Transracial Adoption and “Is His Father Black?”

Dawn Davenport


Transracial Adoption: How to respond to strangers' comments

Strangers may frequently inquire about a adopted child who is a different race from his or her parents.

We received the following question from a new transracial adoptive mom.

I have received many questions about my son who was adopted at birth and who is bi-racial, that I don’t quite know how to respond to. I know that he is watching me when I get these questions and even though he doesn’t understand 100% of what is happening now, I recognize that he is learning more everyday and that my answers will be a framework for how he responds to similar questions when I am not around to field them for him.

As an example, I was recently at the barber shop with my son and the barber asked me what he was mixed with — as though my son were a cocktail and not a human. Putting aside desire to run out the door with my child in tow, I tried as best I could to answer an ignorant question. Another example took place when I was walking my son into school and a stranger on the street commented on how cute my son is and proceeded to ask me if his father is black. My husband and I are Caucasian, my son’s birth father is African-American and his birth mother is Caucasian. To me all of these questions are rude and deserve an equally rude response, but because I know I am setting an example for my son I want to be careful about how I respond. Does anyone else have similar experiences that could share how they responded? Or even have suggestions for what to say to these obviously intrusive questions? I know I need to practice my responses, but the questions and comments I receive aren’t quite what I had expected.”

While I understand (believe me I do) that questions can be intrusive or rude because they ask for personal information or because they minimize or de-humanize our kids, many other questions are just..well, questions. Each person has a different threshold for what is intrusive and rude, but for me the above questions don’t cross that threshold. They are simply questions about his race. Now, it’s fair to say that his race should not matter or is none of their business, but the truth is people are curious about race, and not always for bad or prejudicial reasons. He is a mixed race beautiful kid and he (and you) should be proud of that fact.

I think, as a general rule, whites are less comfortable talking about race in any way than are people of color. It wouldn’t be unusual for a person of mixed race to be asked by another person of color about their racial heritage. They might ask it in a way that is politically correct (What is your racial make-up/heritage/background/etc.), but they also might just say something like “What are you mixed with?” or “Are you mixed?” or “Is your father black?” Asians might get “Are you Chinese?” and Latinos will hear “Are you Mexican?”

But, I would encourage you to explore why these questions about your child’s race bother you so much. It is possible that you are just an intensely personal person who objects to any question from a stranger. But I wonder if on some level, you are still trying to come to terms with being a transracial adoptive family? It’s a lot to come to terms with, so it’s totally understandable if this topic makes you uncomfortable. It might mean you need to do a bit more reading and talking to help process and incorporate this new identity for your family. I’ve listed some resources at the bottom that might be useful. Also, if possible join an adoption support group with other mixed race families. And of course, seek out friends of color for yourself. People of color are truly the best teachers about what it is like to navigate life as a person of color in America.

Each person has to decide how to respond to the inevitable questions. You are wise to realize that your real audience is your son. He will learn how to handle these questions by how you respond. If it crosses your threshold into rudeness or prying, then you can always choose one of the following:

  • Why do you ask?
  • That’s personal.
  • I don’t discuss that with strangers.

But, for those questions, like the ones you mentioned, which are simply getting at his race, I’d simply answer them.

  • He’s mixed race—black/white.
  • His birthfather is black, but his Daddy, my husband, is white. And yes, we think he’s pretty darn cute too. Oh, and he’s also brilliant and kind and spunky and….

Transracial Adoption Resources:


Image credit: MCLipsco

26/07/2012 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 15 Comments

15 Responses to Transracial Adoption and “Is His Father Black?”

  1. Jason Harris Jason Harris says:

    This is a great post!!!! My partner and I were involved in a situation that was leading to our adopting a beautiful baby girl (of mixed race) and of course these questions crossed my mind. Thank you for posting this!!

  2. Avatar Anonymous says:

    So in other words you didn’t answer this question at all.
    Hmm …horrible.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Anonymous, while I don’t mind critical responses, in fact I encourage a healthy debate, it might help if you first read the blog before you commented. In fact, I did answer the question. In fact, I gave her multiple responses to the question depending on her comfort level. And I quote:
      “If it crosses your threshold into rudeness or prying, then you can always choose one of the following:

      Why do you ask?
      That’s personal.
      I don’t discuss that with strangers.

      But, for those questions, like the ones you mentioned, which are simply getting at his race, I’d simply answer them.

      He’s mixed race—black/white.
      His birthfather is black, but his Daddy, my husband, is white. And yes, we think he’s pretty darn cute too. Oh, and he’s also brilliant and kind and spunky and….”

  3. Avatar Luanne says:

    You did a wonderful job here. I like how you didn’t just assume that the questioners were wrong. Although I think a lot of people would think it’s rude, it is ALWAYS good when we parents question ourselves and our responses first and foremost.

  4. Avatar Stacey says:

    I get asked the same question all of the time, which is odd considering my heritage is Caucasian. I personally take offense when it comes from strangers, it’s as if they are trying to put me in some category before they ever get to know me. When people have the nerve to ask me my race, I answer “I am of the human race, what are you?” I like the cocktail remark, and will use that in the future. Personally, I don’t think this should matter. Maybe it’s because when we lived overseas, my only response was “I am an American”, which is what everyone else in our military “family” said too. It’s only in the US that I get asked the “Are you mixed?” question.

  5. Avatar Christina says:

    I posted this comment on Facebook, but thought I would share it here, as well:

    “My older sister and I were both adopted from Korea. I can’t tell you how many times my parents (who are both Caucasian) were asked if we were foreign exchange students. My parents would always smile and look straight at us and say, “Nope, they are all ours!” It can actually take a lot of courage to ask a person of color (or the parents of children of color) about their race–especially if the person asking is Caucasian. It is sometimes difficult to not take offense to some of the questions, but as a parent of a transracially adopted child, you need to be willing to step outside of your comfort zone and do what is best for your child, even if it means fielding questions from people who need to be educated about race and adoption. As a mom of two biracial sons, I realize how annoying and intrusive it can be to answer the same questions over and over again. But, I lost my culture as a result of adoption and spent half of my teen years trying to pretend I was Caucasian because I didn’t fit in anywhere else. Even as an adult, I have been told that I’m not “Asian enough”. It is painful not being able to find a place to belong amongst people who look like me. I don’t want that for my children. My husband and I have made it a point to raise our children with cultural pride. They know they are Korean and Mexican, and they are proud of who they are. Part of raising our biracial children is answering those questions, even when we don’t want to. I know you mean well, but by not answering those questions you are sending a message to your children that there is something wrong with who they are. Your child’s race should be celebrated, not hidden. I understand the parents who are saying that they would rather not share because it’s their child’s story to tell, but I want you to know that your children are learning how to tell their story through you.”

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Thanks Christina for sharing from the perspective of the child, which ultimately, is what we all need to be thinking about. I would also strongly recommend reading her blog, where she writes about adoption, transracial parenting, and life in general.

  6. Avatar Mani Sheriar says:

    Well said, Dawn! <3

  7. Avatar Sarah says:

    We recently completed an online course that was mandatory for our international adoption process. Both my husband and I believed this course was really worthwhile, particularly the aspect that covered Conspicuous Families. We both get a bit defensive when strangers ask questions that we feel are out of line (although when kids ask us the same questions, we handle it a lot more smoothly.)
    If you are interested, the course is not expensive and can be taken in the comfort of your home. It addresses a lot of sample questions and really puts your mind to work.

    They do address, exactly what “Is Your Father Black?” mom stated; it is important to respond with quality, so your child has a good example and feels supported by you at all times.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Sarah, I too love the Adoption Learning Partner course on Conspicuous Families and linked to it in my blog too. Thanks for linking to them again.

  8. Avatar Bev Gunn says:

    I giggled as I read this as I am about to become the grandmother to a second biracial child. Once you love the child you become color blind. But, I think if my daughter is not with me when we are out and about, I may just smile and say “obviously one of his parents was!” and leave it at that. Not all mixed race children have black fathers, sometimes the mother is black and the father is white, Hispanic, etc! And, the child will know who is his “real” daddy and mommy and not pay attention to his skin tone until he is 4 or 5 years old. Once you are comfortable with his skin color, he will be too.

  9. Avatar Mike Recant says:

    Dawn, excellent answer. Sometimes a question is just a question, even if it is poorly stated. So much depends on the background of both the asker and answerer. I am a “glass half-full” person so I assume good will on the asker’s part but I understand not everyone is like me.

    I like you idea of a simple, factual, nonjudgemental answer and then see where the conversation goes, cutting it off if it gets inappropriate.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Mike, I agree. For whatever reason, it is often the case that white parents have a hard time talking about race. The ability improves with practice.

  10. My daughter is Armenian and it never fails that we go out to eat Indian, Middle Eastern, Mexican, Italian….etc and the owner/wait staff insist that she is (insert ethnicity) the same as they are…. My daughter politely listens with a smile and says “Oh, actually I am Armenian” in her VERY southern accent. LOL. We have found the humor in it all and of course there are the knowing glances between us as a family when it happens. In addition, usually the said person will remark back to us…”Ohhhhhh Romanian!!!”. We love the spirit of our kids being proud of who they are and ready to correct others when it happens.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Robin, one of my daughters is Korean. When she was young, people invariably assume she was Chinese. she would sometimes indignantly reply, as if it should be obvious to any intelligent person, “I’m Korean, not Chinese!!” Again, said in a southern accent. 🙂

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