Life as a Mixed Race Family

Dawn Davenport


There was a great article in the New York Times yesterday about being a mixed race family in

Multiracial Families

Multiracial families are no longer uncommon, but regardless how common, people still stare.

America whether by marriage or adoption– In Strangers’ Glances at Family, Tensions Linger.  Times they are definitely changing, but folks, we’ve got a long way to go.

Transracial Families Are Not Uncommon But Still Attract Attention

Multiracial families are no longer uncommon. (How’s that for a double negative?!?) One in seven new marriages in the US is between spouses of different races or ethnicities. Multiracial children have increased almost 50 percent, to 4.2 million, since 2000.   Multiracial families formed by transracial adoptions are on the rise as well.  But regardless how common, people still stare.  From my personal experience, I don’t sense any hostility, just curiosity.  I seldom experience comments any more perhaps because my children are older.  I know my kids get some questions, but so far they haven’t experienced anything more than curiosity.  Apparently, according to the NYT’s article, our experience is not universal.

“People confront you, and it’s not once in a while, it’s all the time,” Heather Greenwood, an adult transracial adoptee in a multiracial marriage said. “Each time is like a little paper cut, and you might think, ‘Well, that’s not a big deal.’ But imagine a lifetime of that. It hurts.”  But maybe we’re making progress. Her 18 year old multiracial son says barriers are coming down and race is not something he spends a lot of time worrying about.

I loved the comment from 7 year old Sophia Greenwood.  She responds confidently when asked what race she is. “Tan!” she says. “Can’t you tell by just looking?”

I’m curious if others have experienced more negative comments than I have. What’s been your experience?

Image credit: moominmolly

14/10/2011 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 23 Comments

23 Responses to Life as a Mixed Race Family

  1. Avatar Anna White says:

    My 15 year old daughter’s father is Haitian and my 4 year old son is adopted from Ethiopia. We have been waiting 7 months with our state foster care system. I feel the fact that we are white parents requesting to adopt a black child may be getting us ignored. Did anyone work with a program that was more accepting of this? I feel its nice for my children to have similiar racial background is important. As long as we as parents address the differences and normalize them as a child grows up, then the child wont feel as though a great part of them is being ignored.

  2. Avatar Julie says:

    We adopted two kids from Ethiopia who were 6 & 8 when they came home. Our two children by birth are blonde-haired and blue eyed. We live in Phoenix which is very culturally diverse although there are more hispanics than African Americans. I honestly was prepared for a LOT more stares and comments but I rarely get them. Or at least not to the point that I notice them. I’ve never received a rude comment or question. In fact it’s more common to hear “you have beautiful children”. Of course there are interesting things that come up when we’re learning about the history of American and blacks, early slavery, the civil rights movement etc but if anything we have all learned so much more. I realize that there will be other issues that come up as the kids get older related to their race but quite frankly, all my kids are different and will have different issues as they grow up. As a mother I’m going to need to learn how to meet each one of them – race, ADHD, etc.

  3. Avatar Sue says:

    I just found your website. Many thanks to the creators and sponsors for this website and the support it brings.

    We been waiting for 3 years for a match. Our agency says there is not one currently available and they do not foresee a match for a long time. The words they used was “indefinitely,” which is very hard to hear. So they are suggesting that we reconsider our profile and pray carefully about what children we would like to adopt.

    So first, I want to thank you for bring this article to my attention. the timing of this article was spot on. This article is very informative and a bit frightening. If this couple has this many problems in NJ, I cannot imagine the difficulties a couple would have in the southeastern part of the nation.

    I don’t know if I have enough strength to address yet another thorny problem related to growing my family. We have been struggling with our infertility issues for our entire marriage.(almost 10 years) It has really beaten us down. I honestly don’t know if I have to strength to take on this type of adoption and the effort to protect and defend our family given the realities of this article.

    I guess our infertility problem have just broken our family and while it is very depressing to read this article and it did help us confirm what types of adoption will work for our family.

    Thank You

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Sue, although I’m a big believer in knowing yourself and what is best for you and for any future child, I’d like to strongly encourage you to become a bit more educated on transracial adoption. Let me suggest that you listen to a few of the Creating a Family shows that we’ve done on this topic and reading through some of the resources we provide. Both can be found at our Transracial Adoption page. Also, keep in mind that transracial includes adoptions across any racial lines, thus would include adoptions by a white couple of a Hispanic child or Asian child. I always get nervous when someone is considering adopting an Hispanic or Asian child because they are afraid that adopting an African American child will be too hard since I think both require transracial adoption preparation. However, depending on where you live or your family’s views, some people report that they find it easier.

      I am so sorry you feel broken by your infertility. Being infertile is so unfair and so hard. I hope you find some peace.

  4. Avatar Liliana Boyden says:

    I appreciate you sharing this blog article.Really looking forward to read more. Keep writing.

  5. Avatar Michelle @ Bridge Communications says:

    Working on a presentation for the Chicago Multiracial Meetup/Biracial Family Network to celebrate National Adoption Month. Scheduled for November 19th 2-4pm (yes, mark your calendar). In the past we have heard from adoptees and adoptive parents. Hope to have a panel of women who made the difficult choice to place a child for adoption speak on their choices, their lives, and how they navigat…e open adoptions with the families they choose. Since adoption has always affected multiracial families more than the general population (and adoption touches almost every family in the general population) this should be a really educational presentation. And then after the Disney festival of lights to start off the holiday season. Hope to see you there.

  6. Avatar Robyn says:

    The only time we got a negative comment was at church. We went to a friend’s church to check it out. We didn’t go back.

    We live in a city in California in which white people are the minority. Still, my son has occasionally wished that he wasn’t brown. (Don’t try to call him black. He’s still pretty literal at age 5.)

    Last week at school, an older girl argued that my dad (who was volunteering that day) couldn’t be his grandpa because all of my son’s family *had* to be brown. I found that odd, because the school has a lot of multicultural families.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      One of my kids responded to a similar question with a withering stare and “Duh, I’m adopted, that’s how.” I actually felt sorry for the kid who made the comment.

  7. Avatar Cynthia says:

    I live in the deep south and feel like my chinese children are accepted by our family and community and actually have found favor . Not sure if they were AA if that would be so. Also sure they would NOT have been accepted by extended family. That was the deciding issue with us. I couldn’t imagine bringing home a child that would be shunned by our extended family. I think those wounds are some that are hard to heal.

  8. Avatar Paula says:

    Well thing are different for me as I adopted a child from Taiwan, and I live in Taiwan. However I’m a white British woman. Anyway, here in taiwan we get asked, almost on a daily basis, why she doesn’t look like me or is she really your daughter…are you sure! However when I went home for a month I got asked 3 times. one was a mother who adopted a girl too so that was ok, the other two were Chinese people asking why she doesn’t look like me. Most people in the UK that see us just work out she’s adopted, like another commenter said it’s more common now. But here in Taiwan adoption is rare and when it happens it’s a secret. I have to say that it bothered me a lot when she was younger but now I’m more use to it and I know people are just curious. My friend who also adopted here uses it as a way to talk to people about why they adopted and about Jesus. However my Chinese isn’t up to that but we do our best. I think the main thing is to talk to your kid and have them know that these people just don’t know that they look like their birth parents and that it’s ok for us to look different. Keeping conversations open with your child about these things is important, even if it’s hard sometimes to even remember that they look different from you. Really its hard as they are so much a part of you! One time on Dawns show a guest said something that sticks in my mind, when you adopt transracially you become an advocate for adoption even if you didn’t want to be. I try to remember that as really you should be an advocate for adoption. There are way too many kids that need a family and here I get to see them in the orphanage just waiting for families!

  9. Avatar Heidi says:

    I am the very proud mom of two adopted brown children. My son was born in the very same city that we live in and my daughter about an hour away. It was NOT a circumstance of two birth mothers who were having their rights terminated – both women voluntarily gave up their children because they did not feel as though they could give their children everything they needed.
    I struggled for years with infertility … i have NEVER been close to being pregnant! The choice of these two women to have me be a mom will forever be my greatest gift and my greatest accomplishment!!
    I cant say that ive never run across ignorance. Ive been asked by others “how’d i get those black kids” – or “they should be with their own kind” … “what country are they from?” …blah, blah, blah!! I was CHOSEN to be their mom!! By their birth mothers and by the ONE who created them!!!
    I strive to raise my children the best that i can – and to incorporate their heritage into every day. They will be proud of who they are and of the color of their skin – its up to me to teach them!
    If you are someone in fear of adopting outside of your own culture – you’re missing the boat! One of my favorite quotes is “not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character!” Martin Luther King.
    I wouldnt do a thing differently – and i am thankful every day that my methods of fertility failed!!!

  10. Avatar Kathleen Nolde-Martin says:

    I live in the deeeeeep south and my husband and I adopted an African American boy last year. I honestly expected to have some negative comments from somewhere, but even here, where race is supposed to be so problematic we have only gotten support and positive comments from everyone, all races, ages, etc. And yes we stand out from the crowd. I know that we will have to equip him to deal with prejudice, but that is something every child needs, unfortunately, there will always be those who will attempt to judge you for being different. However, right now we are reveling in the unexpected acceptance we have everyday. 🙂

  11. Avatar Heather says:

    I felt we were really prepared from our social worker and from reading books. We sometimes have people say stupid stuff, but I have realized that the majority of the time it is someone trying to communicate to me that they have had an experience in their life of being in a transracial family. Once in line a man assumed my daughter of Ethiopian heritage was biracial and made the comment that “Mulatto kids are smart.” I thought it was a stupid, racist comment to make and tried to make as much distant between him and my daughter. He then went on to share that he has a son from a transracal relationship, never sees the son, misses the son, and so forth. While I still find his comment offensive, I saw that he was trying to share that his family looks like mine. The few times strangers have asked if she is adopted is because they have had a personal experience with adoption. Either they have a sibling adopted or are the parent in a transracial adoption. We talk often how are transracially adopted kids are seen in the larger world without us, but it also goes the other way. When I am out in the world without my daughter I am seen as a white woman, not the member of a transracial family. With that all said, we do get stares. Mostly from kids, but sometimes adults. One of the funniest was a a Denny’s my daughter was interacting with a family at the next table who starting talking with us. They were very nice and then asked if the man at the table with me (my husband) was my brother. I said he was my husband and the woman had a look of total shock on her face. You could see she could not figure out how a white woman and white man with one white kid could also have an black child. In this case I decided to let her try to figure it out for herself.
    ~ Heather

  12. Avatar Amy says:

    background: We have a BEAUTIFUL mixed race daughter (almost 3 y.ol) we were blessed with via adoption, and a biological son that is caucasian, (same age) and our experiences with her mixed background are WHAT WE MAKE OF THEM. People certainly ask and comment in both complimentary and hurtful ways, and we have to be prepared for both.

    I really and truly feel that our education PRIOR to our adoption prepared us as much as we could ever be prepared for the types of things our now conspicuously mixed family would experience. ALL adoptive parents should be so lucky to have that kind of wonderful preparation from their social worker and agency. Sue’s comments make me so sad, as it may deny her an experience of happiness, love, and fulfillment with a wonderful child!

    We specifically chose mixed race and particular ethnicities that have a more difficult time being placed in adoptive homes, due to the fact that we knew we were well-suited for that, and that maybe other adoptive parents don’t feel that sure. we actually asked not to be considered for ‘caucasian’ babies, so that we didn’t ‘take one away from’ parents that hoped for a child that resembled them. That’s okay, each person has to feel comfortable with their preferences. I just feel that a little education is crucial and eye-opening. Heart-opening.

    If anything, conspicuous race differences in a family are the best invitation to have a positive conversation with people about dropping old stigmas. It can be SO amusing watching/listening to people try to hem-haw around about how our family came to be… totally comical! ‘So, is her dad…from around here?’ ha!

    One thing I wasn’t really prepared for, however, were the judgements that are made of ME when my daughter and I are out together. People automatically assume I slept with/was married to a man of the same race as my daughter, and here in our little Midwestern microcosm, sometimes they make a face or assume what they do not actually know. This happens to my kids’s grandparents as well, and for that I wish I could’ve prepared them a bit, but we’ve got a grip on it now. Oh well! I know who I am, and so does my baby girl. 😉

    Dawn, per usual, you are the single BEST resource out there for all of us lucky enough to be involved in the world of adoption. Thank you!!

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Amy, thanks for your kind words. I’m so glad you brought up about needing to be prepared for people assuming that you slept with/married someone of your child’s race. It absolutely will happen. Since my kids all look pretty different, there were times when people assumed I’d slept with a great diversity of the male gender. 🙂

  13. Avatar DeB says:

    We are a transracial family, formed via adoption. Our youngest daughter is African American and we are waiting in immigration approval to bring home our pre-school aged daughter from a West African country. We also have 4 bio kids that are Caucasian.We have been asked questions about our family, but the questions are always benign and typically revolve around wanting to understand the in and outs of adoption. We also receive frequent comments about how beautiful our youngest daughter(age 2) is. She is a beautiful child, but sometimes I wonder if people are trying too hard to be accepting. We have had only one negative comment about our family, it came from an odd bird at the airport when we were returning from vacation. A nasty comment about race mixing. Not a person I needed to deal with and we just kept moving.

    Our daughter has brought so much joy to our family and we love her with every ounce of our beings. Are we a “Conspicuous Family”? Yes…and I would suggest that transracial families take the course by that name from Adoption Learning Partners. But I don’t feel that we have to defend our family…we just field a few more questions. Our experience with adoption has been overwhelmingly positive! I’ve been a parent for almost 15 years and a key skill to develop is to make like a duck and let stuff roll off your back. People forever judge other people’s choices(What school? Are you using that type of diaper? You bought that brand of car seat? You daughter isn’t in honors math?)and transracial adoption definitely is another layer to be questioned.You have to do what is right for you, your spouse and your future child…prepare yourself for the family you wish to build. Don’t worry TOO much about what others think. I really enjoyed Rita Simon’s books on transracial adoption. Best of luck to all that are considering building there family through adoption!

  14. Avatar Michelle @ Bridge Communications says:

    Not everybody should adopt across racial lines. Some people do it wonderfully and some people should not. Get educated about your capabilities to parent across racial lines for the sake of the child. And by all means listen to adult transracial adoptees. (Not just transracial adoptive parents as often parents and kids have a disconnect.) Even the adoptees who are angry and bitter and complaining about their experiences have information that can be helpful to you in learning what not to do. And many adult transracial adoptees are not bitter but then again they are usually the ones with parents who paid attention to the dynamics of being a mixed race family. In short, we do not and will not in our lifetime live in a colorblind world.

    Finally, as a woman who grew up in a mixed race family and knows many others who grew up in mixed race families both as adoptees and non adoptees, if someone says “what about the children?” one more time- I wish to virtually smack them. The children are just FINE if the parents do their job right and provide the children with the tools to navigate this world, including racially.

  15. Avatar Marie says:

    I honestly can say that we have not experienced anything as bad as in the article. We live in Ottawa, Canada, but when we brought our daughter home from China, we lived in Prince Edward Island, a small province in Eastern Canada. There, we found there were more comments to the effect of “She looks Chinese. Is her father Chinese?” (to which I once answered in all honesty: “well, one of them is!”).

    But our situation is seen as so commonplace these days, that people often do the double take when seeing us as a family, but compute it quickly in their head, and realize how we became a family. Then proceed to tell us about a person they know who has adopted from China or other parts of Asia.

    I do feel, however, that our best step was our decision to move to Ottawa. Here, we’ve rented an apartment in Chinatown, and have enrolled our daughter (and myself!) in Chinese School on Saturday mornings. She has always known that she is Chinese, and has quickly learned that she should be proud of that and she is lucky enough to be a part of a really special and amazing community. She perks up when she hears someone speaking Mandarin, and is drawn to them, introducing herself by her Chinese name. One of her friends from one of our adoption groups (our waiting group as opposed to our traveling group), also attends the Chinese School, which makes it fun and exciting for her. she so looks forward to Saturday mornings!

    Now, I must explain that our daughter is only 4 1/2. We fully anticipate that her attitude towards all of this will change in time. But for now, I feel we are building a good foundation, teaching her that Mommy is from a French Canadian background, Daddy is from an English Canadian background, and she is from a French/English/Chinese-Canadian background. We are all our own unique people and that’s what makes our family so wonderful. We’re not waiting for the questions to come from her about this. We’re making sure the dialogue is open now and that this is a subject matter which does not create stress or anxiety. We’re “different”. But so is everyone else these days. Whether it’s the little girl with two daddies, the little boy whose mommy is a single mother, or the brothers and sisters who are all of different ethnic backgrounds on the school bus. It matters little. There is no more “standard” or “typical” family. The Nuclear family of days gone by is the minority now.

    I am not diminishing what the family in the article is going through. It must be terrible for them, and I can’t imagine having to go through that. But this is not the way it happens everywhere. While I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it is the exception, there are certainly parts of the world that aren’t as bigoted, and I’m glad I live in one of them. I’m glad I live in a place where Chinese people approach us, smile, and tell us and our daughter on a regular basis how lucky we are to have found each other. I’m also glad that this is the same place where people who are not of Chinese descent also look at us and just see a beautiful, happy, healthy family.

    We are keeping Sue in our prayers and we know that one of the great things about adoption is that in exactly the same way as with a biological child, the child you end up with is your child, no matter what, and is perfect for you. There are so many resources out there to help cope with the difficulties of being an interracial family, that you should never feel that this is something you need to deal with in isolation.

    Remember that humour is a great antidote (I love the T-Shirt idea in the article! I want a “Yes, I’m the mom” T-Shirt!)

    Thanks to the people who run this blog for giving us a wonderful resource and place to exchange ideas while learning about what makes our families wonderful, as well as how to cope with difficult situations.



    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Marie, how fortunate you are to live in a place with a large Chinese community. I think most of us experience less stares and comments as time goes on. Most of us run in the same semi small circles in our everyday life and a multiracial family quickly becomes old news. Many older adoptees report that the full impact of their racial identity doesn’t hit until they leave home for just that reason. While living in our home they are seen as “our kid”, but out in the larger world they are seen as a Chinese American, African American, Guatemalan American, etc. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but is something that transracial adoptive parents need to prepare their children for.

  16. Avatar natalie says:

    Our daughter is now six, and while she is AA and her sister and parents white, I feel it hasn’t impacted her that much. She proudly states she is adopted. Sure, we get looks, rarely questions, but I think she was blessed to find us, and we were given a miracle with her. I love my wassup, unique, child of color and wouldn’t change a thing. I didn’t have to wait, and if anything it has helped with tolerance from my racist family.

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