Transracial Adoption Confusion in Suburban America

As a foster and adoptive family we've cared for numerous children of different races, so I recently joined an online forum for about transracial adoption to educate myself. I think it's important to note for this story that, as you can clearly see in my avatar, I am a white woman.

I was initially shocked at the anger I sensed from the members of the online group, which included, among others, white adoptive parents and adult adoptees of color. They spoke of the uncomfortable comments and questions they fielded from others. They challenged each other (and me) to take a deep, long look at what the face of racism really looks like in modern society.

"We must live in a more evolved area," I prided myself. I assumed that because we lived near a large, diverse metropolitan area we had escaped the judgmental looks and racist commentary. Or perhaps those angry people just took things too literally. (Can you say "white privilege"?)

And then today happened. I stopped by Target to return some unused party supplies and re-stock our first aid gear. After paying I was attempting to herd my four young children out of the store when in the corner of my eye I saw a little white boy, about six years old, come up to my two older children who were straggling behind me. I heard him ask "Why is that brown kid with you?" He was referring to the one-year-old in my stroller, who is my bi-racial foster-to-adopt daughter.

I turned around and in my kind and patient voice asked him "What did you say honey?" His face immediately revealed that he knew he'd overstepped. He took a step backwards and mumbled "Nothing."

I didn't have long to respond. I had four restless children who could bolt out the open door at any moment. This child (presumably) had a parent nearby who would come and whisk him away. I was flabbergasted. But I was prepared.

"It's OK sweetheart, you can ask me about that. Our family is an adoptive family. So our children don't all look the same." And then I turned and walked out of the store. In hindsight, for that child's sake, I wished I had double-checked that there was indeed an adult nearby why was responsible for him. But in that moment my sole focus was on saying the right thing.

I can't even express how many thoughts and feelings I had in the minutes that followed that encounter. I was embarrassed - why, I don't know. I was proud that I hadn't simply ignored the nosy child and instead addressed his earnest question honestly and succinctly. I was curious about whether or not my white children would ever say such a thing to a person. But mostly I was heartbroken.

It turns out I don't live in a highly evolved eutopia as I would have liked to believe. Our family is no different than those other families and individuals online whom I had perceived as so angry and bitter towards the world.

Throughout the day this encounter has continued to haunt me, as I imagine it will for years to come. People are hesitant to talk about race to white people, especially educated middle-class white people. This one experience touched a raw nerve in me, but I realized that my black daughter is likely to experience probing questions and judgmental comments far more often than me.

So while I experienced a lot of conflicting emotions about what happened today, the overarching feeling has been one of immense gratitude. Gratitude that I found that online group about transracial adoption. Gratitude that I didn't leave the group shortly after joining, which was my knee-jerk reaction when I saw the hostility sometimes expressed among the members. Gratitude that I stayed and listened and learned. Gratitude that I had something - anything - to say to that little boy. My response wasn't perfect by any means. But it was a start. Next time I'll do better.

My baby may not know what I said today. But she doesn't have the ability yet to voice her own answers and comebacks. In the coming years she'll be listening to and learning from me. Watching me respond to the stares, the comments, the questions. She'll be taking mental notes. And someday, when she's in the world without me, she'll be prepared to say something - anything. Because she saw her mama do it.

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