Thursday 23 April 2015

Transracial Adopter

I often feel that I’m teetering on my toes, straining to reach a fully developed understanding of the issues of race and racism. Facts, knowledge and empathy are within my grasp but lived experience will always be beyond my fingertips. Knowing my limitations brings me up short as again this weekend the issue of skin colour came into our foreground.
With the onset of better weather my little girl starts to wear summer dressed but is increasingly reluctant to show her arms or legs for fear of being different and what other children may say. Socks are pulled high and cardigans remain resolutely on, as she explains, ‘no matter how hot I get’. Whether the fear is real, imaginary or both the fear of other's eyes looking at her is her reality.

Like all parents I feel my children’s pain acutely, but in this instance that pain in my chest is exacerbated by my shortcomings. What can I say? The usual platitudes seem almost insulting?

‘But you’re beautiful’

‘You shouldn’t worry about what people think’ 

'I’m sure that your friends don’t think anything like that’.

All true but feel like they sidestep the issue. 
In another life and with a different colour skin I could tell her how I felt and what I did. But it's not that life and my skin is the colour of majority. I have limited lived experience to draw on and my empathy can take me so far. Intellectual understanding is good but not that helpful to a 9 year old. Difference can be an acute issue for many children and especially adopted children but for my little girl she is different to all but four other non white children in her primary school. When she looks in the mirror she is different to mam, dad, brother and sisters.

It brought to mind a tweet looking for potential adopters I read, it was a picture of a non white child with the words ‘Are you colourblind, could you parent this girl?’ I totally got the sentiment but was left curious by the naivety. I gently tweeted as much and the poster graciously acknowledged my point. Later someone jumped in on the back of the first tweet ‘we’d take them in, we don’t care what colour they are’. I felt less generous this time so said nothing.

Race is clearly an issue that is not exclusive to adoption but it is a thorny issue that many would like to downplay. As I've said before with non white children over represented in the care system and non white adopters under represented it is an issue we cannot avoid. 

White people will inevitability adopt non white children.

Someone a little further down the road on a similar journey to me said to me in no uncertain terms colour does matter, love is not enough and we have to see our children’s colour because we live in a society that does. They gave me a reading list and encouraged me to try harder. Of course I have no lived experience but I have no excuse for not reading, listening and asking.

I am not colourblind and I do care what colour my daughter is but I can never share her experience of being black.


  1. Great post. I have no first-hand experience of transracial adoption - both my children look astonishingly like me - but would be interested in learning more about it. Can you suggest any reading?

    1. From an adoption perspective Perlita Hariss' 'In search of Belonging: Reflections by transracial adoptees" is an interesting read. In parts the transracial adoption element is not the issue but it was the book I read when we found ourselves in this position. I'm reading a book at the moment, its form the US, but it does touch on some interesting points. Really I'm trying to develop my knowledge of race and racism and I found the Reith Lectures by Patricia Williams or available in book form are good as is anything by John Raible.

  2. We are white long term foster parents of two black daughters and have thought/talked/read about this a LOT. One of the most important things for our family has been the other black friends and relations in our lives who can do the lived experience bit when it is needed. Certainly introducing the issue of racism felt essential to me even though it has frightened my darling girls. We went as a family to the recent march in London to celebrate UN anti racist day and this felt like a positive way of doing it. We also have books about Ruby Bridges, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks as 'historic' racism seems slightly easier to start with. Our girls are only 5 and 7 and we have a long way to go I am certain.

    1. Thank you for commenting.
      We've been reading similar stories and as you say drawing comparisons to our lives now. We live in a large predominantly rural county so we're very un multicultural. Access to other cultures is therefore not as easy as we'd like but we try. Developing a nuanced an understanding of race and racism within our context and community is a challenge but certainly not impossible.