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