a core family value;
  • Don’t tolerate racism from others.

Because our country and our world are not color-blind, parenting a child of a different race means that we must learn to view the world through our child’s eyes as well as our own. Only then can we begin to understand how the world views him, how he feels and how we can best guide him as he ventures into it.

That’s empathy, and love. That’s parenting.
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*I may be paraphrasing a bit–the visit was a while ago–but the language is at least close.

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