Family matters: Race and beauty


Geoff Ayi-Bonte
Focus on Adoption magazine

I am the mom of a 13-year-old girl adopted from the US. She is African-American, we are Caucasian. Some of her friends (it’s a predominantly “white” school) are attracting the interest of boys. My daughter says nobody seems interested in her, and she thinks it’s because of her colour. How do we respond to this in a way that helps?

Surely you will want her to feel valuable, attractive, and wanted. It may be more difficult for your daughter as peer-relationships, womanhood, racial identity, and self-esteem are likely involved in this for her.

Although we can all relate to being rejected or not seen by others, it is different when we add race to that equation. Expose her to social situations in which she is one of a crowd instead of one of few. Providing her with Black people and Black culture will help her find a more natural and fitting sense of self amidst the physical, emotional, and spiritual adversity she will and already has faced.

Learn about and explain to her the short-comings of North American culture when it comes to ideals of beauty and colour. Stress that this is not about her not being good enough as opposed to others being short-sighted (i.e. a subtle side of racism). You will thus validate her feelings, instead of being dismissive. Children otherwise internalize their feelings and suffer, because they feel that a painful situation was ignored.

It can be valuable for your daughter to spend time with other girls in the same situation. However, if their parents are not enlightened regarding this situation, such contact may harm her more than help her. Another caution: though your daughter might turn to the Internet for connection, she will need much more than virtual understanding and compassion.

Her father (equally as important) can make her feel loved, appreciated, valued, and beautiful (as a Black woman) by telling and showing her. When she sees you reading positive Black magazines, for example, she will see you embracing faces and bodies like hers that are portrayed as beautiful. Watch movies and TV shows with her and talk about subtle racism and various images of beauty.

Your words, although valuable, will pale in comparison to your actions. This scenario (and others like it) will ask of you to learn about culture, racism, and prejudice. This is not just about a child learning about attraction and rejection. This situation can have a significant impact on her sense of self. It can put her at risk for low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, self-harming behaviours, eating disorders, and so on. Since you are Caucasian, it may require a stretch to understand her challenges, so recruit support. Your daughter will need you to look at yourselves and ask yourselves many tough questions. She will need you to make some marked adjustments in your lives to accommodate for your choice of inter-cultural adoption. She will need for you to meet many other people like her; talk to them; hang out with them; learn about, from, and with them; and embrace their background. She will need you to research your own culture, biases, prejudices, and cultural ideals.

Reaching out to recruit support and gather information is the first step. There is a lot for everyone to learn in this situation, and my hope is that everyone will embrace this opportunity to grow. This part of your daughter’s life is a crucial piece of her development. It is not your daughter’s challenge—it’s a family mission!

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