A Transracially Adopted Child's Bill of Rights
Every child is entitled to love and full membership in her family.
Every child is entitled to have his heritage embraced and valued.
Every child is entitled to parents who know she will experience life differently than they do.
Every child is entitled to parents who know that transracial adoption changes the family forever.
Every child is entitled to parents who know if they are white, they benefit from racism.
Every child is entitled to ongoing opportunities to connect with people of his or her race.
Adapted from Liza Steinberg Triggs from "A Bill of Rights for Mixed Folks," by Marilyn Drame and reprinted from An Insider’s Guide to Transracial Adoption and Below the Surface, by Gail Steinberg and Beth Hall of Pact, An Adoption Alliance at www.pactadopt.org.
Seven Tasks for Parents: Developing Positive Racial Identity
By Joseph Crumbley, D.S.W.
Each night, without fail, she prayed for blue eyes. Fervently, for a year, she had prayed. Although somewhat discouraged, she was not without hope. To have something as wonderful as that happen would take a long time. Thrown, in this way, into the binding conviction that only a miracle could relieve her, she would never know her beauty. She would only see what there was to see: the eyes of other people.
In her description, in The Bluest Eyes, of a young black girl who wishes that her eyes were blue so would be as beautiful as all the blond, blue-eyed children in her school, author Toni Morrison captures the struggle that many transracially and transculturally adopted children face: judging their own beauty by the standards of a culture that is not their own.
Although transracial adoption and foster care have been a controversial topic for more than a decade, the number of children entering such placements continues to increase. In 1997, approximately 17 percent of all domestic adoptions were transracial placements in which at least one of the parent's race was different from the child's. In 1998, Americans adopted 15,774 children born outside of the United States. The largest number of these children were adopted from regions of the former Soviet Union and from China. As of March 31, 1998, at least 110,000 children were in foster care, with the goal of adoption. Twenty-nine percent were white, 59 percent were African American, and 10 percent were Latino. Twenty-seven percent (3,601) of the African American children who were adopted and 7 percent of the white children were in transracial adoption. The realities of children living in transracial families raise many questions:
- How does a child develop a positive racial or cultural identity?
- What are the affects of transsracial adoption or foster care on a child and his or her family?
- What are the special needs of adopted or foster children living in tranracial families?
- What are the parenting tasks specific to transracial families? And
- What skills, attitudes, knowledge, and resources must parents in transracial families have or develop?
How Positive Racial Identity Develops
Theories on social learning, object relations, and identification are useful in explaining how a child's identities (racial, religious, ethnic, class, and gender) develop. These theories are also useful in understanding the similarities and differences in how identities develop in children from dominant groups and from children in minority groups experiencing discrimination.
Object identifications suggest than a child's identity is influenced by significant role models and relationships to which the child is consistently exposed in his or her environment (family, school, society, and the media). The child from the dominant group-the group that has power over the distribution of goods, services, rights, privileges, entitlements, and status-begins his or her identity formation by:
- observing what group is in power
- observing that members of the group in power are like him or her (i.e. in race, gender, or religion), and
- assuming that because he or she is like members of the group in power, he or she has the same rights and will achieve similar accomplishments and power as members of that group.
The ultimate result of the child's identity is a sense of positive self-esteem, confidence, worth, entitlement and goals. In contrast, the child from the minority group-the group subject to the power, control, discretion, and distribution of goods and privileges by another group-begins his or her identity formation by:
- observing what group is in power,
- observing that group members who are like him or her are not in positions of power and control,
- observing or experiencing prejudice, discrimination, and exposure to stereotypes, and
- assuming that because he or she is like members in the minority group, he or she has the same limited rights, can only achieve the same accomplishments, position, and status as similar group members, and that members of the minority group are not as good as those in power.
The minority child's identity affects his or her self-self-esteem, confidence, goals, worth, self-respect, sense of entitlement, and expectations by making him or her feels inferior. This inferiority is not the result of identifying with or being a member of a minority group, but from exposure to discrimination, prejudice, and negative stereotypes about he group. A child from a minority group that is celebrated, held in esteem, or that shares power and control with the dominant group can have identities that are just as positive as a child's from the dominant group.
To counteract a minority child's formation of negative identities, he or she must see and be told:
- that members of his or her minority group can also make positive achievements if given equal opportunities,
- that he or she and his or her minority group should also have the same rights and entitlements as members in the dominant group,
- that he or she and his or her group are equal to and as good as any other group,
- that stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination are wrong, and
- that there is proof that prejudices and stereotypes are untrue. The child must be able to see it to believe it. Feeling self-confident about his or her ability to cope with and appropriately respond to discrimination reinforces a child's positive self-image and identity.
This last task may be the most difficult and challenging to accomplish if the minority child's group is not in a position of power, control, and success in the child's environment. Alternatives may need to include:
- exposing the child to historical figures and information about his or her group's accomplishments, capacities, values, and culture.
- redefining and reframing the child's definitions of success, strengths, and accomplishments by not using standards and definitions based on those of the dominant group (e.g. highlight individual accomplishments, family commitment, group survival, spiritual and moral integrity, and civil rights activities against discrimination),
- exposing the child outside of his or her environment to members of the minority group in positions of power and control (e.g. geographically, in other countries, through films and other media).
Parenting Tasks that Facilitate Positive Racial Identity
Because children from minority groups (Asian, Latino, African American, or Native American) who experience prejudice or discrimination are subject to developing negative racial identity, they require monitoring, with attention paid to their perception of racial identity. They should not be expected to develop positive racial identity without support and reinforcement from their families, role models, and the community. Parents can provide support and reinforcement through the following 7 tasks.
TASK 1: Acknowledge the existence of prejudice, racism, and discrimination.
Adoptive parents must recognize not only that racism, prejudice, and discrimination exist, but that they, too, have been victims and survivors of it. By admitting the existence of inequities, parents can avoid racist, prejudicial, or discriminatory behavior. By admitting being a victim and survivor, parents are able to: 1) recognize inequities and how they affect others; and 2) elicit strategies for intervening on behalf of their child, based on personal experiences and knowledge.
While the victimization of minority groups is fairly obvious, that of members from the dominant culture and race may not be. Children in the dominant group are victims of racism by inadvertently developing superiority complexes.
Superiority complexes occur when a child:
- observes that those in power are racially the same as he or she is,
- observes those not in power are of a different race or color,
- observes or is exposed to prejudicial and discriminatory beliefs and practices against a minority race,
- assumes, therefore, that he or she and his or her race are better or without having any contact with a minority group.
Once parents understand how racism victimizes members from both the dominant and minority communities, they are prepared from the second task.
TASK 2: Explain why the child's minority group is mistreated.
Parents must explain and define racism, prejudice, discrimination, and bigotry, and why such behavior exists. Understanding the behavior exists. Understanding the behaviors beyond their simply being "good or bad" will enhance the child's coping skills. Understanding the functions and reasons for the behaviors increases the child's range of responses beyond anger or retaliation.
TASK 3: Provide the child with a repertoire of responses to racial discrimination.
Parents must work to minimize their children's feelings of helplessness. A child's identity can be more positive if he or she perceives him or herself and members of racial groups to be empowered with choices, resources, and the ability to acquire and protect their rights. This repertoire of responses may include:
- selective confrontation or avoidance,
- styles of confrontations (passive, aggressive),
- individual, legal, institutional, or community resources and responses (i.e. grievances, suits, NAACP, protests)
- priorities and timing (when to avoid and when not to avoid issues),
- goal-oriented responses rather than unplanned reactions,
- institutional/organizational strategies (positioning, coalitions, compromising).
TASK 4: Provide the child with role models and positive contact with his or her minority community.
Parents of a different race from their child are quite capable of modeling and helping the child develop various identities (i.e. gender, class). However, counteracting the racial identity projected by a racially conscious or discriminating society requires positive exposure to same-race models or experiences. These contacts and experiences require: 1) interacting with the child's minority community, 2) providing the child information about his or her history and culture, and 3) providing an environment that includes the child's culture on a regular basis (i.e. art, music, food, religion, school, integrated or same race community).
This task requires that the parents be comfortable with 1) being a minority when interacting in the child's community, and 2) sharing the role of modeling with members from the child's race. Same race contacts and experiences function to: 1) counteract negative stereotypes, 2) teach the child how to implement the repertoire of responses, and 3) provide a respite from being a minority (i.e. the only child of color, the object of stares, or needing to prove one's equality).
TASK 5: Prepare the child for discrimination.
Providing the child with information on how his or her racial identity might be degraded helps him or her develop better coping skills and methods of maintaining a positive identity. Feeling self-confident about his or her ability to cope with and appropriately respond to discrimination reinforces a child's positive self-image and identity.
Same race role models may be a helpful resource for information and preparation if an adoptive parent has not experienced discrimination similar to the child's minority group (i.e. double standards, slander, interracial dating, and gender issues).
TASK 6: Teach the child the difference between responsibility to and for his or her minority group.
This task relieves the child of: 1) feeling embarrassed or needing to apologize for his or her racial identity or group, 2) not having to overcompensate or prove his or her worth because of his or her racial identity or negative stereotypes. However, the child is able to develop a commitment to both his or her individual and minority group's accomplishments, resources, and empowerment.
The Clark Doll Test suggests that children are aware of differences in race as early as four years old. This study also found that African American children became aware of stigma associated with race as early as seven years old. Although parents cannot stop the minority child's exposure to racial prejudice, discrimination, and stereotypes, parents (adoptive, birth, same or different race) of any minority child must help develop the positive racial identity necessary to counteract the effects of racial inferiority.
TASK 7: Advocate on behalf of your child's positive identity.
The purpose of this task is to provide the child an environment that is conducive to the formation of a positive identity. The parent should advocate for family, social, and educational experiences that are respectful, reflective, and sensitive to cultural diversity. Therefore, the parent may need to be prepared to correct or confront individual or institutional racism, prejudice, or discrimination that the child may encounter.
As an advocate the parent models for the child how to advocate for themselves. The child also sees and feels their parent's protection, loyalty, and commitment, which are essential in attachment and bonding. Confronting prejudice and discrimination on the child's behalf is no longer optional once a parent adopts transracially.
Joseph Crumbley, D.S.W., is in private practice as a consultant and family therapist. His most recent areas of concentration have been kinship care and transracial adoptions. This article is adapted from his book, Transracial Adoption and Foster Care, available from the Child Welfare League of America Press.
This article was originally published in Adoptive Families, September/October 1999
Transcultural and Transracial Adoption Resources
40 Ways to Raise a Nonracist Child, by Barbara Mathias and Mary Ann French. New York: Harper Perennial, 1996.
Are Those Kids Yours: American Families with Children Adopted from Other Countries, Cheri Register. New York: Free Press, 1990.
Beyond Good Intentions: A Mother Reflects on Raising Internationally Adopted Children, by Cheri Register. St. Paul: Yeong and Yeong Book Company, 2005.
Black Baby, White Hands: A View from the Crib, by John Jaiya. Silver Spring: Soul Water Rising, 2005.
Cross Cultural Adoption: How to Answer Questions from Family, Friends, and Community, by Amy Coughlin and Caryn Abramowitz. Washington: Lifeline Press, 2004.
Dim Sum, Bagels, and Grits: A Sourcebook for Multicultural Families, by Myra Alperson. New York: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 2001.
Does Anybody Else Look Like Me?: A Parent's Guide to Raising Multiracial Children, by Donna Jackson Nakazawa. Cambridge: Da Capo Lifelong, 2003.
I'm Chocolate, You're Vanilla: Raising Healthy Black and Biracial Children in a Race-Conscious World, Marguerite Wright. New York: Jossey-Bass, 1998.
In Their Own Voices: Transracial Adoptees Tell Their Stories, by Rita Simon and Rhonda Rooda. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.
Inside Transracial Adoption, by Gail Steinberg and Beth Hall. London: Jessica-Kingsley Publishers, 2012.
Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption, by Jane Tranka, Julia Jeong, Oparah Chinyere and Sun Yung Shin. Cambridge: South End Press, 2006.
Transracial Adoption and Foster Care: Practice Issues for Professionals, by Joseph Crumbley. Washington: Child Welfare League of America, 1999.
Voices from Another Place: A Collection of Works from a Generation Born in Korea and Adopted to Other Countries, Susan Soon Keum Cox, editor. St. Paul: Yeong and Yeong Book Company, 1999.
Wanting a Daughter, Needing a Son: Abandonment, Adoption and Orphanage Care in China, by Kay Ann Johnson and Amy Klatzking. St. Paul: Yeong and Yeong Book Company, 2004.
Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? , by Beverly Daniel Tatum. New York: Basic Books, 1997.
Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White, Frank Wu. New York: Basic Books, 2003.
Bringing Asha Home by Uma Krishnaswami, ill. by Jamel Akib: A young boy prepares for the arrival of his new little sister, Asha, from India.
Journey Home by Lawrence McKay, Jr., ill. by Dom Lee and Keunhee Lee: Mai travels to Vietnam with her mother, who was adopted, in search of her mother’s biological family.
Horace by Holly Keller: This allegorical book about adoption focuses on a spotted cat adopted by two striped tigers, focusing on the idea that love and family transcend looks.
A Mother for Choco by Keiko Kasza: A book for the very young set about a little bird who is ultimately adopted by a bear.
We Wanted You by Liz Rosenberg, illus. by Peter Catalanotto: This story works backwards through the years, telling one family’s adoption story.
Mommy Far, Mommy Near: An Adoption Story by Carol Antoinette Peacock, illus. by Shawn Costello Brownell: Elizabeth, who was born in China, describes the family who has adopted her and tries to sort out her feelings for her unknown mother.
Three Names of Me by Mary Cummings, Illus. by Lin Wang: Ada reflects on her three names, her American family, and her native Chinese culture.
Over the Moon: An Adoption Tale by Karen Katz: A book for very young readers about one adoptive family’s beginnings.
Families Are Different by Nina Pelligrini: Nico, who was adopted from Korea, struggles with her identity sometimes until she begins to realize that all families are different.
In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polacco: Marmee and Meema live with their children in a house full of love, but some other families think they are “different.”
I Love You Like Crazy Cakes by Rose Lewis, illus. by Jane Dyer: The story of a woman who travels to China to adopt a baby girl, based on the author’s own experiences.
The Red Thread: An Adoption Fairy Tale by Grace Lin: This fairy tale is based on the ancient Chinese belief that when a child is born, an invisible red thread connects that child’s soul to all the people who will play a part in his or her life.
Allison by Allen Say: This highly regarded picture book focuses on a preschool girl who learns she is adopted and struggles to come to terms with why she was given up and what this means for her family.
The Best Single Mom in the World by Mary Zisk: This book for very young children (4-8) tells the story of an adoptive single mom, from her daughter’s perspective.
Star of the Week: A Story of Love, Adoption, and Brownies with Sprinkles by Darlene Friedman: Cassidy-Li, adopted from China, finds a way to include her birthparents in her poster when she is chosen as Star of the Week.
Sweet Moon Baby by Karen Henry Clark, illus. by Patrice Barton: This poetic bedtime story chronicles a baby’s journey from her birth parents in China to her adoptive parents on the other side of the world.
Moonday by Adam Rex: This picture book does not deal with adoption directly but features a multiracial family in the illustrations.
Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan: When adoptee Willow’s parents are both killed in a car accident, Willow must find a new place for herself and a new family.
Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu: A story about friendship centered around 10-year-old Hazel, who was adopted from India by white parents.
Kimchi & Calamari by Rose Kent: When 8th grader Joseph is assigned a school project to write about his ancestors, he struggles with his identity as a Korean adoptee in an Italian family.
Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli: This story about an orphaned white boy taken in by a black family in a racially divided town deals with race, homelessness, and belonging.
North of Beautiful by Justine Chen Headley: When Terra meets Jacob, a quirky goth boy, both their lives change forever. The two set out on a trip to China to discover Jacob’s roots at the orphanage he was adopted from.
The Way We Fall (Fallen World series) by Megan Crewe: In this dystopian YA, an outbreak of a virus threatens the lives of everyone on a small island in Canada. The main character’s best friend Leo is an adoptee from Korea in a predominantly white, closed-minded community.
When the Black Girl Sings by Bil Wright: A coming-of-age story about Lahni, the only black student at her private prep school and the adopted child of two loving, but white, parents who are on the road to divorce.
First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover by Mitali Perkins: Adopted from Pakistan, Sameera struggles to fit into America’s idea of the “perfect” family when her father runs for president.
Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher: A swim team at a school without a pool brings together a group of high school misfits, including T.J., an adopted mixed-race teen growing up in a very white town.
Dr. Joseph Crumbley
Author of Transracial Adoption and Foster Care: Practice Issues for Professionals (see above) and Kinship Care: Relatives Raising Children, Dr. Crumbley has also produced a series of videos:
• Special Needs of Minority Children Adopted Transracially
• The Impact of Transracial Adoption on the Adopted Child and Adoptive Family
• Parenting Tasks in Transracial Adoptions
• Assessing a Family's Ability to Adopt Transracially.
Dr. Crumbley provides training and consultation in the areas of transracial adoption and kinship care.
North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC)
NACAC promotes and supports permanent families for children and youth in the U.S. and Canada who have been in care—especially those in foster care and those with special needs. NACAC offers a quarterly newsletter—Adoptalk—replete with cutting edge articles pertaining to all aspects of adoption. Their annual conference is always exciting and informative. Child care is available at this parent-friendly conference. Tapes of conference workshop sessions may be purchased at www.adoptiontapes.com. The NACAC website contains articles covering all facets of transcultural adoption. Subsidy information and a nationwide listing of adoptive parent support groups can also be found at NACAC.
Pact—An Adoption Alliance
Pact is a non-profit organization with a primary mission to serve children of color in need of adoption or who are growing up in adoptive families. In every case, the child is their primary client. They believe that to serve the child we must support and serve his or her adoptive parents by offering the very best resources to help them cope with a world whose attitudes too often reflect "adoptism" and racism. If you are looking for information related to any transcultural adoption issue, you are sure to find it on the Pact website! Pact makes available Below the Surface, a self-assessment guide for parents considering transcultural or transracial adoptions. Pact also has an online book store—all books are reviewed by Pact prior to selection for this store.
This online magazine is a great source of adoption-related information. You can search their database for articles written on any topic related to adoption. RainbowKids makes obtaining information quick and easy!
"I Wonder …" Teenagers Talk about Adoption. A diverse group of adolescent adoptees share their thoughts on various aspects of adoption. This video is available at www.fairfamilies.org—Families Adopting in Response.
First Person Plural. The blurb states, "In 1966, Deann Borshay Liem was adopted by an American family and was sent from Korea to her new home. Growing up in California, the memory of her birthfamily was nearly obliterated until recurring dreams lead Borshay Liem to discover the truth: her Korean mother was very much alive. Bravely uniting her biological and adoptive families, Borshay Liem's heartfelt journey makes First Person Plural a poignant essay on family, loss, and the reconciling of two identities." The video is available through PBS—www.pbs.org.
Struggle for Identity: Issues in Transracial Adoption. Transracial adoptees and their families discuss the difficult issues of racism, identity and sense of place. This video is available at www.nysccc.org—New York State Citizen's Coalition for Children.
Wo Ai Ni (I love you) Mommy! From Donna Sadowsky’s departure from her Long Island home, through 10 hectic days in China arranging the adoption of 8-year-old Fang Sui Yong and on through the girl’s first year and a half in the United States, Wo Ai Ni (I Love You) Mommy is an intimate account of a global phenomenon — transnational and transracial adoption. Learn more about this video at PBS http://www.pbs.org/pov/woainimommy/film_description.php.