Last week I expressed some concern about whether or not my first-grader was old enough to be learning about some of the more violent aspects of the civil rights movement. One of the frustrating outcomes of that conversation is that the teacher (and a few commenters) misinterpreted my concern as being over conversations about race in general, which couldn’t be further from the truth. I am a firm believer that we should be talking to our kids about racial differences from a very young age.
Chelan Gill remembers always knowing she was adopted. It would have been difficult for her parents to hide it because, although Chelan’s mother is South Asian like her, her father is Caucasian. Adopted at birth, Chelan was raised within western culture and influences – even having the last name of Fletcher. However, at 26, she married a South Asian man who taught her about Indian culture and customs, and at 27, Chelan decided to search out information about her birth parents and medical history before having children.
One-year-old covergirl Maddy Devitt appeared on the cover of Focus on Adoption magazine in 1994. She is now a gorgeous 18-year-old working as an au pair in London, England. What has her life been like in between? “Like a Skittles box!”
Madeline Devitt was born Alcinia Dore in Dessalines, Haiti on March 8, 1993, in a typical cinderblock home with a dirt floor. Her family already had four children, and her birth mother died soon after due to complications from the birth. Her birth father tried very hard to find a wet nurse for Maddy but couldn’t.
Andrew Martindale, an adoptive parent, and assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, explains that the concept of race is man-made and, though it holds enormous power, has no biological basis.
The history of race relations makes transracial adoptions deeply personal, and, at times, very public statements of reconciliation. What do we say to our children, ourselves and others about the nature and significance of racial difference within our families?
In his landmark book “Shades of Black”, William Cross describes the following stages in the development of Black identity, stages believed to be similar for most Asians, Latinos and Aboriginals living in white-dominated society. There is no particular age range attached to each stage, and no expectation that all individuals will move through all stages, though the process typically spans the period from pre-adolescence to middle adulthood. Building racial identity is an on-going process that continues over each person’s life span.
Over the years, psychologist Dr Peter Hotz has worked with scores of adoptive families. He tells me that he has seen adoption from every angle. I’m at his Vancouver office to talk about international, cross-cultural adoptions. Dr Hotz has worked with several AFABC families. I can tell immediately that he has synthesized all that experience into some fundamental messages for parents considering adopting a child cross-culturally.
Loving our children has been easy. As transracial adoptive parents, however, it has been much more difficult to develop strategies for dealing with individual and institutional racism.
In our experience, the best lessons we can offer are those that teach our children to externalize racism and assure them we will always be there for them.
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.
In 1983, Peggy MacIntosh, a white university professor, wrote a now famous essay on some of the hidden privileges that, as a white person, she enjoys. Here’s just a sample: