When Black Parents Adopt White Children…It’s Complicated
Transracial adoptions are becoming increasingly common in the US, but not when transracial means black parents adopting white children.
When most of us think of transracial adoption we think of white families adopting children of color. But in fact, transracial adoptions can “go both ways”—black families can and do adopt children of different races, and they face similar issues with other transracial adoptive families, but also issues that are distinctly unique. As with most things with race in our country, it’s complicated.
T.V. Tells His Story
T.V. is a black doctor and his husband is a light-skinned Latino. They adopted their first child at birth in 2008. She is mixed race (black and white) and T.V. says she looks mixed. Two years later they added a mixed race baby boy to their family. People often comment that the children looked like biological siblings.
When they decided to adopt again in 2010, they specifically sought another mixed-race child. They were matched with an expectant mom who was 8 months pregnant. She was mixed race but looked black. The father was white. She showed them pictures of her three other kids who had a different father—all looked mixed race. After birth, the mom decided to parent but kept in touch with T.V. by text. Two months later, she asked him if they still wanted to adopt the baby. YES! She sent a grainy picture and T.V. flew out to meet the baby.
“When I saw her for the first time it was the biggest shock of my life! She looked Scandinavian—almost albino. Blue eyes, blond hair, and very white skin. I immediately got cold feet and started having second thoughts, but by this time we had already said yes. I had been communicating with this woman for a couple of months. How could we change our minds?? However, as a black man, the thought of parenting a white child, especially a white girl, was terrifying.”
T.V. kept his concerns to himself and they adopted E. The first six to nine months were hard. He regretted the adoption and was afraid when he took the baby out of the house. Would people be rude? Would they call the police? Would they think he was a babysitter or a kidnapper? He would cover E’s car seat with a blanket when he took her out so that he wouldn’t have to put up with people staring.
Creating a Family Resources for Transracial Adoption:
Five years later his fears have never materialized. No one ever mistook him for a babysitter or kidnapper—at least not that he knew of. Nosy questions and comments were about as bad as it got:
“Is she adopted?”
“Is she albino?”
“Don’t worry, she’ll get darker as she gets older.”
“Now she is just my daughter and I don’t care what people think. We largely associate with Latinos and blacks and everyone knows she is our daughter. But on most occasions, she is the only white. She notices and comments on skin tones. My sister has three kids who are full black, so E is the only white child in a group of six in our family. My parents love all their grandchildren the same, but I think E holds herself apart some from the other kids at times. I don’t think it is damaging to her, and in fact, it could just be part of her personality, but I notice it.”
Hair and Skin Care Challenges
T.V. had always taken pride in his hair care expertise with his older daughter. He knew all the best products and styles, and his daughter’s hair showed it. With E’s hair, he was clueless. White hair products were a complete mystery and he had to ask white friends for help. It was quite a comeuppance! He also has to constantly remind himself that she needs to wear sunscreen. It’s been “a steep learning curve.”
Talking about Race and Racism
One of the surprises in adopting a white child as a mixed couple has been the impact on their discussion about race.
“If I only had my older kids it would be easier to talk about race and racism. For example, it’s hard to talk about slavery in front of E because I don’t want to say it in a way that makes her feel guilty or like she’s part of that group.
A big issue for me, especially with my son, is to prepare him for the possibility of police brutality. I try to be careful to talk about individuals and not generalize. I can’t help but wonder if my talk would be different if I only had my two black kids. I think I would be more damning of police officers.
I’ve noticed that my parents also temper their speech. They used to be very open about how upset they were with white racism, but now they don’t talk that way in front of my kids. I wonder if that is good for my older two. Shouldn’t they hear the truth of how their grandparents feel? We still talk about these issues, but we are more sensitive about how we talk because there is a white person in the family.”
T.V.’s Latino husband doesn’t have the same concerns about race. He views all of the kids as Latino. Their first language is Spanish and the family socializes primarily with the Latino community. He believes that people will see them the same way, but as a black man, T.V. knows there is a different story in slaved-history America.
Society Treats Her Differently
E will grow up and likely identify as a white woman in America. She knows she is mixed-race because her parents have told her and shown her pictures of her birth parents. Her fathers stress her mixed heritage, in part, to build solidarity with her siblings. But T.V. knows that ultimately, she will be treated based on how she looks, and she will have privileges that her siblings will not.
“She is only five, but we already see this. People are enamored with our blond-haired, blue-eyed daughter. We are told frequently how pretty she is. She is pretty, but so is my eldest daughter. People just seem more enthusiastic over E, and my older children notice this. How do I explain this to all my children? Do I say to my two oldest, you will experience discrimination, but E will not?”
More Creating A Family Resources for Transracial Adoption:
Worry about the Future
T.V. worries about the future. For now, all the children are under 10 and are mostly seen by society as part of their family unit. This will change as they get older. What will people think when they see T.V., an older black man, with E, a teenaged white girl? Their first thought will likely not be father and daughter.
The same holds true for siblings. If his black son and E are horsing around as siblings do, T.V. worries that someone will say: “What is this black boy doing to this white girl?” He worries that if they are stopped by police as teens, his son may be hurt because of assumptions made by the police about the nature of their relationship. He worries about how his older children will feel when they are old enough to recognize the advantages of white privilege.
“She is our daughter and I love her and I believe that she belongs in our family, but I sometimes revisit the question and wonder if we made the right decision by adopting her. I think she has gained the best of both worlds because she will fully understand both the black and the white worlds. For her, I see the adoption as mostly an advantage. For her two siblings, I can only hope it’s the same way.”