Seemingly Minor Mistakes White Adoptive Parents of Children of Color Often Make

All white parents adopting children of color should know of the big, damaging mistakes we stand to make:

  • not moving to an area where our children will see people that mirror them daily (an adoptee’s experience)
  • not having close friends who mirror our children (an adoptee’s experience)
  • not celebrating and integrating important components of our children’s race and culture (an adoptee’s view)
  • not supporting our children in searching for or maintaining a relationship with their families of origin (an adoptee’s search)

(The tremendous impact of these mistakes should be taught in Transracial Adoption 101. If they somehow weren’t or were not absorbed, parents need to educate themselves — especially by hearing from adult transracial adoptees. Please read the very important links above to learn how adoptees feel about these monumental mistakes. You might also start with Inside Transracial Adoption. There are a few other helpful links below.)

There are also seemingly minor mistakes that we transracial adoptive parents commit regularly. They are often ignored during discussions about raising our adopted children. They are also routinely blatantly disregarded in favor of doing the exact opposite. While we parents might think these are harmless mistakes, they can act as microaggressions that slowly chip away at our children’s identity and self-worth, packing a tremendous emotional punch over time.

Here are 10 seemingly small mistakes we often make that add up over time (in no particular order):

1.  It is a mistake to get the brunt of personal care advice for our children from other white adoptive parents.

I cannot tell you how many blogs, websites, books, and social media groups have been created by white parents to learn how to take care of our black children’s hair and skin. I assume there are plenty of similar resources for other children of color as well. I perused them all in the early years of parenting. Not one single black hair stylist or black friend had heard any of the terms I learned from those resources. Co-washing, 4C hair, yarn extensions, apple cider vinegar rinses. They are foreign terms to every black professional who has styled my daughter’s hair.

In the beginning, I usually received a good chuckle, a shake of the head, and advice that I stop getting hair advice from white people. Now, just to stay up to date, I ask if they’ve heard any of the terms tossed around on white sites. I still haven’t found a professional who knows them, though some of the black mothers who are mentors on adoption sites do. They don’t necessarily use them in their daily life, but they’ve heard them.

Though we are responsible for our children’s personal care when they are young, they need to learn how to care for themselves eventually. They will likely go to professionals of color for care when they are adults. We can help them learn the proper terminology and care when they are young to save them from embarrassment and isolation later on.

See #2 for some resources.

2.  It is a mistake to buy hair and skin products from white adoptive parents and white-owned businesses.

Buying personal care products specifically for the race of our children from white adoptive parents and white-owned businesses contributes to some serious columbusing. It is hard enough for any small company to get ahead. Taking business away from small companies that know the ins and outs of personal care for our children from a lifetime of experience is shameful.

asianhairIt also sends our children the message that, despite all the products out there developed by people who mirror them, we thought the ones created by people who mirror us would be better.

Bonus tip: Go to a farmers market in a diverse area. One can find amazing professionals of color and business owners who have developed incredible products for our children (I have seen products for black and Asian hair at our favorite market).

3.  It is a mistake to follow news sources exclusively run by and for white people.

latinalistaEven the most well-intentioned and seemingly diverse news sources run by white people favor stories about white people. They are bound to show a bias that excludes and often denigrates people like our children. Furthermore, their stories are centered around white culture and are not likely to include our children’s culture — except as a feature that can otherize or exoticize our children.

News sources that represent our children will keep us informed about our children’s cultures, countries, trends, important people, etc. They will also help to balance the stories we hear on other news sources.

There is plenty of media available that caters to our children’s race/culture. We need to make sure we are getting a good portion of our news from them. When our children are ready, they can get their news from them as well.

4. It is a mistake to focus on multiculturalism and diversity to the exclusion of our children’s culture.

We adoptive parents often talk about how diverse our communities/schools/activities are. We find movies that portray a variety of people. We read books to our children that show children of all colors. These are important parts of raising a child adopted transracially.

Our kids need to be immersed in their own culture as well. A neighborhood whose diversity is made up of Latino, black, and white families is not going to offer a cultural haven for children of Asian decent. Likewise, a multicultural book club that reads one book about a black child per year is not going to offer the same benefits to a black child as a book club specifically for black children.

It is great to embrace all cultures. It is also important to place our children’s cultures at the top of the list, directing more of our energy and resources there than anywhere else.

5.  It is a mistake to continue to swim in the pool of primarily white culture.

As with news sources, it is important that we parents surround ourselves with the culture of our children. Besides helping us learn about our children’s cultures, and thereby equipping us to teach our children, it normalizes our children’s cultures for us. This is vitally important to our children. We are always more sympathetic to people we see as a normal part of our world. This is why it is so difficult for many white people to ascertain the drastic disparities in the treatment of black people vs. white people by the U.S. legal system, to use a current example. It is also why we criticize aspects of other cultures that, in context, are not any more bizarre than aspects of white culture (e.g. While a passionate Gospel choir in a black church might feel awkward to many white people, an unemotional, perfectly still choir in a white church might feel awkward to many people raised in black churches).

When we remain steeped in our own culture, it is nearly impossible to appreciate other cultures. It also makes it much easier for us to criticize our children’s cultures without even knowing it. When you roll your eyes and proclaim that the Mexican customer who just came in to the shop where you work needs to learn to speak English, your children hear you criticizing people who speak a language other than your own. When you scrunch up your nose every time someone asks if you tried Kimchi while visiting Korea, your children hear you expressing disdain for an element of their culture (Also, that’s just not right; Kimchi is the new chocolate).

This is not to say that we have to love everything about our children’s cultures. That’s not genuine. But we can take more time to really experience our children’s cultures and we can be more diplomatic in expressing our opinions.

We should listen to music, watch movies and TV shows, frequent markets and businesses, enjoy comedy, read magazines and books, peruse fashion and entertainment news — all through sources that represent our children’s cultures.

6. It is a mistake to openly criticize and ban harmless trends enjoyed by our children’s cultures.

If we are willing to pick our battles regarding the trends from white culture that our white children want to try, we have to be willing to pick our battles about the trends our children of color wish to try from their cultures. Basically, we can’t let a white son get a surfer hair-cut, but tell a black son he can’t loc his hair. If you don’t have a white child, look at the trends other kids in your life follow and ask yourself if you would be okay with that before you decide what your child of color can and can’t explore.

7. It is a mistake to decorate without considering our children of color.

If we decorate with pictures and paintings of people, our children need to be represented. When we pick a style, we should consider how it fits with our children’s cultures. Our children are not always going to live with us. We want them to grow up feeling as comfortable in themselves and in their cultures as possible. Surrounding them with elements of their cultures contributes to that goal.

This extends to holidays too. For our children’s first Christmas with us, we received a lovely black Santa as a gift. Many years later, my children now teens, it remains their favorite decoration to put out each Christmas. This year, my teens told me that between black Santa and the several black creches we have, they feel like home is a respite from all the white Christmas they see everywhere else.

8. It is a mistake to avoid re-evaluating our political and religious beliefs so that they benefit our children of color.

This is perhaps the most difficult mistake to consider on this list, but also the most important. When we choose to adopt a child transracially, we are choosing to support every bit of them. We cannot go into transracial adoption assuming that our children will mold to us and accept our beliefs (really, we shouldn’t go into any parenting with that assumption). It is our job to create an environment where our children feel safe and loved.

Attending a place of worship that singles out our children, either because they are the only people of color there or by turning them into mascots for diversity or adoption, can make our children feel unsafe, a feeling that should not be associate with worship. Likewise, if the place of worship we attend demonizes families of origin, our children’s cultures, or differences, they will not likely feel safe. Finally, we can damage our children’s identitity and sense of security if our place of worship regularly and publicly promotes a “white savior/adopt-to-save” mentality.

The same should be said for political affiliations.  When we agree to adopt a child transracially, we are agreeing to consider how our political beliefs and how we vote will affect our child’s future. Voting for policies that promote racism sends our children a message that our worldview is more important than their dignity and safety. Supporting politicians who spew hatred towards non-white people tells our children that they are less-than, that we care more about the hateful politician than our own children. And we have to think carefully about the way our political choices shape the educational system in this country. It is already stacked against children of color.

When we refuse to re-evaluate our religious and political beliefs, we convey the painful message that our own comfort is far more important to us than that of our children.

If we cannot re-evaluate our religious and political beliefs to provide for our transracially adopted children, we should not adopt outside of our race and religion.

9.  It is a mistake to plan vacations without considering our children of color.

Going to a bunch of civil war re-enactments across the country might be fun for the white members of the family, but will it feel good to our black children? Mt. Rushmore is cool, but pretty white. That Day of the Dead Festival in the square of small-town white America might be colorful, but how will a Latino child feel about the bastardization of a holiday sacred in his country?

How about heading to the non-togullah1urist areas of that Caribbean island you visit every winter? Or take your island vacation to South Carolina’s Gullah Islands, founded by members of the African diaspora, this year? Look into museums that highlight contributions and innovations of your child’s culture. If we need to stay in the U.S., we can go to big cities that are likely to have pockets representing our children’s culture (Think places like Little Haiti in Florida, Chinatown and Devon Avenue’s Southeast Asian neighborhood in Chicago). Spend time in each destination where the people of color spend time. We can still see the historical landmarks that interest us, but we should be sure to include the history that is not represented at those sites as well.

Immersing ourselves in the culture, news, and fads of our children’s culture can help tremendously with planning a vacation.

10.  It is a mistake to believe that any one immersion experience is enough to connect our children of color with their cultures.

Adoption culture camps are hugely popular and wildly expensive. They are also largely attended by other transracially adopted children and last a short period of time. They will not magically give our children all the tools they need to feel a part of their culture. Language programs are wonderful for children whose original language is not English, but they don’t provide the whole picture. A meal here and there at a restaurant serving food from our children’s culture does not make up for being raised outside of their cultures. All of things are important contributions to creating a comfortable and safe environment for our trasracially adopted children, but they cannot stand alone.

More importantly, they cannot be done alone. Sending a child to culture camp every year while the rest of the family stays home might send a hearty message that their culture or origin is fine for them, but not for us.

We need to participate. We need to appreciate.

 

By choosing to adopt a child of another race/country/culture, we agree to become a family of that culture/race. This means that we are required to step out of our own comfort zones in nearly everything we do (and think). Considering how challenging it can be for a child of color to even develop a comfort zone when raised by white parents, this task is not as daunting as it seems.

Here are some links that might prove useful to adoptive parents:

 

20 Responses to Seemingly Minor Mistakes White Adoptive Parents of Children of Color Often Make

  1. WOW! WOW! WOW! There are some that “get it,” and some that never will. You obviously get it and this should be given to EVERY parent that adopts transracially. I’m just gonna say it, I have often wondered how “TEA PARTY Republicans can raise children of color and how do I question that in a politically correct way. #8 says it best. Thanks! When I train TRA families I will be pointing them to your blog!

    • Thanks, Kevin. Everything I read says that it is hard to change one’s values and political beliefs. I think part of the pre-adoption evaluations should include questions that help adoption professionals match children of color with parents who are willing to question and challenge their own beliefs.

      Thanks for sending potential adoptive parents over. It is my mission to reform how adoption happens.

  2. I appreciate all of this. We haven’t adopted yet, but I’m working my way down this list in preparation. I know I’m going to make mistakes, and I’m trying to get some of that out of my system ahead of time by doing my due diligence. If anyone is looking for more diverse fabric that features kids, I found fabric from http://www.spoonflower.com/profiles/tamia years ago and have been saving it on pinterest. I also love ABC Me flashcards. I also appreciate the recommendations on #3 because I’ve been finding the same criticism of The Root as you had. People are very good about calling them on it in the comments, but it is frustrating.

  3. While I think this list contains a number of excellent thoughts, I believe the author of this list is perpetuating bias and prejudice that can lead adoptive children towards fear, discrimination, and hatred towards others. By suggesting that people who have certain political beliefs are racist is the same thing as saying all Islamic people are terrorists or all Asian people are smart. Diversity is more than skin and culture, it is also of thought. Some of those who celebrate and embrace diversity fail to see this. Are there bigots in the white community? OF COURSE. Do some conservatives spew racism? Sure. But this is true of all communities and cultures. But many concepts and ideals transcend culture. If two people love and promote liberty and one happens to be a racist, does that make the other one a racist? NO. Get your news from a diversity of sources (not just a few as this article suggests) and discuss all ideas without bashing them.

    Instead of an exhaustive focus on race and culture, how about a balanced approach? It’s ok not to worry about who made the skin cream your kid wears. It’s ok to bring adoptive children into practices and traditions of your culture. Of course many of the suggestions here are good, but I think the totality of the article and lead to a hyper focus on race and culture that may not be beneficial.

    • Thanks for writing, MCR.

      I’m a bit puzzled by some of what you wrote. Nowhere did I write that people should not be conservative. In fact, I didn’t mention a political party or ideology at all because I know there can be racism all across the board. I wrote that we should not support policies or politicians that are racist. You attached that to conservatives (which I find interesting).

      By suggesting a few resources to get people started, I am in no way suggesting those should be their only resources. I am just helping jumpstart some ideas.

      Finally, with regards to a “hyperfocus”” on race — do you think transracially adopted kids don’t think about race a great deal? Most do. By having their parents focus on these items her, it takes some of the pressure off of our kids.

    • I agree MCR. And MOST adoptive kids don’t care about their “culture” if they were born and raised here it’s the American culture. Most kids just want to be loved and they don’t care what color the person’s skin is or how well they know to comb their hair. My children are multiracial and nobody told their daddy that his kids “white” hair doesn’t require oil. You live and learn and the kids don’t love him any less. And although it was Kevin Hofmann that made the politically charged statement, “mommymeansit” did not disagree, which is the same as agreeing. Maybe that is why there are so many kids sitting in foster homes ….. because some would rather they sit there and waste away unless their adoptive parents are willing to move mountains and jump amazingly high hurdles just to prove a point. A point most parents don’t prove with their own biological children. Why not ask the kids in those homes what they prefer …… a loving home or a 24 hour hairstylist/dermatologist? What some people won’t say and do to try and prove they are not racist …. how about just be you and not worry what the world thinks? That is how success is achieved. Smh.

      • She doesn’t have to defend what I said….I will. I have lived the life of a transracial adoptee and as a person of color. Whether you choose to hear what I have to say or not is up to you but I think I have a better grasp of what adoptees want and how things are viewed by people of color. I have spent time with a large number of adult transracial adoptees and a large portion of us say the same thing. Race and culture is important to us. We needed to know how the world will view us outside of our homes. We needed to know that the White Privilege that protected us in our homes stops the moment we walk out the door. I agree Transracial adoption is a necessity but I also agree there are some that simply shouldn’t do it because it is a very very purposeful life which some are not up to. As a person of color I will tell you I am affected by race EVERY day of my life. If I don’t have a family who hears that and understands that it makes this life even harder. I am not weighed done by my race and culture, instead it is a large part of me that I enjoy and celebrate. If I see it yet no one else around me chooses to see it what messages are you sending to children of color. You are telling them that THEIR race doesn’t matter, their culture doesn’t matter. It would be like forcing women to move through life ignoring that being a woman matters. Transracial adoption is so so much more than providing a safe home. It means thinking outside yourself and your world view to make a comfortable home for a child of color who will see the world different and be treated differently. Just as we have to protect our children for potential harms such as being physically or sexually abused and educate them to protect them we also have to teach them that the world may see them differently and because of that you have to respond to the world differently for your own safety. The recent shootings of so many children of color proves that. I think the most powerful thing in this post was that as transracial parents you have to be willing to see things differently and not assume the White view of the world is the norm. The statement “how about just be you and not worry about the world thinks?” is such a privileged statement. The world puts so much weight on color that this is impossible for a person of color. It is possible to educate children of color to give them pride and confidence in who they are, not ignoring it, raising them to be racially conscious and aware. There are so many studies that prove that raising children as racially conscious children is the best way to raise confident and powerful children.The same studies state preparing children for bias and celebrating who they are as a child of color is the most powerful way to raise children of color. Raising a child of color as if they are white ignoring their race and culture is not fair to that child.
        Love just simply isn’t enough. It is a great foundation but so much has to be done once the foundation is laid. A lot of which was outlined in this post.

        • Thank you, Kevin.

          Kevin has lived this experience (as have my kids, who consulted with me for this post) and the many adult adoptees I read and interact with day. All of them have said that culture and race are important (only those of us who do not have to think about think it’s not).

          I encourage you to read Beth Hall’s “Inside Transracial Adoption”. It can help navigate these issues. There are also new resources emerging by adult adoptees. “In Their Own Voices” is one that has stood the test of time. “Black Baby White Hands” is a phenomenal memoir by a black adult adoptee.

          I’ve just added these links to the post.

  4. Mostly agree with this esp the decorations & political views when having children of color. I know many black hair pros who know hair types & produces like co washes. Us mixed & transracially adopted kids who had parents who “got it” are much the better off because some white people checked some of their privilege!!

  5. I really appreciate you having the courage and wisdom to share this knowledge. I find myself cringing at times at the thought of transracial adoption, but knowing there is this type of information available to adoptees gives me much joy. As a black mother of 2 black sons I must tell you that many of these same concepts are needed in black homes as well. This world we live is so throughly saturated with white is right imagery juxtaposed along side negative or exoticized imagery of people of color that it is easy, even being raised in a black home, for black children to grow up without a true sense of self. People who don’t have to worry about color don’t understand that it IS important to focus on race because when you don’t blend into the norm it is impossible for it to be ignored. Why take the risk of your transracially adopted child absorbing the negative experiences and imagery (which will most certainly and inevitably occur) and developing an inferiority complex or just as bad a superiority complex over others of thier own background. Especially if you live in a predominately white area where your child stands out like a sore thumb. One should tackle the matter head on proactively. You are different and beautifully so. Here is why. No better or worse but different. This is what people who look like you have contributed to society and you are capable of this and more. Again thank you!

    • Mobetterblue, Thank you so much for writing. I confess that I was one of those people who did not have to focus on color for much of my life — until I began the adoption process. I appreciate your experience.

  6. As a black mom, child of black parents, mother of black children, I could not disagree with #1 and #2 more. There are still lots being learned about natural hair and proper care of it, and black hair professionals are frequently the last to catch up. Keep on cowashing your kid’s hair, and using apple cider vinegar, and whatever else works for the kid’s hair. Just be willing to stay opened minded, but to also stick with whatever works. As far as products go, most black people use a combination of both white AND black products, again, depending on what works. Don’t choose based on the color of the maker of the product. Choose based on the INGREDIENTS in the product. Learn about base ingredients, learn how they work, learn what your kid’s hair needs and likes, and choose accordingly.

    • I appreciate your input, Sonya. It is good to hear from a black mom. One thing I am always considering as a white adoptive mom of black children is that my children do not enjoy the benefit of being raised within a black family. So I tend to err on the side of being overly cautious and on providing as many mirrors for my children as I can. I would rather learn how to do hair from women who have been doing black hair forever than from other white moms like myself. I think it’s important that my money go straight to the source and origin. More importantly, I want to make sure I am learning hair from people with the greatest experience, both technically and culturally. The times that I have learned from other adoptive moms, I have learned either poor technique or inappropriate styles. I am also aware that my daughter is watching everything and, should she decide to have children, will someday be a black mom of black children. I want her to learn from black women so that she can be the black woman who teaches her own children.

      • I was taught the best way to cut my son’s hair by a Puerto Rican gentleman who is stationed with my husband. My son likes to wear it short because his dad does, as my husband is military and I cut it at home to save money. So you can get great haircare tips from anyone.

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