Racial Difference Among Adopted Multiracial Adults
‘‘Being Raised by White People’’: Navigating Racial Difference Among Adopted Multiracial Adults . Gina Miranda Samuels. Journal of Marriage and Family, 2009. Discusses the results of a study of adult multiracial adoptees and their experience managing parent-child conflicts and societal perceptions. The participants experienced highly racialized situations throughout their childhood and into adulthood.
This study focuses on the experience of multiracial adopted persons adopted by white families. The method used, interviews with adult multiracial adoptees, makes this very easy to read by non-professionals. Highly recommended for transracial adoptive parents.
“Multiracials and transracial adoptive families encounter similar stereotypes, both positive and negative, because of the racial boundaries they cross. Both are viewed as racially “different” and experience stigma related to those differences (Ifekwunigwe, 2004). Transracial adoptive families and multiracial individuals contradict biological and monocentric race and kinship norms—that all family members and individuals embody a shared single racial identity and heritage. Our folk theories of race assert that transgression of these norms and racial borders results in internal conflict or confusion, particularly for the children involved (Dalmage, 2000; Samuels, 2006). The daily lives of transracial adoptive families and multiracials are riddled with questions from strangers (e.g., “What are you?””Is that your mother?”) requiring public defenses or declarations of one’s racial ties, authenticity, and allegiance within single-race communities (Dalmage, 2000; Register, 1990). Transracial adoptive families and multiracials are perceived by some as actual or potential racial “traitors” while being revered or idealized by others as the hope or proof of ending racial division (Dalmage, 2000; Samuels, 2006). These bodies of scholarship suggest race and racial stigma are highly salient for both populations.”…
Navigating discordant parent-child experiences with race and racism
You know my parents never discussed race with me … EVER. I think they felt that if they ignored my ethnicity, it would kind of go away. And a lot of other kids would ask me questions. But by the time I was 10, the questions turned into insults. (Sheri, 32)
Only 4 participants felt their parents were proactive in providing racial socialization throughout their childhoods, noting race and racism as natural and comfortable topics of conversation. Some described parents as “re-active” and told stories of horrified mothers or fathers storming a school principal’s office to demand an end to racism at the school. Most (n= 23), however, were instructed that they deal with racism more passively. This included dismissing racism within the framework of other types of childhood name-calling and rationalizing that the offender was flawed. It was that person’s loss and not the child’s if the racial hostility continued. Lauren’s family was among the small subgroup who lived in a racially diverse community. Still, her parents preferred she dismiss racism and the perpetrator as having a problem. This is reflected in her statement on coping with intrafamilial racism, “I have family members that look at me and they very much see ‘n—-r’—that’s their loss. I know who I am and I’m not confused.” Although effective on some levels, this approach overlooked that children also experienced loss when racism continued—in Lauren’s case it was the loss of a family relationship.
Although 9 others also mentioned racially prejudiced extended family members, ongoing intrafamilial racism was an issue among a small number of participants (n= 3). For most, these family members were either excluded from the child’s life or later had a “change of heart” and grew to accept the child. Acceptance did not mean a complete change in worldview. It typically involved seeing the child as an exception or viewing the child as “not really Black.” Additionally, participants coped by dismissing the prejudice as “old-school” thinking, and the perpetrators as “too old to change.”
Parents of this generation of adopted multiracials were described as often unable to appreciate the unique weight of racial epithets when one is the target of them. Consequently, their advice and colorblind philosophies failed to map on to participants’ racial experiences and need to navigate a racialized world differently than their parents. As Brad noted, “There was this huge disconnect between what I was taught and what was outside.” In most cases, children eventually confronted their parents about this racial disconnect. Monika remembered this confrontational moment with her parents as an adolescent. For her, passive resistance was no longer working:
One time we really clashed and I said, “Look. You are both White. You are not Black. You’re not a person of color. It’s not easy for me, when someone is walking behind me saying all of these racial epithets to me … that I can’t get angry? I don’t think you understand how it feels to be stripped like that.