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  • Khaila King

Creating a Safe Space at Home for Transracial Adoption

When considering adoption, high school counselor Sharon Johnson was not limited by race. As soon she held her daughter for the very first time all she could think is, “this is my daughter, this is the baby that I have been dreaming about.” Although newborn baby Mia was not racially the same as Johnson, she could still see herself in Mia’s eyes and could guarantee that she would be loved. However, what she could not guarantee is protection from the social experiences that would forever impact Mia as a black woman in America.

Transracial adoption is becoming more and more prevalent. According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway there has been a large overall increase in the transracial adoption of children born both in the United States and abroad. Although it may seem like any other adoption experience at first, there can be a cultural disconnect causing a great psychological impact on the adoptee. Here are five pieces advice that will assist in creating a safe space at home for transracially adopted children.

1. Provide a sense of community for your child that can offer them what you can’t.

“The biggest challenge that I have faced is realizing that I’m really not enough,” said Johnson. “Yes, I’m a mother. Yes, I can love her enough, but I have to provide her resources outside of my real house. At the end of the day I am not a Black woman and I need to admit that, know that, and then help foster a community for her.”

Johnson began entering predominately black spaces with her daughter including beauty shops, churches and restaurants to provide the exposer Mia needed. Johnson also has a colleague who is a Black woman that mentors Mia. Since implementing these courses of action, she has started to notice a change in Mia’s appreciation for black beauty and black culture. Before Mia would draw herself with white skin and blonde hair, now she sees Mia drawing herself more accurately and using the phrase, “black girl magic.”

2. To value and actively educate yourself about the culture

Educational classes and training exist in many adoption agencies; however, they are usually not extensive enough. Culturally Fluent Families (CFF) is a resource that assists transracial adoptive parents in raising their children to have strong, positive racial and cultural identities. Starting in January, the social media group has now expanded to 2,200 members broken up into 10 regions across the country and 5 regions internationally. CFF consists of workshops, webinars and exercises.

Its organizer, Valarie Chavis, with a background in diversity training, first saw a need for CFF when she was adopting her son from Ethiopia 9 years ago. Although her adoption process was not transracial, it was transcultural. Many families adopting from Ethiopia during that time, unlike Chavis, were white and did not share the same extensive background as her in diversity training. She noticed a lack of cultural fluency and social awareness among these adoptive parents.

“I was thinking, ‘wow, this is great, these people want to adopt African children,’ and it became very clear that these families had no idea,” said Chavis. “It was stressful because you kind of become a fly on the wall of conversations of what people truly think, what they’re feeling and what some of their beliefs are. It was actually pretty scary.”

Since then, Chavis has been challenging parents to uncover their internalized racial superiority and to consider the notions of racial inferiority they are transmitting to their children. Although there are other transracial adoption groups, Chavis said people find CFF more challenging, because it forces them to be more introspective.

“I am really proud of the families who hang in there because this isn’t easy,” said Chavis. “They realize, this is not about doing things for my black child, but it is about me becoming a better person so that I value black people differently. We change the way that these white families see black people in general and when they do that, it starts changing the way they see Asian families, and the way they see Latin families. It’s about what you do to demonstrate value in other cultures.”

3. Check your implicit biases.

“Racism is built and enwoven into America to the point that it is the American norm,” said Chavis. “Any of us who are born whether we are black, white, Asian, whatever we are, we are all born into this system that already exists and it is the way the we figure out how to work in the system that produces different results and these different things like implicit bias.”

It is too naïve to believe that you have not been subconsciously affected by racism and race relations. In CFF parents to uncover those hidden beliefs, create a level of awareness about where those beliefs come from, and actively change who they are.

4. Have sincere, organic relationships with people of the same racial/cultural background of your child.

As a high school teacher and counselor, it was not difficult for Johnson to develop meaningful relationships with people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. Exposure to her students and colleagues provided her an advantage in terms of sympathizing with different social experiences. However, this is not the case for everyone.

“If you value black people, how did you become an adult and never had black friends,” said Chavis. “Here you are, and you are 40 years old and the first black friend you had is the child you adopted.”

Not cultivating relationships with diverse crowds can reflect how you value the cultures and lives of others. Chavis stated authentic connections are essential and pushes families past their comfort zone to break down that wall.

5. Have open and honest conversations with your child.

Tough topics cannot be buried or swept under the rug when it comes to transracial adoption. High school teacher Rachel Schwering, who is also a transracially adoptive mother, has honest discussions with her biracial son Parker about their family circumstances. Although, Parker is only 5 years old and has difficulty fully understanding the concept of adoption, he has started noticing skin tone differences. Aware that Parker will one day come across questions related to the difference in their appearance, Schwering hopes having an open dialogue with him about what makes their family special, will help him articulate that to others.

“The decision to adopt is huge and the decision to adopt a child outside of your own race is something that has to be thought through prior to making that decision,” said Schwering. “You have to be prepared to answer tough questions, be strong and be willing to raise children that will have questions for you that are just as tough.”

Although every parent is entitled to follow their own guidelines when raising their children, for the lives of Johnson and Schwering, implementing these words of advice had a positive effect on their children and they highly encourage others to do the same.

“Although, having a transracial family can sometimes be difficult due to influences outside of your control, the family is created with love and that is all that matters,” said Schwering.

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© 2023 by Khaila King

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