What Does it Mean to Be Black & Why Adoptive Parents Should Care?
The guest on today’s Creating a Family show, Dr. Marlene Fine, related the following incident in a dialoge on race and ethnicity that she was facilitating. The participants were divided into groups of two and given an exercise to work through. Afterwards, a white participant paired with another white participant commented that race had not come up once in her group discussion. She concluded that race simply wasn’t and didn’t need to be a central element in most people’s lives. Dr. Fine turned to a black participant paired with another black man, who said they did talk about race when discussion the exercise. He went further to say that he thought about race every single day and talked about race every single day.
Dr. Fine is the co-author with Dr. Fern Johnson of The Interracial Adoption Option: Creating a Family Across Race. She says:
Race affects all of us. Although many whites do not think of themselves as having a race and are not, therefore, likely to acknowledge that their race has consequences for their lives, people of color are very aware that race matters.
For this reason, interracial adoptive parents must help their children develop a healthy sense of what it means to be black or brown in the US today.
Stages of Racial Identity
Social scientists have identified four stages that most children go through in developing their racial identity.
Stage 1: Race is a physical characteristic.
Children between the ages of approximately three to six see race a only a set of physical characteristics.
Parent’s Job at this Stage: Parents must make sure that kids know that it is OK to notice and talk about race. Race is not a taboo subject.
Stage 2: Making Inferences about race
Children between the ages of approximately six and ten shift from noticing only the physical differences to inferred characteristics. Ex. White people live in fancy houses; therefore, all white people must be rich.
Parent’s Job at this Stage: Parents should explore with their child the history and contributions of their racial group.
Stage 3: Awareness of prejudice
Children between the ages of ten and fourteen become aware of prejudices against their race and how these prejudices might affect them.
Parent’s Job at this Stage: Parents need to continue discussing race and be open to the possibility of prejudice. It is tempting to become defensive and downplay incidents our children may report to us, but it is crucial for your children to know that you are a safe place to share. In The Interracial Adoption Option, Fine and Johnson acknowledge that it is hard to not be defensive in part because “[w]hites carry a lot of guilt about the history and legacy of racism in the U.S and …[i]t is hard to acknowledge the existence of racism without indicting ourselves….”
Stage 4: Expressing the racial identity
Older teens often begin to actively live out their racial identity.
Parent’s Job at this Stage: Parents need to embrace their teens expression of their racial identity and accept that differences exist between racial groups. At the same time, they need to fight against racial stereotyping, which is not always an easy line to walk.
I can’t recommend enough both the book The Interracial Adoption Option and the Creating a Family interview with one of its authors, Dr. Marlene Fine.
If you have adopted a child of another race, tell us some specific things you are doing to help your child develop a strong racial identity?