By Karin Price, MSW, LSW
It seems like a small thing: a schoolyard taunt, the party invitation that never arrived, a little push in the hallway. Is it more comfortable to write such incidents off as the trials of childhood?
It can be so painful for parents who have adopted transracially to believe that the world could look at a child and see anything other than a precious gift from God. Race-related bullying exists and we must advocate for all children, but especially the children we are parenting.
After working in the field of international adoption for more than 30 years, I have found that adoptive parents do not take “racism” as seriously as adoptees do.
One Saturday, I presented a workshop on the topic of race and adoption to the “white” parents of 15 international adoptees of different races who were attending elementary school. The parents related a few incidents of teasing, but stated there were no incidents of racism in the metropolitan area where they resided. Later in the day, I spoke to the children of these parents and they shared incidents of bullying, and racism. Several of the girls wept as they told their stories. Several said they had never told their parents because “No one hit me; they just said mean things to me”. The children had experienced more verbal peer abuse than their parents ever imagined.
I have attended workshops led by adult adoptees. Each one spoke very highly of their adoptive parents, yet each one also voiced grave concern about race issues they faced. One man shared incidents that he had never told his parents. Since then, when an adopted person tells me about the childhood bullying (disguised as “teasing”)they endured, I ask them about their parents’ reactions. One young woman said, “They are great parents and I didn’t want to upset them: so I never told them.”
So, what leads some to believe it is OK for them to hurt, but not OK for their parents to hurt? Where does such thinking come from? Could it be from society’s messages that adoptive parents are great because they have taken in these ‘needy’ children?” In my work, when adoptees share their secret painful stories with their parents, their parents do hurt, but they also want to know about their children’s painful stories and want to help.
From a family perspective, parents are obligated to talk to their children and help their children. From a societal perspective, parents must understand that all people suffer when injustice takes place because of one’s physical characteristics. Those who are not “white” face a greater possibility to suffer injustice because in the United States there are privileges that accompany being “white.”
Understanding the concept of white privilege—outlined in Peggy McIntosh’s famous essay “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”—can help us grasp how unjust seemly subtle forms of racism can be. Here are some examples of white privilege that McIntosh highlights:
- I can, if I wish, arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
- If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing a house in an area I can afford and in which I want to live.
- When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization”, I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
- Whether I use checks, credit cards, or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.
- I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.
- I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, without having people attribute these choices to bad morals or the poverty of my race.
- I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.
- I can criticize our government.
- I can easily buy poster, postcards, picture books, greeting cards and children’s magazines that feature people of my race.
- I can take a job without having coworkers on the job suspect I got it because of my race.
- I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race will be mistreated in the places I have chosen.
Many do not realize the privileges they have due to their physical characteristics. A parent’s understanding of privilege and race will dictate how they parent their child.
What can a multiracial family do to advocate for their children and help them stand strong in a world where they will likely encounter instances of racial injustice? Parents must be proactive. Just as you would teach a preschooler to count and say their ABCs in preparation for kindergarten, you need to teach your children about racism. You are not instilling fears; you are giving them tools.
For parents in the process of a transracial adoption—things to do before your child comes home:
- Find a support group of families in the child’s ethnic group and form connections with other multiracial families.
- Educate yourself! Do you have stereotypes in your own mind? Do you understand the societal advantages of being white?
- Learn about your community and its diversity (or lack thereof) in churches, schools, etc.
- Join your community’s ethnic society, attend a diverse place of worship, and develop friendships with those who are of your child’s ethnicity.
After your child comes home:
- Continue practicing diversity in your relationships.
- Advocate to combat racism:
- Does your mayor have a multiethnic coalition? Join it.
- Become a school board member.
- Speak out when racial injustices occur by writing letters to the editor, letters of protest to advertisers, etc. Your child will benefit from knowing that you will stand up when you witness racism.
Practical ways to assist your child:
- Make sure your child knows the school’s policies on bullying and has a copy of the handbook.
- Talk to your kids about racism. Use current events, music or television shows as springboards to start a conversation.
- Take precautions with the internet. Be alert to “cyberbullying.”
- Listen to your children when they share incidents that hurt them. A good conversational format would be: 1) Tell me what happened. 2) What did you do? 3) What would you do differently? 4) What do you want me to do?
- Find a mentor for your child
- Attend Heritage Camp, Discovery Days, pre-teen groups and other events.
Author James Baldwin wrote, “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
I remain hopeful and strive towards change.
- Transracial Adoption and Foster Care: Practice Issues for Professionals by Joseph Crumbley
- Inside Transracial Adoption by Gail Steinberg & Beth Hall
- Adoption Parenting: Creating a Toolbox, Building Connections edited by Jean MacLeod
- Beyond Good Intentions: A Mother Reflects On Raising Internationally Adopted Children by Cheri Register
- More Than a Label: Why What You Wear or Who You’re With Doesn’t Define Who You Are by Aisha Muharrar
- Race: The Power of Illusion, http://www.pbs.org/race/000_General/000_00-Home.htm
- “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh: http://www.nymbp.org/reference/WhitePrivilege.pdf