white like me

When I was twelve, my mother – who loved surprising me with books – brought me Black Like Me.  Until then, she’d never shown any interest in racial studies.

nicole-mason-19736
Photo by Nicole Mason on Unsplash

Because of her unusual book choice, the story stuck with me. Although John Howard Griffin’s experiment gets the side eye today, at the time his work validated my struggle. Griffin felt the stares, got asked the probing personal questions, and experienced society’s subtle way of disenfranchising minorities. To me, he was the first White person who got it.

Of course, minorities can speak for themselves now, eliminating the need for a White male translator (though some still try). However, transracial adoptees occupy a unique space in racial conversations. Since we’ve lived as racial others within our families and communities, we know that sometimes it is what’s outside that counts.

But what does being Asian feel like? Or White? Does it feel like…anything? I believe the question should really be: What does not being White feel like?

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Dr. Anna R. McPhatter, Dean of Social Work at Morgan State University,  suggests that  “[w]e are all burdened with the Eurocentric bias that is the foundation of our formal and informal education.” I’d also apply this to family structure: We assume that families in the United States are racially homogenous. Anything different still raises eyebrows.

Transracial adoptees, though, challenge that belief: We take on our White family’s identity despite our visual appearance.

Korean adoptees desire to perform a White identity, but these performances are disrupted when others initiate communication about their Asian identities. – Sarah Docan-Morgan

But identities are fragile. In 2010, Sara Docan-Morgan reported that adoptees often find their family status challenged.  Questions like “Now who is this?” and “Is she really yours?” frustrate adoptees; as noted above, these remind us of the “exclusive conceptualization of families as biologically related and also [cause] confusion about how people could question the bonds between [the adoptee] and the only people [s/he] knew as family.”

Intrusive interactions, defined as “interpersonal encounters wherein people outside the immediate family question or comment on the adoptee and/or the adoptive members’ relationships with one another,” threaten an adoptee’s sense of security, as both a family member and an ethnic individual.

As McPhatter says: “People of color are adept at reading the slightest nuance or cue that carries even the most carefully concealed message of disapproval, discomfort, or nonacceptance because of one’s race, culture, or ethnicity.” Transracial adoptees are no different and in fact, may be slightly hypersensitive because of our constant racialization by others.

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In any case, transracial adoptees spend their lives as outsiders, regardless of how well-accepted they were by their families. Our status as both immigrants and racial minorities makes us particularly vulnerable to how others perceive us.

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I think this is an important start to a larger conversation that could truly benefit transracial adoptive parents. Many TRAps ask how they can support their children in racial identity development, so I’ll be continuing this topic in my next post!

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All references can be found here.

 

12 thoughts on “white like me

  1. Because I live in a large city with all races and many interracial familes, it has never seemed surprising to me. I’ve never had the bad manners to ask someone if a child is really theirs. I hope that most people would not, but I know there ARE those who do, and they are the kind I want nothing to do with. A child is yours if you claim that child; raise him/her, feed, clothe, and educate them. Doesn’t matter where they originally came from; they are yours! Because you love them, because they’re your responsibility and you must teach them about the good, bad and ugly of the world. We also have interracial relationships and children in our family. When you love someone, skin color isn’t a factor in defining that love. I wish you well on your journey to understanding we are all human, not defined by skin color, but by character of our soul. Excellent article!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Nancy,

      Thanks so much for adding to the discussion! Demographics make a significant difference in transracial adoptee development – you’re absolutely right. I grew up in an extremely racist small New Jersey town. Students in the school I attended fought for their right to White Power Wednesdays and their freedom to display the Confederate Flag. This was all around 2000-2001.

      One thing I argue in my book is that better screening processes need to be in place for prospective adoptive parents. Living in an area like yours should be seriously considered. Is it unrealistic to expect a family to uproot themselves because they want to adopt a transracial child? Maybe, but it’s also a child’s life that’s being affected, so residing in a place where many ethnicities are normalized can be crucial.

      I’ve heard from other TRAps that their location is what drove them to adopt – they knew they had access to resources that others might not. So that’s good, but I know people will argue that everyone deserves a child.

      But I’d say that no…every child deserves an environment in which to thrive.

      Thanks so much for sharing and I hope to hear from you soon!

      Sunny

      Liked by 2 people

  2. When I was adopted, it was thought that the best policy was to closely match the biological and adoptive families for ethnicity, personal interests and career paths, body type, hair & eye colour, etc. So it was never obvious to outsiders that I was not genetically related to my parents or my sister. But I still felt that lack of sameness, that not having mother’s hair or father’s chin. I was alike them in some ways, but always in the back of my mind was this subtle sense of not really belonging, not fitting into this family. And those feelings carried over later into how I felt among friends and in the community.

    I can’t imagine how much worse that isolation would have felt, had complete strangers been coming up to interrogate me about my lineage. it maddens me that anyone has to live with that.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi Kyla,

      I really appreciate you adding your thoughts. I’ve never heard of the adoption process you’ve described – it’s really interesting to me. My guess is that you were adopted domestically, but you’re absolutely right: that desire for “sameness” is strong, regardless of race.

      I can tell you how ridiculous people can be (“How much did she cost?” or “At least I know who my real father is”…ugh), but what’s worse is when your parents try to excuse poor behavior by calling people “just curious.” That line of thinking excuses inappropriate questioning, objectifies the adoptee, and erodes the support system that the adoptee should have in the home.

      Thanks so much for sharing! I hope to hear from you again.

      Sunny

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Sunny, I’m learning about the intersection of race, identity and adoption. I thank you for sharing the complexities of your lived experience with such vulnerability and insight. How ironic that my blog post recently was likewise titled after the book Black Like Me. That book had a profound effect on my perspective and triggered questions I continue to explore.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Brianna,

      Sorry for the delayed response, crazy time here and my son had his class party today and I’m the room mom so my head is spinning! LoL.

      I’m so glad you read the book. It’s seriously amazing what someone would do for both a scoop and to make a real change. But what I want people TODAY to get is that it shouldn’t take literally changing your skin color to have compassion for the other side, although I’m not quite sure what the alternative might be, besides just simple understanding.

      Thank you for reading my posts and I’m so glad they’re helping you learn. Your feedback is so valuable to me – I learn from you, too.

      Keep in touch!

      Sunny

      Liked by 1 person

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